Almost 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.
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.