It’s been 8 years since the mega successful Xbox 360 was revealed, and finally its scion is born! Sony revealed the specs and controller of its new PS4 3 months ago, though it’s keeping mum on the design of the box until E3. Today it was Microsoft’s chance to show off. Here is my by no means exhaustive take on the event.
After 15 minutes or so of some seriously epic pump up music and a countdown clock, Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb briefly appeared to welcome us. Next Bill Gates started out a montage of developers and creatives touting the new system. Interestingly, it was rounded out with J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg (more on him later).
The montage left us with the quote, “For the first time you and your TV are going to have a relationship.” Which, however squicky sounding, was pretty much the crux of the presentation. This new Xbox aims to be your one and only living room destination and the tech Microsoft came up with in this gambit is impressive.
Let me first get the burning questions out of the way:
So it looks like the Xbox One is essentially on par with the PlayStation 4 as far as its horsepower. It’s based off an x64 architecture, has an 8-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, slot-loading Blu-ray drive, and 802.11n and Wi-Fi Direct. It also has an HDMI in/out and USB 3.0 ports.
The controller is similar in design to its 360 forebear, but features an improved (read: usable) D pad, and programmable triggers with their own feedback, among some other refinements. I’m shocked (SHOCKED!) that there’s no “share” button.
All those powerful guts do seem to make for a fat box. It sort of looks like a shiny VCR to me, especially watching the presentation on my slim Xbox 360 S! But the original Xbox was a big, ugly behemoth and that didn’t stop millions of gamers from loving it. The box has nice lines, and the aforementioned shiny-ness. I doubt Sony will be able to do much better with its similar, bulky hardware (its original, fat PS3 was certainly no beauty contest winner).
Either way, the consoles are basically matched evenly so the exclusive games, extra features, and other factors will determine the winner this time around.
Improved Kinect and Voice Recognition:
One of those factors is certainly Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor, and it’s getting a major upgrade for the Xbox One. The new Kinect recognizes both the user and the controller and features a 1080P RGB camera, 30FPS sensing and ‘time of flight’ measurement that takes into account how long it takes for light to get from the Kinect to the user and back. It can also measure things like heartbeat rate, which is huge for fitness titles if it works. It will have an increased angle of view as well since most people’s living rooms aren’t the size of concert halls.
Also very impressive was the improved voice recognition. In his part of the presentation Microsoft CVP of Marketing & Strategy, Yusef Mehdi was talking to his Xbox One about as easily and conversationally as anything I’ve seen, including Google’s impressive voice functionality shown at I/O. He began by simply saying “Xbox On”, which powered on the Xbox and logged him in automatically. He went on to chat with his Xbox, navigating between games, live TV, Internet explorer and other features quickly, and with no hiccups whatsoever.
All In One System
As rumored, the Xbox One aims to usurp all of your entertainment streams and present them in one unified (and beautiful) package. There was segment after segment about these features. The new Xbox One will take over as your cable box as well as Guide. It’s all voice controlled and you can switch between a movie, game, live TV, etc. on. Mehdi showed off this “Instant Switching” live and it’s practically instantaneous. Also, gestural controls allowed you to “grab” whatever content you were watching and minimize it to the Home screen.
There’s a picture in picture mode that allows you to do two things at once, called Snap Mode. Mehdi popped open an Explorer window while watching Star Trek and looked up times and trailers for Into Darkness. He then opened a Skype window and chatted with is friend while watching a live game.
All of this switching is enabled by 3 separate systems running concurrently: Xbox OS, Windows Kernel, and a special system that allows for switching between the two.
The final piece of Microsoft’s entertainment domination puzzle is exclusive content. First it showed a new IP that spans both a game and TV show that will inform each other’s content, Quantum Break. Sounds like it could be cool, and will hopefully have more crossover than Defiance.
Then it announced a new, live action Halo TV series to be produced by none other than Steven Spielberg! Spielberg had a short pre-recorded blurb “For me, the ‘Halo’ universe is an amazing opportunity to be at the intersection where technology and storytelling meet,” he said. I’m not a Halo fan, but I’ll admit this is pretty exciting.
As far as an all in one entertainment box, the Xbox One is impressive. The functionality is great and it seems to be wholly capable of unifying your living room experience into one machine. But I’m quite happy using the few boxes I have in my living room and I’m not about to spring for anything new. What will sell me on a console, is the games.
EA sports and Infinity Ward stopped in to declare partnerships with Microsoft. They showed off some lovely gameplay footage of EA Sports titles and Call of Duty: Ghosts. There are some screen grabs in the gallery below, but unfortunately they don’t really do the graphics justice. But there was little other focus on the games. The head of Microsoft Studios showed off the new Forza and promised 15 more titles but left it at that. Instead that can was kicked down the road to E3, where part 2 of its presentation takes place.
I haven’t focused much on the games here, because there wasn’t much focus on them at the event.
Also, there was no mention of a release date or a price point. Xbox Chief Don Mattrick simply said it would be available, “later this year.”