Following months of fevered rumor and speculation, Microsoft finally took the veil off the Xbox One, a console that furthers Redmond's efforts to take over your entire living room experience. The new system will come packaged with an updated version of the Kinect sensor and will be available “later this year." No price was announced.
The presenters on stage at Tuesday’s launch event consistently branded the new console as technology that will unify the living room and bring all of your entertainment—games, music, and movies—into one location. And with a bevy of impressive new functionality, it appears that the One might just be able to assume that role of one central device.
Microsoft is well aware that the television resides at the center of your entertainment universe. And the Xbox One wants to be the gatekeeper for those experiences. All of them.
Xbox owns your TV
Voice commands will be a big part of interacting with the One. While we can assume you'll still be able to navigate via your controller or Smart Glass app, Yusef Mehdi, Microsoft’s senior vice president of interactive entertainment, demonstrated how to navigate the One using voice commands and gesture control with the updated Kinect sensor.
Users can instantly activate the One by uttering “Xbox On.” The Xbox will be able to differentiate the user’s voice and automatically remember where that particular user last left off in the dashboard.
One of the most impressive features demonstrated Tuesday was Xbox One’s Instant Switching, which moves between functions with little latency. Like the current Xbox Kinect, users can switch between functions with voice commands such as “Xbox go to music” and “Xbox go to game,” but the One is able to do it with the ease of switching between television channels.
One of the biggest additions is the introduction of live television streams into the Xbox experience. Users can instantly switch to live TV via a prompt of “Xbox Live TV.” The One even features a TV Guide-like “Xbox One Guide,” which shows what television is available right now alongside on-demand content. Additionally, users will be able to organize media content by “favorites” as well as by what content is currently trending in popularity.
Borrowing a trick from Windows 8, the One’s new Snap Mode will allow users to multitask between different apps and functions on the same screen. For example, if you're watching a live sporting event, you can prompt the One to access your updated fantasy league stats or search the Web for using Explorer—all in one screen.
One will also offer Skype integration and allow users to video chat using the network directly through the Kinect sensor. In effect, Xbox will make any TV it is attached to a smart TV—smarter and more functional than almost any TV we’ve seen to date.
The new specs
The new Xbox will be powered by an octa-core processor with 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0 ports, 500GB of hard drive storage and Wi-Fi Direct capabilities. The new, updated Kinect comes bundled with the console and contains a 250k-pixel infrared tracking module and can process 2GB of data per second—that means it can register individual rotations of writs and shoulders and even how hard you commit to an action. Additionally—and perhaps kind of freakily—according to Microsoft’s Mark Whitten, the Kinect can “read your heart beat.”
The Kinect will work in concert with the controller and the console to offer a welcome new dimension to gameplay. With the new gaming interface, for example, raising your controller might prompt your game character to raise a shield.
The underpinning of the greater Xbox ecosystem will be powered by 300,000 servers—more computing power than existed in the entire world in 1999. Xbox Live members will be able to store all their movies and games in addition to recording moments from gameplay to edit and share with friends. That massive amount of cloud computing muscle will also allow game creators to create living, persistent worlds that change with gameplay and community behavior.
The New Stuff
As far as what new content will be available for The One, Tuesday’s presenters largely seemed willing to kick the can down the road, promising more news to come in a few weeks at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles.
We did, however, get some glimpses of games that should be coming down the line. EA Sports’s Andrew Wilson came on stage to announce that the company would be releasing four new games soon for the One powered by the new EA Sports Ignite engine that would “blur the line between real and virtual.” Specifically, gamers will soon be able to get their hands on the new FIFA, Madden, UFC, and NBA Live.
Phil Spensor from Microsoft Studios took the stage to show the trailer for Forza Motrosports Five, which will be available when the One launches. He also promised that the company currently has more games in development than at any time in its history. Currently, Microsoft’s studio is developing 15 games that will come out in the first year of the One’s release, eight of which are completely new franchises.
Nancy Tellem, the head of Xbox’s original non-gaming entertainment arm, said her organization was working on TV that was “no longer a one-way street” and will immerse you. We weren’t given too many details, but she did break away to introduce a prerecorded message from director Steven Spielberg who will be bringing an original series based on Halo to Xbox Live. (We've previously taken a deeper look at Microsoft’s original content plans.)
Additionally Tellem introduced a partnership with NFL that will allow for “more interactivity” for football fans. This includes the multi-tasking ability for fantasy football along with a vague allusion to a new “technology on the sidelines” that will “change the game for players and coaches.”
Also at Tuesday’s launch event, Eric Hirshberg from Infinity Ward introduced the next incarnation of some little indie game called Call of Duty: Ghosts. The basic premise is a “mass event” that cripples America and forces a ragtag band of Special Forces soldiers to fight for survival. Infinity Ward tapped Stephen Gaigin, scribe behind Traffic and Syriana to help develop the new branch of Duty.
Ghosts utilizes the brawnier One architecture in concert with a new Call of Duty engine and the results from the preview screened Tuesday are stunning.
An impressive salvo, Microsoft
It’s been eight years since the Xbox 360 made its debut, and the Xbox One will find itself competing in a far more crowded marketplace than its predecessor. Not only will The One be going up against updated consoles from Sony and Nintendo, it will also need to prove its mettle against smaller upstarts like the $100 Android-based Ouya. The past few years have also seen an explosion in mobile gaming in addition to a complete reinvention of the home media consumption landscape. Redmond needed Tuesday’s unveiling to make a big statement in this crowded, multi-platform home-gaming marketplace. And from this first glimpse, it really looks like Microsoft did.