Internet Explorer on Xbox 360

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

The Xbox 360 soft­ware update is due to roll out today, and among the many new fea­tures brings an Inter­net Explor­er app, let­ting you browse the web on your TV (if you’re an Xbox Live Gold mem­ber). I was part of the Beta test pro­gramme and have been using Xbox IE for a few months, so here fol­low some of my thoughts, in a kind of review. Apolo­gies in advance for the crap­py photos.

First and most impor­tant­ly, it runs the IE9 engine; I’m not sure whether time or per­for­mance con­straints are respon­si­ble for it being this rather than IE10, but hope­ful­ly there’ll be a sys­tem update after Win­dows 8 and Win­dows Phone 8 are released, to see par­i­ty across devices.

Being IE9 means fair­ly good — although out­dat­ed com­pared to its peers — web plat­form sup­port, includ­ing SVG, full CSS2.1 sup­port, and some CSS3, such as border-radius, media queries, and 2D trans­forms — sad­ly the lat­ter are still -ms- pre­fixed, which is no longer the case in IE10.

HTML5 sup­port is not bad; audio and video, geolo­ca­tion API (see sec­ond update, below), canvas, and new seman­tic ele­ments are there. The HTML5Test score is 120, which is a lit­tle low­er than IE9 desk­top because they’ve removed the Drag & Drop API.

Native video plays pret­ty smooth­ly; some ini­tial jerk­i­ness in full screen HD video on YouTube, but most­ly not bad. If you want to use YouTube I sug­gest you opt in to Lean­back mode, which is much eas­i­er to nav­i­gate on the large screen (I’ll come to nav­i­ga­tion shortly).

There are no oth­er plu­g­ins; the absence of Flash isn’t real­ly a sur­prise, but the absence of Sil­verlight is. It means you can’t use web­sites like Net­flix and Love­film, although both have apps on Xbox 360 any­way so maybe it’s not too much of a loss.

It’s a sin­gle-win­dow brows­er, with no tabs. The URL bar and icons (back, refresh, options) are off­screen until you press Y, which opens the Web Hub; this is where your favourites, recent vis­its and ‘fea­tured’ sites sit; I’m not sure if the fea­tured sites are pro­mo­tion­al or pop­u­lar, but they don’t seem to be based on your brows­ing habits.

IE for Xbox - Web Hub

You’ll prob­a­bly want to book­mark your favourite sites quite often, as enter­ing URLs is a bit of a pain with the con­troller. The on-screen key­board is QWERTY (which I don’t under­stand as that’s only use­ful for two-hand­ed typ­ing), and the impre­cise con­troller means you often over­shoot the let­ter you want. Some con­troller short­cuts — a tab key, switch between low­er and upper cas­es — would have been real­ly use­ful here. The auto­sug­gest, using Bing, does alle­vi­ate the pain a lit­tle if it’s a pop­u­lar site you want to visit.

IE for Xbox - soft keyboard

Using the con­troller isn’t a great input method for nav­i­ga­tion, although there are some short­cuts here: Start is like Enter, B or Back go back, LT & RT zoom out and in (respec­tive­ly), LB & RB nav­i­gate through your favourites. The impre­ci­sion of the con­troller can be irri­tat­ing, and I think that con­trol­ling it with Kinect, using ges­tures and voice, might actu­al­ly be a bet­ter expe­ri­ence. I’m also real­ly keen to see how the forth­com­ing Smart­Glass con­troller works (see third update, below).

Despite TV offer­ing a much larg­er screen you like­ly sit a few metres away from it, mean­ing some text may be hard to read; you can zoom and pan the screen, but it might also be use­ful to use mobile opti­mised sites instead, where the text is larg­er and clear­er; there’s an option to request these, which sends the IE Mobile UA string, and sites like Twit­ter cer­tain­ly become eas­i­er to read.

Over­all I think MS have done a good job in adapt­ing the brows­er to TV, but I’m a lit­tle uncer­tain what it’s for; it’s sand­boxed from the rest of the sys­tem, there are no web links to open else­where, and brows­ing is gen­er­al­ly a solo expe­ri­ence where TV is a social one. There’s also the mat­ter of the con­troller slow­ing down your actions.

Of course, there’s no harm in hav­ing a brows­er there, and I’m sure there’ll be one or two occa­sions where you want to see some­thing on a large screen or show some­thing to friends, although I can’t imag­ine using it much when I have a phone and tablet to hand.

Update: A cou­ple of tech­ni­cal notes: the TV media type is not sup­port­ed; the user agent strings are Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; Trident 5.0; Xbox), and Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows Phone OS 7.5; Trident/5.0; IEMobile/9.0; Xbox) for the mobile view.

Update: The IE for Xbox Devel­op­ers Guide states that the Geolo­ca­tion API isn’t avail­able, so it’s a false pos­i­tive on HTML5Test.com. It also says that @font-face sup­ports .woff and .ttf files, but not .eot. The avail­able mem­o­ry is very low com­pared to mod­ern devices, which may mean IE10 won’t be able to run on this hard­ware. Also, the JavaScript engine has no JIT com­pi­la­tion, so per­for­mance will be some­what reduced.

Update: Microsoft have now released a Smart­Glass app for Win­dows Phone and Android (more plat­forms com­ing soon). This is an inter­ac­tive con­troller for the Xbox, allow­ing you to nav­i­gate around using your phone (or tablet?), with on-screen areas that map to the con­troller buttons.

Xbox SmartGlass app

With regards to IE for Xbox it cer­tain­ly makes some things eas­i­er; for one, using the key­board on the phone rather than TV is a huge improve­ment. But it’s still lack­ing; touch input does­n’t allow the fine con­trol of a mouse, and the dis­tance between the phone and TV — and there­fore your action and its con­se­quence — caus­es a slight dis­con­nect in per­cep­tion, mean­ing it’s easy to over­shoot the ele­ment you want to inter­act with. Although con­trol­ling the brows­er with Smart­Glass is much bet­ter than the Xbox’s own con­troller, I still can’t imag­ine want­i­ng to use this for an extend­ed peri­od of time.

6 comments on
“Internet Explorer on Xbox 360”

  1. Nice ear­ly review.

    I’m kind of dis­ap­point­ed it does­n’t sup­port TV media type. I guess check­ing User-agent will be the only way to ver­i­fy com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. And it’s not real­ly “grace­ful degra­da­tion” compliant…

    Do you know if Kinect will be sup­port­ed or not?

  2. I think the TV media type is pret­ty dead; I’m not sure how much sup­port it has at all. And yes, Kinect is def­i­nite­ly sup­port­ed, although I don’t have it.

  3. Thanks for the write up Peter. I haven’t had a chance to play around with IE9 on the Xbox yet, though I was curi­ous to see what the user agents were for it. It seems odd to me that you can select Mobile View on a TV though.

  4. Thanks Brett. Yes, it seems counter-intu­itive at first, but it makes sense; high-res can make fonts look quite small, and if you’re sat a few metres away it can be very hard to read. The low­er-res mobile site is much more legible.

  5. Inter­net Explor­er on XBOX 360 || http://t.co/4mPN2IFi

  6. Thanks for the such an ear­ly review!
    This is huge for my Rap­tor­GL since it runs fine on IE and even though I am re-writ­ing it in WebGL I am going to keep the can­vas draw­ing for fall back.

    Thanks again