After months of rumors, Microsoft announced its next generation Xbox console at a rainy 1 p.m. EST event in Redmond, Washington.
Meet the Xbox One
Microsoft had endured a rocky couple months after the rumored leaked out that it would be banning used games on its upcoming console. Arch-rival Sony hot on the heels of its PlayStation 4 announcement, drummed up the issue, saying it would not ban used games. Frustration boiled over in creative director Adam Orth's tweets to an Xbox fan, posts which got the manager fired, and generated an official apology from Microsoft.
But if there was a scent of fear or frustration in the air, it was well disguised at the launch event, as Microsoft appeared confident its console would emerge on top of both Sony's PS4 and the struggling Nintendo Wii U console, which went on sale last November.
The culmination of four years of work, Microsoft's President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick announced the Xbox One, which he says embodies his company's vision of a cloud-connected, always-on, "all-in-one" entertainment system. He comments, "It must be simple, instant, and complete."
"Three Operating Systems In One"
Microsoft brags the Xbox One features "three operating systems in one". The bottom layer (which interacts with the hardware) is the Xbox operating system. The top level is an embedded Windows kernel, which drives the user interface. And a third "operating system" glues the two other OS layers together.
The new multi-level OS relies heavily on voice commands to seamlessly switch between different applications.
The new Xbox turns on via the voice command "Xbox on", which dumps you on your personalized home screen. The Xbox reroutes TV via the command "Xbox watch TV". Other voice commands include similar commands to jump to internet explorer ("Xbox goto Internet Explorer"), to play a game ("Xbox play game"), or listen to music ("Xbox play music").
The new Xbox also features application snapping -- similar to that found in Windows 7/8 -- to run to active applications in the display at once. The console is also remote controllable by Windows Phones with special gestures. Microsoft also showed off new group video-calling in Skype -- the video-calling subsidiary Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5B USD. The Skype calls are "snappable".
The console features an in-game DVR feature. Native editing apps are included to help you edit and post your gameplay videos to the Xbox Live cloud.
For TV, the console also provides voice-searchable local TV listings. Commands like "Watch SciFi channel.", "Watch MTV", "Show the guide.", or "What's on HBO?" all work as expected.
Users can pin favorite TV shows to an area called "Favorites". You can also check out what's trending among other users.
The Hardware and Controls
Here's the hardware (as stated by Mark Whitten in his "Under the Hood" presentation):
- Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
- 5 billion transistors (up from 500m in the Xbox 360)
- Native 64-bit
- Variable power states
- Blu-Ray Drive
- 500 GB HDD
- WiFi Direct (802.11n)
- USB 3.0
- HDMI out
- 8 GB of DRAM (up from 512 MB in the Xbox 360)
The console has three controllers -- an upgrade Kinnect, the good old fashioned controller, and "smart glass" (your Windows Phone smartphone).
A new version of Kinect comes bundled with the Xbox One. The Kinect camera has been bumped to 1080p HD RGB video camera (30 fps) and features some pretty advanced firmware. It features proprietary time of flight technology, which measures the time it takes photons to bounce off objects in the view to sense depth. It also features the microphone array that drives the voice commands.
Microsoft brags that it's upgraded "the best controller in the industry" (the Xbox 360 controller) with "over 40 improvements", including integrated battery compartment, integrated "pulse" controllers with features, better ergonomics, and better wireless response.
Microsoft appears to have hedged its bets against the Wii U with Smart Glass. The smartphone-enabled controller technology allows mini-tablet gameplay/gesture control similar to the Wii U.
Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is a big fan of the console saying it has a "very special relationship" with Microsoft and a shared "common vision". EA recently made waves dumping Nintendo, opting not to develop titles for the Wii U console.
Andrew Wilson, head of EA sports, showed off four special titles for the console -- FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA Live 14, and UFC.
Driven by a new Kinect-enabled engine called "EA Sports Ignite", the titles will launch within four months (which hints at the Xbox One's launch window). EA says the new engine provides 10 times more animation detail. It also features 3D crowds and dynamic sidelines.
Microsoft Studios promises to release 15 exclusive games in the first year, eight of which will be brand new franchises. Among the existing franchises showed off included a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 title, Call of Duty "Ghosts" (which features bruising, cuts, dirt under fingernails, and even fine hairs on arms and legs), a super-detailed upgrade to the Forza motorsports series, Forza Motorsports 5.
A new title from Remedy -- Quantum Break -- was also showed off, complete with time travelling (or teleporting?) little girls, crashing ships, and more.
Xbox Entertainment Studios had one other huge announcement -- Steven Spielberg (a self-professed Pong fan) is heading a project to turn the Halo science fiction shooter franchise into a live-action television series.
It sounds like the series will be some sort of directly distributed TV programming for the new console.
No official launch date or price for the new console was given, so some of the most important details are still unknown (Sony still hasn't announced the PS4 price either). Likewise the question of always-on DRM was not directly addressed (although bloggers may get an answer from Microsoft executives in interviews today or tomorrow).
(We do know the launch window is this year -- or within four months (by September), according to EA.)
Otherwise, from what was shown the Xbox One looks to be very strong from a user interface and controls standpoint. The real test will be how easy it will be for third parties to develop for, and whether Microsoft can avoid backlash of potential DRM decisions such as banning used games.
In short, the Xbox One launch event answered some questions, but left many of the biggest ones to be determined at a later date -- perhaps during the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).