Microsoft reveals the Xbox One

Xbox OneAlmost 8 years ago, a new family member joined our household. Yes, we got a cat around that time, but I’m really thinking about the Xbox 360. 8 years is a long time in the tech world though and, although the 360 is no slouch, Microsoft have unveiled the next generation  in their Xbox story.

Enter the Xbox One. Microsoft say their new mission for the Xbox is to have a system that unifies games, television, music and movies. One console to rule them all, if you will. This won’t just be a gaming machine – Microsoft want to place themselves at the heart of the living room. That’s not to say we’ll all be huddled around a box, begging it for entertainment; apparently the technology will ‘step behind the curtain’, and allow you and your entertainment to take centre stage.

So, what can the Xbox One do? Well, quite a lot. It can show live TV for a start which, at the moment, requires you to change the input on your television. Voice control on the One was demonstrated, with a simple “Xbox, watch TV” bringing up a live TV feed. It wasn’t clear to me whether this was being streamed over the Internet, or whether you’ll need to plug a receiver into the back of the console (your Sky Box, for instance) but it was very impressive. Further voice commands allowed for instant switching to a game, movie, music, back to TV, Internet Explorer… it was all very snappy and seemed to live up to Microsoft’s vision of putting all your entertainment at your fingertips.

Snap Mode is an interesting addition to the Xbox One, where you can ‘snap’ an application to the side of the screen while doing something else. If, for example, you’re watching a movie and want to find out the name of a particular actor, you could snap Internet Explorer to the side of the screen and look up IMDB… all while the movie is still playing. At the minute, I look up that sort of thing on my phone, but the One will let you do it all on the one screen.

Skype, recently bought by Microsoft, is also integrated into the One, enabling you to have video chats with friends and families from your television. Great for getting in touch with the grandparents!

At this point my thought turned to the fact that it was pretty much a Smart TV… except that all the smart elements are held in the Xbox rather than the television set.

What’s under the skin?

If you’re anything like me you’ll be wondering what the technology under the Xbox One’s skin is, and we were given a rundown during the unveiling:

  • 8GB RAM – compared to 512 MB RAM in the 360
  • 5 billion transistors
  • A BluRay drive! (Yes, I’m excited about that one)
  • USB 3.0 connectivity
  • ‘Practically silent’ operation

The Operating system is a merger of three – bringing together the Xbox OS, Windows Kernel, and a sort of connector OS that allows instant program switching, multitasking and control.

The control systems have had an overhaul too, with a new Kinect controller. It is touted as being much faster at recognising voices than the current Kinect, and to have the ability to recognise different people. It is also more accurate at scanning the environment, and features a 1080p camera. It is capable of recognising more joints in a user’s body and, apparently, even able to read your heartbeat. I’m not sure if that last feature is cool or creepy!

The Xbox controller looks broadly similar to the current one (which is good, I’ve always found it comfortable) but actually has over 40 design updates.

Will there be any games?

Of course there will be games! Forza Motorsport 5, for example, will be exclusive to the One and will be available at launch. EA Sports are developing four games for the One and, Infinity Ward are producing a One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts that looks very, very impressive.

Let’s talk about that for a minute, actually, because I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by the graphics of the One. I think the 360 does pretty well for graphics (yes, I know some PC gamers will want to slap me for saying that) but a side-by-side comparison of graphics from Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Ghosts just blew me away. The texture detail and the environment complexity made possible by the One’s power was genuinely amazing. It remains to be seen how games move beyond fancier graphics to make use of the One’s social and connected features, but pretty pictures are a good start :)

What didn’t we hear about?

There are a couple of things I was interested in learning about, but didn’t make an appearance in the unveiling:

  • Price – there was no indication of where this will be pitched.
  • Backwards compatibility – I remember when the 360 came out and only certain Xbox titles worked on it. It would have been nice to know whether my current games catalogue is about to become obsolete.
  • Always-on DRM – rumours abounded about whether the One would require an Internet connection to play games. If it does, it sort of precludes any possibility of taking it away on holiday with you, or of playing when your Internet connection goes down. It would have been nice to hear some sort of official position on this.

Having said that, the overall impression I got of the One is very positive. It looks like it’s going to be a clever piece of kit, and certainly something on my wish list. The next big unveiling will be at E3, where we can expect to hear more about the games coming to this new platform.

Thoughts?

Did you watch the Xbox Reveal event? What did you think of what you saw? Are you looking forward to the ‘next generation’ of consoles, or are you quite happy with the current one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Xbox 720 Rumour Roundup [link]

Xbox Announcement NoticeFollowing on from the news that Microsoft are gearing up to announce the new Xbox, our friends at IT Turning Point have rounded up some of the rumours as to what we can expect.

We won’t re-list them here (apart from anything else, Google hates that sort of thing!), so head on over to IT Tech Point, the IT Turning Point blog, and have a look for yourself. Don’t forget to leave a comment :)

Xbox 720 Rumours at IT Tech Point.

Microsoft and Apple gear up for new announcements

Xbox Announcement NoticeHonestly, news is like waiting for a bus sometimes. There’s nothing for ages, and then two come along at once. Two emails dropped into my inbox this morning about some upcoming announcements… both of which have me quite excited.

Firstly, Microsoft are preparing to unveil “a new generation” on the 21st of May. Since the email is branded Xbox, I assume this must be the revealing of the fabled Xbox 720 (name not confirmed!). There have been so many rumours and stories about this platform, it’ll be interesting to see what the real story is. My concern is whether it must always be online to play games, as there are times when I play without an Internet connection (on holiday, for instance), and I think the second-hand and rental games markets are an important part of the gaming ecosystem.

We’ll let you know what happens with the new Xbox, just as soon as we know it!

Secondly, Apple have announced the date of their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) as 10th to 14th June. The WWDC is traditionally the time when Apple unveil new hardware and software, having seen events like the launch of the iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Air in the past. It’s an obvious time to do it – you want your developers to see the stuff they’re going to be developing for. It’s not just developers who will be interested though; the Internet will most likely be buzzing with speculation about a new iPhone, and anything else the rumour mill can dream up.

Are you looking forward to the announcements? What do you think we’ll see from Microsoft and Apple? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Microsoft rumoured to be working on Xbox Surface Tablet

According to a report posted on The Verge, Microsoft is building its own 7 inch tablet for gaming. Called the Xbox Surface, the tablet will run a stripped down version of Windows with a custom kernel. While basic tasks like messaging will be included, the focus will be on providing an ultimately portable Xbox gaming experience that can still be connected to TVs and sound systems for a more traditional console experience.

The hardware, which was originally leaked in June, is quite impressive. The spec calls for a 7″ display running at 1280 x 720p, two IBM Power7 SCMs (for a total of 12 CPU cores) running at 3.1 GHz, 5 GB of DDR3 memory, and a custom 28 nanometer GPU from AMD. There’s also slated to be a 250 GB 10,000 RPM mechanical hard drive, and support for a number of peripherals including USB storage via 4 USB 3.0 ports, wireless game controllers, headsets, component video / HDMI, and Optical Audio. The system should support up to 1440p output – something that makes me incredibly happy, considering I’ve just picked up a 27″ 2560 x 1440 display.

The Verge are reporting that the hardware for the device hasn’t yet been nailed down, but could include a custom ARM processor or an unannounced Intel system-on-chip. The hardware production process is said to be ‘secret’ and not with the partners that traditionally have made the Xbox console. The Xbox Surface should debut ahead of the company’s suspected future Xbox console.

I’ve got to admit – I’m massively excited about this. We’ve seen attempts at a gaming tablet before – with Razer’s Project Fiona and the Wikipad – but if there is anyone in the world who can do it well, it will be Microsoft.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, who recently opened a US store that is stocking a wide range of Samsung Galaxy Note 2 cases.

Windows 8 – fast & fun… and slidey, apparently

Windows 8 is well and truly upon us. If you tried out the Consumer Preview, you got a sneak peak of what was going to be available from the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s flagship software title. Well, Microsoft want to keep themselves firmly in the front of your mind, so they have set up an installation at Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, UK, that’s a little bit different.

See, the message Microsoft want you to get about Windows 8 is that it’s “fast and fun”, so they started thinking about what else would fit that bill and came up with the idea of replacing the stairs at a shopping centre with a big playground-style slide. Surely that would be faster and more fun than walking down some boring old steps?

Windows branded playground slide at Bluewater Shopping Centre

OK, so you can see that they haven’t actually removed the other means of getting between floors because, to be honest, old auntie Ethel isn’t likely to want to go down the slide, but they have created something memorable that will, hopefully, make you think positively about Microsoft, and Windows 8 in particular. Shoppers who take the slide will have their photo shown on electronic billboards around the centre, will be given a printed photo, and will be able to receive an electronic copy send to their mobile phone.

If you’re in the area, the slide will be there until Sunday evening (4th November). I happen to be “down South” this weekend, so will be heading along on Saturday evening for a shot…

Microsoft testing curved Windows Phone keyboard

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Curved keyboard showing on mobile phone screenAccording to a leaked Microsoft Research presentation found by blog WMPowerUser, Microsoft’s research team is working on a curved software keyboard that could added in Windows Phone 8. The curved keyboard, shown in the leaked image above, will be used for one-handed thumb typing and makes use of a similar technique as the popular Swype keyboard for Android.

Larger phones are doubtlessly coming for Windows Phone 8, now that 1280 x 720 and 1280 x 768 resolutions are officially supported. This keyboard could serve well on these larger models, obviating the need for Nokia Lumia 900 accessories like a Bluetooth keyboard.

Microsoft inadvertently revealed that they were working on a “one handed input and next gen soft keyboard” in a Research video last year, so this leak does make a lot of sense. Of course Microsoft have yet to release anything official about keyboard changes in Windows Phone 8, so we’ll have to wait for this leak to be confirmed. Windows Phone 8 is expected to launch this Autumn, so we won’t be kept waiting too long.

Microsoft buys Skype for over £5bn

Skype, the ubiquitous VoIP company, has been snapped up by Microsoft for a cool $8.3bn. That’s nearly £5.1bn at the time of writing. It was previously bought by eBay but has struggled to make a profit. It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft’s direction makes a difference to that.

Exactly what Microsoft plans to do with Skype remains to be seen, but there are a vast number of Skype users, many of whom are wedded to the service for business use or keeping in touch with distant family members. What makes this even more interesting is that Microsoft already has Live Messenger, which allows Instant Messaging or Video Chat. Why not just add new features to that rather than pay a huge amount to purchase one of your competitors?

Maybe Microsoft isn’t so much buying a new service, as buying that huge user base. Skype users are already used to the idea of paying for an external telephone number, being able to connect to a telephone line, heck, even just the concept of having voice only chats as opposed to video conferencing. In many ways, that’s quite a different group of people to those making regular use of Live Messenger.

Will Skype be merged with Live Messenger? Will the two services be kept separate and go in slightly different directions? Who knows, but watch this space.

Are you a Skype user? What do you think of the Microsoft acquisition? Do you have any thoughts on what direction Microsoft will take Skype in? As ever, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.