Xbox owners without an Xbox Live Gold membership will now be able to access more than 180 apps like Netflix, ESPN and HBO Go for free.
Microsoft is rolling out its June update globally this week, which comes with a bevy of improvements to both the Xbox One and Xbox 360.
Perhaps the most notable change is the ability to use those apps without having to purchase a $59 Xbox Live Gold membership, which was previously required. Xbox One owners will now also be able to use Skype, OneDrive and OneGuide without a membership.
This is a big move for Microsoft. Other streaming media competitors like Sony, Apple and Roku have never charged extra in exchange for access to apps like Netflix and Hulu, and the Xbox Live Gold memberships were a nice revenue generator for Microsoft.
Xbox Live Gold subscribers will still have benefits, like online multiplayer, free games with Games with Gold, and other exclusive discounts. Microsoft also noted that Xbox Live Gold members who are not Hulu Plus subscribers are eligible to receive a free 3-month Hulu Plus trial “in the coming days.”
Xbox One owners will now also be able to hook up external hard drives to the console, allowing gamers more storage capacity for their games and apps than the 500GB they’ve been given out of the box.
With the update, the Xbox One will be able to handle up to two external hard drives that will need to have at least 256GB of storage capacity each. Microsoft encourages gamers to take downloaded content on an external hard drive and bring it to a friend’s house — though you’ll need to sign onto Xbox Live for your games to work.
The Xbox One update also includes a new real name system for Xbox Live, giving gamers the choice to display their full name with others online. You’ll be able to control who sees your name — all your friends, a subset of your choosing, friends of friends or none at all.
Finally, the SmartGlass app for Xbox One will now have a more robust OneGuide experience and Universal Remote Control features, which is good news for those hoping to use their phone or tablet as a remote. Microsoft will also add hero stats and activity feed information more prominently within the app, along with new friend achievement comparisons.
Last month, Microsoft announced that it will sell a standalone Xbox One, without the Kinect, at $100 cheaper than the current Xbox One price ($499). The Xbox One still trails the $399 PS4 in worldwide sales, while Sony’s console has held a sales lead in the U.S. for the past four months.