On May 21st, Microsoft held an event to unveil their next generation Xbox console the Xbox One. The system is design to be total entertainment hub, blurring the lines between cable box and gaming console, and Blu-ray player. It also is coming with the next version of Microsoft’s Kinect, which offers improved voice control, improved recognition, and the ability to work in smaller spaces. Xbox Live’s service is also getting a boost with Microsoft promising an increasing in their amount of severs from 15,000 to 300,000 to make for a more seamless internet experience.
The systems overall look is sleek, even if it does remind me of a VCR, but its what’s under the hood that counts. The Xbox One is packed with an 8 core CPU processor, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, 500 GB HDD, 802.11n wireless with Wi-Fi Direct, HDMI input and output, and USB 3 ports. While the specs are impressive, it beats down my computer, there are a couple of things I question. First of all the games require an install why not a Terabyte HD? I’m sure cloud storage will come into play, but this just brings back the nightmare of trying to figure out which memory card my game save was on, or the don’t worry if you need more storage we now make a 250 GB hard drive of an additional cost. The 8 core processor will most likely be used to handle the entertainment and TV functions leaving the 8 GB DDR3 to handle most of the graphic elements. Sony announced they are using the newer DDR5 format for PS4 so will that give them the edge on graphics? Realistically I don’t think it will matter, the PS3 had more graphic power than the 360, but Xbox still outsells PS3, in my opinion mostly due to Xbox Live and the overall ease of use with 360.
The Xbox One controller has 40 enhancements from the 360 controller. The analog sticks are shorter with a textured edge, the triggers are rounder, and the circular d-pad has been replaced by a more traditional cross d-pad. The Xbox button is moved up to the top center, the case of the controller is a little wider and the battery is now build into the back so there is no hump for the battery pack. One of the most talked about features is the new “impulse” triggers which adds a rumble pack into each trigger to give enhanced feedback to the player. There are also additional motors in the controller to help with the tactical feedback. Overall it looks and sounds quite impressive and may turn out to be the biggest improvement to the new system, if not the least controversial. The system will also come with the new version of Microsoft Kinect. The new Kinect will offer greater voice recognition, be able to work in small spaces, and be able to detect the slightest movements and facial features. It is also so sensitive it can pick up your heart rate, which if developers take advantage of will be a standard feature for fitness and dance games for years to come. Microsoft points out that the Kinect will need to be used with the new system, as most of the feature shown involved the use of voice commands to work, so if your not a Kinect fan you have some time to practice before the launch.
The biggest improvement is the increase in severs running Live from 15,000 to 300,000. This will make for a much smoother online experience and help to provide developers looking to get more open persistent worlds, like the plans for Bunige’s Destiny. This will also come into play with Microsoft’s cloud strategy allowing for increased storage and a more reliable end user experience. The service that players currently use will carry over, allowing gamers to keep their gamertags as well as achievements and gamerscores. They will also be able to keep their account on both their 360 and One at the same time, though its unclear if they will be able to be signed in both at the same time. Live is also introducing a Twitter like trending feature so gamers can see the top topics people are talking about on Live. Microsoft also announced a deal with the NFL to bring NFL games to Live, most likely though the Sunday Ticket service similar to the MLB TV app. This attention is also the first of the much hyped TV integration of the Xbox One. Live will also bring more focus to Internet Explorer using the Snap feature from Windows 8 to allow uses to snap a IE panel on the side of the screen. This was demonstrated by showing a basketball game and then using Snap to bring fantasy stats on the side of the screen.
Finally, Microsoft launched the event by showing the total takeover Xbox One will have over your TV. Using the Kintect the user can switch between gaming and live TV. Microsoft stated that they are currently working with cable providers to fully fuse the Xbox One with your TV service. They even showed off a program guide they have designed to work with the service. Microsoft also released some info announcing that they are planning on creating original programing for the One starting with a Halo TV show produced by Steven Spielberg. Hopefully it will be as good as the recently released Forward On To Dawn web-series that came out before Halo 4. There was also a recent rumor that Microsoft was working on trying to acquire the rights the NBC’s Heroes to resurrect the series for Xbox. It will be interesting to see how well the merging on TV and gaming console will go and if the cable companies are willing to play ball with Microsoft.
The Xbox One looks like an impressive machine, but the focus was mainly on the TV function, though they did show off a few trailers for games including Forza 5, EA sports titles, and an impressive Call of Duty game, but none of it appeared to be game play footage. Microsoft has said the E3 they will focus on the games. They also left many questions unresolved such as the rumored always online issue. Microsoft claims you will be able to use the system offline for basic functions like watching a Blu-ray or playing a single player game but need to connect ever so often for syncing to the cloud and to install the game in the first place. Then there is the whole used game situation. Once you get a game you have to install it using a key code that is good for a single use. The game can be reused by paying a fee, that was not disclosed, on other system. So gone are the days or beating a game and giving to a friend to use or trading it in, well maybe. Microsoft said they will support used games but again didn’t go into detail, some reports say companies like Gamestop will need a Microsoft database to reuse games or that you will be able to trade games from the system itself. The cost of the system was also absent from the event. Hopefully all these details will be covered at the E3 conference in a few weeks. Either way it was an interesting look at whats next for Microsoft but I can’t help wondering is this the next great system or a cable-box in disguise?