Well that was a 60 minute sprint. Microsoft’s unveil of its new Xbox console – due for release at the end of the year – was packed with features and fireworks (metaphorically speaking) revealed at a relentless pace. In 15 minutes we had more interesting shiny new stuff than Sony had in its entire, seemingly decade-long PlayStation 4 ceremony.
And, unlike the PS4 unveil, we actually saw the console. A ground-breaking idea, I know.
That said, and much like a 60 minute sprint, fatigue soon set in. It was all at the same high-octane pace, so felt flat and soon became tiring.
Nevertheless, we have a new games console.
It’s called the Xbox One – named so because it is designed to be the one box that does it all – TV, movies, music and games – and it looks like a mid-90s VCR.
First up, though, what you get: buying the Xbox One means you get the Xbox and the new Kinect. That means you will always be able to use voice and gestures to control it. It also means that the Xbox will recognise you, so no more having to sign in – it knows who you are and takes you straight to your content. In fact, saying ‘Xbox On’ doesn’t just turn on your Xbox – it also turns on your TV.
Voice control has had a massive improvement, with the ability to voice navigate across the entire Xbox experience; apps, games, TV – whatever. This, along with it being faster and much more conversational to use. And, with the new, more precise Kinect come new control gestures. For more information, see Minority Report.
It’s also rather powerful, too. Due to unique tech wizardry, you can fly from app to game to live TV to Skype as quick as you can change apps on a PC – just through voice. And yes – Xbox One comes with Skype.
You’re also, like on Microsoft’s Windows 8, able to have a second app open and ‘snapped’ to one side, meaning you can watch TV and, say, Skype at the same time.
That snapped app can be a big deal – you can have your fantasy team there while watching sports, you can have political updates during a debate or details on the Golden Globes whilst watching them.
In fact, given Microsoft wants this to be an all-rounder, TV is quite the focus of the new Xbox. It comes with a listings system for live TV content, including Video on-Demand, shows you’ve favourite and trending shows across the Xbox network.
Moreover, Microsoft has commissioned a live-action TV show, set around its smash-hit HALO franchise, steered by none-other than Steven Spielberg. The idea of ‘ground-breaking’ television utilising the Kinect is apparently all being looked at. As is, I imagine, how that technology can be used in adverts.
Internet Explorer comes with the new Xbox, though no details on if it’s as unusable as its current version on the Xbox 360, and SmartGlass – the Xbox control app for phones and tablets – was name checked, but, again, no details on if it’s more than just the weak vision of Apple’s phenomenal AirPlay system it is now.
Microsoft always intended the Xbox to be a Trojan horse, allowing them to infiltrate the living room with games after which they could offer a total entertainment package. Xbox One is the most naked example of that. With TV, Xbox One seems to have nailed it. In fact, it’s hard to know what magic is left for Apple’s long-rumoured TV, should it ever appear. Frankly, it’s fair to say ‘iTV: thy name is Xbox One’.
How Microsoft approaches live TV may be interesting. Could Xbox get different ads in ad-breaks that are interactive? How much bespoke content is Microsoft commissioning? More importantly, how many of those unveiled features are USA only?
Yet, as always, it’s hard to know if all these features will be used. I still can’t figure out the point of Internet Explorer on a TV, even if it was a remotely usable app. Will people actually ‘snap’ two apps on screen? Will people take to the new gestures, even?
Yet in all this talk, we’ve almost forgotten about games. A few showed – Call of Duty: Ghosts, Forza 5 and something called Quantum Break. The graphics and new game engines look incredible and beautiful. Some of the social features in the PS4 made an appearance here, too, but in this presentation games were totally overshadowed by the TV element.
Xbox says it has 15 exclusive games commissioned, of which 8 are entirely new franchises. More games will be unveiled at the upcoming E3 conference.
Coming away from the unveil, it’s hard not to be blown away by Xbox in terms of technology. There really are some incredible features in there, but without focusing on the games they’ve left their grassroots supporters – gamers – in limbo and raised the bar for what is needed at E3. Few will buy Xbox for entertainment alone, they want games, and it’s probably much easier to get the mainstream on board once they’ve seen the gamers actually on the new Xbox.
More questions remain, like if the new Xbox allows second-hand games or not and how the home of indie games will look on XBLA, but on the face of it the Xbox One is a great product. This was clearly an event to show the Xbox’s entertainment chops, but it’s true test lies at E3.
As is the way, more details have since emerged. The Xbox One does allow second-hand games to run, is not compatible with Xbox 360 games and does not require a permanent internet connection.