One box to rule them all – the ultimate entertainment system. A single device to control all your living room entertainments needs – instant on, voice and gesture control, and no more remote controls. That’s the premise of the Xbox One. Read on to find out everything we know so far.
Sorry if the title confused you – that’s the name of the new Xbox; the successor to the 360; the next Xbox; the third Xbox console. It’s called the Xbox One. Let’s not dwell on that too much though, OK?
But before you read on – watch this. It’s a 2 minute summary of the announcement, and pretty accurate.
Yup – TV!
Xbox One’s aiming to be your complete media center – with an HDMI input, it can control your cable box and give you a comprehensive TV guide (where compatible). However, since it contains no signal decoder, it won’t function as a DVR or allow you to pick up cable or OTA signals by itself – it’s merely an overlay for your existing box.
In cases where your device isn’t compatible, it is suspected control will be achieved using standard infra-red (like universal remotes), but this has not been confirmed.
A TV-guide was shown, and a trending feature where you can see what’s currently popular with other Xbox Live viewers.
Full voice control was demoed for switching show or channel, and the system reacted incredibly fast – switching almost instantaneously between live TV and a paused game, as well as instant on resuming.
- “xbox, game”
- “go to music”
- “watch tv”
- “go to internet explorer”
- “fantasy” – to bring up fantasy leagues during sports
Kinect, Hardware & Controllers
Kinect sensors have been upgraded to include a 1080p camera and “time of flight” light sensor, and the device is a necessary inclusion with every Xbox – not an optional upgrade. The new sensor allows for much higher level of detail – such as wrist rotation, and apparently even able to detect your heartrate, allowing for horror games to react to your fear level.
The advantages for exercise games are obvious too, but outside of that and dancing games, we still haven’t really seen any compelling Kinect experiences. Unfortunately, it appears a Kinect is a requirement – Xbox’s UK marketing director Harvey Eagle explained:
“Kinect does require to be connected to Xbox One in all cases, yes,”
Kinect will be watching, and listening, 24/7. You can perhaps hide it in the closet.
The new Kinect is also able to work in smaller rooms – up to 4 feet away – and with 6 skeletal models rather than 2.
A new controller was announced with no less than “40 improvements”, though few specifics were given. The most significant change appears to be the inclusion of 4 separate motors for force feedback, located in the triggers and palm area – this allows for a greater range of feedback, from a rhythmic heart beat to the sharp twang of a laser pistol, or the slow rumble of driving.
The rest of the hardware is comparable to the PS4 – with 8GB of RAM, a 8-core x86 based processor, a 500GB hard drive – and a BluRay drive.
Windows 8 Kernel
Along with the core Xbox system software, the One includes the Windows 8 kernel and a layer connecting the two. The only immediate feature demonstrated was window snapping, whereby a portion of the screen can be used for a side activity.
Demonstrated uses were:
- Internet Explorer browsing a wikipedia page during live TV.
- Checking fantasy league results whilst watching basketball.
- Skyping during a movie.
These were of course all activated via gesture and voice control.
In the longer term, the Windows 8 kernel should allow for compatibility with other Windows 8 apps, though this was not specifically announced.
Used Games, Online DRM & Backwards Compatibility
When rumours first emerged of an always-online DRM requirement for the new Xbox, the creative director at Microsoft Studios was quick to respond.
He was fired, and Microsoft quickly dismissed the rumours It may as well be always online though: it has since been confirmed that the machine must connect at least once every 24 hours – thereby allowing for short down times and unreliable Internet, but essentially still online DRM.
In addition, games are installed to the hard drive, but tied to a single Xbox account. The discs are essentially just data delivery mechanisms. If you wish to lend the game – or play pre-owned games – there will be an activation fee. It’s logical to assume this fee will be near to the cost of a full priced game, minus the cost of the disc – perhaps a $5-$10 discount. Any cheaper than that, and passing a single disc around friends would be common place. At the same time, Microsoft confirmed they are working on a way of buying and selling used games online. Not only are they killing the used game retail business, they are trying to take it for themselves.
The Xbox One is a completely new system – using x86 processors rather than the IBM Xenon CPU of the 360: this means none of the games are backward compatible, including Xbox Live games (though media purchases are still valid). Unlike the Playstation 4 offering of allowing backward compatibility through cloud services, Xbox head Don Mattrick all but ruled that out:
“If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards”
The Xbox 360 will continue to be sold alongside the Xbox One, and controllers will not be compatible either. If there is an upside to all this, it’s that the added Windows 8 kernel and x86 architecture might allow for all those amazing Windows 8 games to be ported easily.
However, indie developers will still be unable to self-publish to Xbox Live – this remains unchanged from the current generation.
I admit, I’ve glossed right over the US-centric sports announcements: EA are partnering for a new generation sports games! There you go. Watch the full announcement if you’d like to do that bit more justice. A new Call of Duty was also teased, with a detailed and accurately modelled dog companion. I realise that doesn’t sound so amazing in writing, but just look at that stunning dog!
To be honest, I was expecting a little more from Microsoft – I’m really not confident that the TV aspect is as important as they seem to make it out. The “universal remote” aspect of controlling your cable box will certainly help to reduce the number of remotes in your living room, but I doubt it will control your lighting and amplifier too.
It’s still a next-gen console no doubt – better graphics, better controller – blah blah – but no real innovation or advances toward more immersive gaming. I’m leaning back to the PC as my next gen gaming platform right now, and the Oculus Rift is certainly helping to solidify that decision.
In terms of PS4 (easy screengrab sharing!) vs Xbox One (TV!) – I’m sure you’ll have heated opinions in the comments, but neither is looking all that amazing to me. But hey – at least they’re better than the Wii U, right?