Design and Hands-on impressions
The Xbox One is large, sleek, and black, and looks like a piece of AV equipment. The controller and Kinect unit are redesigned, too: the Kinect and Xbox One, in particular, sport sharp-angled, glossy-black boxy looks. As a set, the Xbox One really does feel like some elaborate piece of home theater gear — and considering its mission to knit entertainment together into a modern all-in-one package, that’s clearly intentional.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
At the E3 show in Los Angeles, we got a chance to play both Ryse: Son of Rome and Crimson Dragon at Microsoft’s booth, but if you were here to hear about games, you probably took a wrong turn at the corner of Giant Bomb and GameSpot. No, here we’ll focus on the look and feel of the controller and system.
First of all, the new Xbox One controller feels a bit lighter than the 360′s, and looks like a slightly more angular version of its older brother. It’s just as comfortable, if not more comfortable than the 360′s, as it fits almost perfectly into my rather large hands. The plastic on the face of the controller feels noticeably smooth and the new A, B, X, and Y buttons have a new, more striking coat of paint on them (they’re now black buttons with colored lettering instead of colored buttons). The analog sticks feel suitably tight and precise; however, there’s a distracting, grooved texture that surrounds the top of each stick that I wasn’t a huge fan of. I can see where it might provide a more tactile feel, however. The D-pad is pretty tight and clicky, but doesn’t feel quick as tight and clicky as I expected. It’s a definite improvement over the 360’s wobbly disaster of a D-pad. But as everyone knows, the true measure of a D-pad is how well it controls fighting games, but I’ve yet to have a chance to play Killer Instinct.
As mentioned above, a new Kinect comes with the Xbox One, complete with improved accuracy. It has a 1080p camera, Skype connectivity, and understanding of rotational movement in a structure like a skeleton. Microsoft even claims the new Kinect can read your heartbeat. It can also recognize your controller, not just your hands — suggesting uses that sound a little like the ones for PlayStation Move’s wand.
Always on,’ used games, and lending (reconsidered!)
Following E3 2013 and after nearly a month of taking beating in the press, Microsoft has changed its stand on the Xbox Digital Rights Management (DRM) policies.
First, the good news. The Xbox One will no longer require an Internet connection to play games. Users will connect the console to the Internet during its initial setup, but afterward can play any disc-based or downloaded game for as long as they want, without ever connecting to the Internet again.
Of course, if you desire a multiplayer match with people over the Internet, then you’ll need to connect to it.
To drive home the point, Microsoft states, “There is no 24-hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.”
Microsoft has also pulled a 180 (I’ll leave any “Xbox 180″ jokes to the Internet at large) on how the Xbox One will handle the trade-in, lending, reselling, gifting, and renting of game discs. Essentially stating that it’ll work “just like” it does today on the 360, and “there will be no limitations to using and sharing games.”
Xbox One games will still receive Day One digital downloadable versions; however, games will no longer require that you install them to the One’s built-in hard drive. Also, there will no longer be any regional restrictions on games.
Happy? I don’t see why you wouldn’t be after reading those details — especially Gamefly users — it’s a decidedly more pro-consumer stance; however, the fine print of Microsoft’s turn is a bummer for those excited about the advantages the company’s new policies would offer users. According to Microsoft, the changes will affect its plans for sharing games digitally. Its previous policy stated that Xbox One users would be able to share their entire game library with up to 10 “family members.” So while you played Forza 5 on your Xbox One, a “family member” could be enabled to play your version of any other game in your library on their own Xbox One. This will no longer be the case. “Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc-based games will require that the disc be in the tray.” So much for the brave new digital world. We can only hope that Microsoft slowly integrates these sharing features over the lifespan of the Xbox One, because despite the very vocal (an in many ways justified) DRM critics, that sharing feature was really cool.
Microsoft promises that this is a better-connected way of linking TV, games, and entertainment in one unit — something the Xbox 360 already does, but will do more via commands like “Xbox, on.” As was said during the initial press conference, you’re “going to have a relationship with your TV.” The elevator pitch: take on a living room that has become “too complex,” and make a system that knits together games, TV, and entertainment.
The Kinect sensor again comes into play here. The accessory enables voice and gesture control, both of which are integrated into the Xbox One’s TV control. Watching live TV will involve maximizing and minimizing the screen in a top corner. Live TV will be part of the Xbox One experience, via HDMI-in. Yes, cable TV compatibility looks like part of the package. But we haven’t seen, other than some picture-in-picture overlays, how exactly TV is piped in and more deeply interacted with — and who the partners are. Comcast was mentioned, but what other companies will contribute to letting the Xbox One hook in and become a true TV accessory? That was the challenge that daunted Google TV and the Wii U. Right now, it doesn’t look like the Xbox One replaces your cable box or your DVR, even though it’s large enough to be both. The Xbox One does knit together new voice commands to do some PC-like stuff: you can order movie tickets, for instance, engage in Skype, or pull up fantasy sports stats while watching a game. The conversational, Siri-meets-Google Now-like voice commands hopefully will have clear menu representation on the console, as otherwise it could get confusing.
“It’s an all-in-one entertainment console” is a pitch we’ve heard before, dating back to the PlayStation 3 and before that — really, going back all the way to the 3DO. It hasn’t always worked, but the Xbox One is better positioned because the Xbox 360′s already pretty successful at being an excellent streaming-video device.
Microsoft is also bringing exclusive video content and some unique interactivity to the TV party. At the Xbox One’s May 21 rollout, Steven Spielberg announced a new TV series based on Halo, and the NFL demonstrated some level of interaction with fantasy stats and Skyping with NFL broadcasts.
Under the hood, details so far include an eight-core processor and graphics made by AMD, 8GB of RAM, Blu-ray, USB 3.0, HDMI in/out, and a 500GB hard drive. Besides all of this, Microsoft is promising a new operating system fusing Xbox and Windows.
The Xbox One architecture has “three operating systems in one”: Xbox, a kernel of Windows (perhaps like Windows RT), and a multitasking interface. The idea seems to be that this console will be a multitasker at heart. Check out a head-to-head comparison with the PlayStation 4 specs known so far, however, and you can see that the distance between Sony and Microsoft, in terms of hardware, will be shorter than ever.
The tablet-based SmartGlass experience will center on the Xbox One, and will work as before with a variety of phones and tablets. Baked-in Wi-Fi Direct on the Xbox One will allow Bluetooth-like direct communication between external devices, which could come in handy for other future peripherals, too.
Now with SmartGlass you’ll be able start single-player games, set up multiplayer matches, view achievements, and purchase in-game add-ons. With the new game Ryse, Microsoft demonstrated the ability to get instant real-time stat comparisons with friends you play with. You’ll also have access to any Game DVR videos they’ve uploaded.
Built on the existing service and usernames, the new Xbox Live promises 300,000 servers for the Xbox One, a whopping number. Matchmaking services will work while you’re doing other tasks like watching movies or Web browsing, and bigger, more quickly connecting matches are promised, too. Microsoft has discussed some cloud services on the Xbox One that seem promising: user-based cloud game saves, uploaded game recording, and even the potential for cloud-processing-enhanced games. How that will play out isn’t clear.
For all you football team and cheerleading squad captains out there, Xbox Live’s maximum friends list gets a boost from 100 friends to “all of your friends.” It’s unclear, though, if that truly means an unlimited capacity. Also, Microsoft says if you’re a Gold member, anyone in your household will be able to use your Gold member benefits, including multiplayer matches, without you being signed in at all.
Microsoft stated at E3 that Xbox Live will no longer use its sometimes misleading
space bucksMicrosoft Points currency, but is joining the rest of the world and using real-world currency.
Game DVR automatically records the last few seconds of your gameplay and allows you to upload video of your latest triumph for others to see. Using Upload Studio, gamers can “curate, edit, share, and publish” videos of gameplay, directly from the machine, according to Microsoft.
The Xbox One will not be backward compatible with the Xbox 360, but anyone doubting the Xbox One’s gaming cred need only to sit through its 1.5-hour Pre-E3 press conference presentation where it showed off about about as many as it could fit into that time.
A new Halo game was previewed as well as other sequels: Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, and Metal Gear Solid 5. That’s great and all, and must delight the fanboys, but what was more impressive was the amount of new IP featured.