The Xbox Reveal was upon us today and the live event showed us what Microsoft has in store for the next generation of the Xbox. Don Mattrick opened up the show to introduce us to the incredible stage and started off by going over the highlights of Xbox's life. All of it, he said, leading up to this point, which was a turning point for Microsoft.
To continue to lead, we must provide compelling answers to new questions.
Games, TV, Internet, hardware and software services that put you in the center.
And with that, he introduced the Xbox One. Putting aside the fact that both the terms "One" and "X" exist in at least another 12 tech devices that I can think of off-hand, the Xbox One, albeit a bit big, has an aesthetically pleasing look and feel to it, with a brand new Kinect and gaming controller to compliment it. So, what is the Xbox One? Well, Mattrick said the new-generation console was "Simple. Instant. Complete." No longer does one even have to switch inputs on your television to go from playing a game to watching a movie. Xbox One lets you control that, and a bunch more, all with your voice. Taking the enhancements of the console even further, Xbox One will also start to recognize your tendencies and what you like, serving it all up for you on the very personalized new home screen, which of course, looks very similar to your current dashboard and Windows Phone 8 devices. Microsoft even went on to slightly touch upon their definition of "always-on," in that the Xbox One is powered by the cloud, so you never have to worry about waiting to download an update when you want to play a game. It's very similar to the PS3's update system, except the Xbox will do it whenever you're not on, rather than at a set time each night.
A nice little touch is the fact that the Xbox's always-on approach gives you variable power states, which can be controlled all from your voice, by asking the Xbox One to turn on or off. I also really liked the "Trending" tab, which let you see what's popular amongst your friends, as well as what's happening around the games you play. We were able to see a little bit of a demo with the One's new media-switching as well, which worked seamlessly, quick and efficiently. The voice commands and gestures didn't feel forced, and you could easily move from music, to movies, back to your game and then even into Internet Explorer without missing a beat. Even better, all of it picks up where you left off.
How does that all happen? Well, the Xbox One, as we've expected for a while, is running off the Windows 8 kernel, which means it comes complete with some very nifty and ever-needed commands for the Xbox, like Snap. Just by saying "Xbox, Snap (Program Name)," you will "pin" whatever program you want to the side, allowing you to multitask on Skype, fantasy sports and more. We got to see group video calls while watching ESPN, and even got to check out our fantasy team, league standing and highlights, all while watching the live game. This is all done under the Xbox One Guide, with a Smart AI and speech recognition system, with improvements that will rival the recent enhancements found in the Google speech software. And speaking of media, I should mention that the NFL will now be available on the Xbox One, as part of a huge partnership that will see Microsoft products on NFL sidelines throughout the league.
Then, we got into the specs a little bit. Rivaling the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is complete with an 8-core processor (rumored to be AMD), 8GB of DDR3 RAM, USB 3.0, Wi-Fi Direct, a Blu-ray player and HDMI in and out, for set-top box pass-through. The Xbox One's x64 architecture also allows for three operating systems: Xbox One, Windows 8 and the middle tier, which allows you to switch easily between the two interfaces. Sound like Windows 8 and desktop mode, anyone?
For the Kinect, they've done a complete overhaul on the cool little gadget to allow it to make use of the new processing power of the Xbox One. From Microsoft,
It's more precise. More responsive. More intuitive. Its unparalleled voice, vision, and motion technology lets you reach into games and entertainment like never before. Automatically sign in when you enter the room. Accelerate through a game with subtle gestures. Or navigate through your favorite TV shows with the sound of your voice. It's an entirely new Kinect for a new generation of entertainment.
The three technologies, Real Vision, Real Motion and Real Voice, all play a factor to give the Kinect a 1080p camera, with more depth range and more sensors. There is also more joint detection, heat detection and even the ability to recognize when you squeeze your hands together or not.
The new controller also got an excellent upgrade, or 40, rather. WiFi direct and impulse triggers are only two of the great additions, among the redesigned look and feel of the handheld, which kind of resembles the MadCatz extreme gamer controllers that we've seen in recent years, complete with highly-textured thumbsticks. If you've bought one of the recent controllers from Microsoft, especially the ones with the transitional D-pad, you'd have noticed the sub-par thumbsticks, that just feel loose and poorly made. So, this is a huge improvement.
Lastly, SmartGlass is no longer an afterthought and is the third piece of the Xbox One interaction trifecta. With 10 million downloads already under the SmartGlass belt, the software is now designed to integrate natively with the Xbox One. The SmartGlass app also works hand-in-hand with the Snap features mentioned earlier, allowing you to navigate with your touch screen, and pinch and tap to surf the Web on your TV through the console.
Rounding out the full-on turbo-charged enhancements that Microsoft has made was the information about their server upgrades, built-in DVR console and an API and standards guideline for multiplayer matchmaking. We were told that when Xbox started, there were 500 servers, and today we're at 15,000. For Xbox One, there will be a staggering 300,000 servers to power the fleet of consoles. Talk about raw processing power. The built-in DVR console will allow you to record and publish your most dominating in-game moments, making your friends jealous. It will also come complete with an amazing search feature, to find the exact clip you want, and you can even search via a well thought-out stats system. For the matchmaking API, it would appear Microsoft was tired of the disaster that is Call of Duty, and has now given developers a system that will streamline multiplayer and make each game more similar and easier to navigate.
While we were given a full 60 minutes of ground-breaking announcements and features, many users felt the presentation lacked games, which I would agree. However, this event, unlike the PS4 event, was definitely geared towards the casual consumer, and of course retailers and investors, who will have more speaking power in terms of dollars and sales, as opposed to the hardcore gamer. Obviously, we'll see a more game-centric approach to a presentation at E3, so the bashing of the presentation we saw this week is a little unwarranted. Even with the great event, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered.
What we don't know, officially at least, is the actual release date, price and if there will be more than one SKU for the console. In the post-panel discussions and interviews, we learned that the Xbox One will unsurprisingly not have backwards compatibility, which includes the Xbox Live Arcade titles. There has been a lot of speculation, and no exactly confirmed word from Microsoft, on what level of Internet-connection will be needed to play. Adam Sessler reported that "some modes" won't work without a connection, but Id imagine that the console will require some sort of periodic handshake with the servers, considering the level of cloud support that is being used for this generation of Xbox. Finally, there has been no statement from Microsoft on the state of used games, other than that Microsoft is "designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games," and they will "have more details to share later." My speculation would be that Microsoft will not stray too far from the PlayStation 4 boat, in order to stay competitive, and that unless we see Sony and Microsoft both form a pact to eliminate GameStop, there will be an ability to play used games on the Xbox One. In regards to this "fee" rumor that has been floating around since both the "it'll be named 720" and "you can't ever use it offline" rumors were both debunked, Microsoft has left it to the statement above, however, again, I'd imagine it will be one in the same for both of the big two.
At any rate, excitement, speculation and anxiety all now run rampant for the next three weeks until we see more about the Xbox One at E3. I, for one, would like one of these consoles in my hands as soon as robotically possible, and have no qualms about any of the issues that most of the faux journalists and online gamers are griping about. We'll surely be discussing the Xbox Reveal on our show on Sunday, so be sure to check it out!