Today, Microsoft unveiled its next generation Xbox console, the Xbox One. Microsoft has a very confusing naming nomenclature, going from Xbox to Xbox 360 to Xbox One – part of me feels like Microsoft took a cue from HTC’s One Android phone series. Naming aside, the Xbox One aims to be the center of your living room by smartly integrating live TV, the internet, Skype, music, and games. This all-in-one entertainment device takes advantage of a next generation Kinect, which allows voice recognition and gesture controls so players can control their entertainment from the comforts of their couch or bed. Switching between things is as simple as saying, “Xbox, watch TV.” If Kinect integration wasn’t enough, the Xbox One also uses the Smart Glass app on your smartphone or tablet to act as a second screen, displaying more information for what you’re viewing, or as a remote control. The Xbox One will have a next generation Kinect, redesigned controller, Blu-ray drive, 500 GB of harddrive space, 8 GB of RAM, USB 3.0 ports, HDMI in/out, built-in WiFi, an 8-core CPU, 64-bit architecture, and Windows 8 kernel. Instead of focusing on the hardware though, Microsoft smartly targeted their primary audience of young male gamers today by demonstrating how Xbox One changes TV and gaming.
Xbox Now Your SmartTV
Strangely, for all the talk about revolutionizing the TV experience with Apple TV and Google TV, it’s Microsoft who will probably come out ahead in this race – its console seamlessly converting any TV screen into a smart TV via Kinect and Smart Glass. The new Xbox allows live TV to be watched and even includes a channel guide that is fully voice activated. Saying, “Xbox, bring up the guide,” will launch the built-in TV guide. Users can even change channels by just saying something like, “What’s on CBS?” Not only that, but users can say the name of any show in the guide to bring it up – for example, “Watch Today.” The guide will also be personalized for its users and a favorites section will have all of your favorite shows like a custom channel.
However, probably the biggest innovation for watching live TV on the Xbox One is the inclusion of the “snap” feature from Windows 8. For those unfamiliar with Windows 8, the “snap” feature allows you to have a small sidebar act as a second app or program. The Xbox One utilizes this “snap” feature for apps like Skype. Now, while you’re watching TV, you can launch Skype (also through voice), have it snapped to the side of the show you’re watching, and watch it live with your friends. Skype on Xbox One also has group video, so you and all of your friends can watch the season finale of Game of Thrones together… except not.
Microsoft is also hoping to pioneer original TV experiences, much like what Amazon and Netflix are trying to do. At the conference, Microsoft announced a live action Halo series directed by acclaimed director Steven Spielberg as a premium channel. Whether or not people will buy into these experiences will be another question, but the large fan base behind Halo should make this a compelling reason to own an Xbox One.
The biggest draw for most young men won’t be from new, original TV content, but from Microsoft’s Fantasy League app. The Xbox One will have a Fantasy League app that will keep track of your team and update your standing versus your friends live. Your score can be seen in a “snapped” app version of Fantasy League. Microsoft joked that players can then launch Skype to trash talk their friends about how poorly their team is playing. The Fantasy League app was shown for both football and basketball teams. Microsoft also took the time to announce a partnership with the NFL, so this coming NFL season leading to the Superbowl should be something to keep an eye on.
One of the only reasons to watch anything live is for sports and since I’ve never been a big sports fan, I’ve never needed to watch live TV. However, for the many people who do take sports seriously, and there are a lot of them out there, especially in the Xbox camp, this feature will single-handedly solidify their decision to purchase an Xbox One. Strangely, Microsoft didn’t reveal other content partners such as Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, but I’m positive all of these services will end up on the console to make it the center of your living room.
Prettier Games But What Else?
Of course, the main focus of a video game console should be on games and the Xbox One conference delivered with quick demos of audience favorites: various titles EA Sports is working on such as FIFA 2014, Forza Motorsport 5, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The graphics are prettier, as seen by the comparison video of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 vs. Call of Duty: Ghosts, and it all comes together with a slightly redesigned Xbox controller that is familiar but with some improvements like a new d-pad, integrated battery, and feedback on trigger buttons; as well as a bigger, better Xbox Live experience with cloud saves and live video game recordings – similar to what Sony announced with its PlayStation 4. Microsoft did not go into very many details about these features although I wonder if recording gameplay is as simple as saying, “Xbox, record,” which might be a better solution than Sony’s “Share” button. Not only did Microsoft show off many of its heavy hitters, but it made sure it learned from previous mistakes by announcing a large number of exclusive titles for the console, as well as first crack at DLC for Call of Duty: Ghosts.
However, there’s still a darker undercurrent behind Xbox One with its lack of backwards compatibility and continued rumors that it will destroy the used game market with required game installs that lock a game to a console or Live account. The rumors say a small fee will be required to install the game on another console or Live account. If this is true, then rental services such as Gamefly will suffer and buying used games from Gamestop will become a costlier experience. The persistent internet connection rumor also won’t die with Wired saying some single player experiences will need the internet to offload some of the computing necessary to the cloud. This is decided entirely by the developers, but it could effectively end up needing a persistent internet connection.
The Big Question: Xbox One or PlayStation 4?
The question on every gamer’s mind has been an age old one: Xbox or PlayStation? With both consoles set to release later this year, it is still unclear which one is the undisputed winner. As we saw with the current generation, both will have pretty similar support from third parties and both will probably have their fair share of exclusives. Xbox One certainly takes the cake for sports fans with its live TV and Fantasy League. It also wins with voice recognition and gestures. However, Sony has a real shot with its focus on streaming services (if used properly for game rentals and back library) and social aspects. In the end, I feel this will come down to games and for that we’ll have to wait and see what each company shows off at E3 in just a couple of weeks (or how this develops in the long run). One thing is certain: it’s great to be a console gamer again. Bring on the next generation.