Today’s the new Xbox day. After Sony on February 20 revealed its PlayStation 4 without actually showing anything in way of the hardware, the Windows giant during a special event at its Redmond headquarters announced a next-generation Xbox console dubbed the Xbox One. The system is billed as an “all-in-one entertainment system” which promises to “put you at the center of a new generation of the living room.”
Key features include a built-in Blu-ray drive, Skype, voice input and live TV functionality, the new gamepad and an enhanced Kinect camera sensor with 1080p resolution. On the surface, the device appears to pack in more advanced features than Sony’s PS4 while sporting useful set-top box functionality.
Digging deeper, the One wants to replace your Apple TV, Roku, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation and any similar box by becoming the only box your TV set really needs. And yes, it indeed has what it takes to become the center of your living room. Go past the fold for the full breakdown…
On the hardware front, the One is a powerhouse: it runs an eight-core x86 processor with 8GB RAM, has USB 3.0 and 500GB of storage space and HDMI in and out. Microsoft also touted over five billion transistors driving the One.
The console’s unassuming design may come as a disappointment to some of you, but being hiddable has its advantages given a plethora of fugly set-top boxes already fighting for space under your TV set.
The system relies on the enhanced Kinect for pretty much everything you do. That’s why the Windows maker has decided to ship a Kinect sensor with every Kinect One sold. That’s right, the Kinect is no longer an optional accessory and now comes standard with every Xbox One unit sold.
The new Kinect is responsible for voice-activated features used throughout the system. In addition to powering the system up and down with your voice, you can pause a movie by saying ‘Xbox, pause’, resume playing (‘Xbox, resume’) and so forth.
And the instant you power up the system, the One recognizes who you are, what movies and television shows you like and tailors the revamped Home screen to your liking.
And here’s the redesigned controller.
The unsightly battery bump on the back is finally gone for good, enabling Microsoft’s industrial designers to create a sleeker unit. Not only does the redesigned controller feels more natural in your hands, it’s control buttons are more accessible now.
Another cool feature: the One’s built-in Kinect microphone is so sensitive to your presence that it can pick up your heartbeat while you’re exercising and process audio personalized to specific individuals. In fact, the One’s always-on listening mode means the system is “ready when you are.”
Specifically, the new Kinect listens to you at all times, allowing you to power up the One simply by saying ‘Xbox On’, even when the console is turned off. The always-on listening relies on the One running in an extremely low-power state which keeps only the basic features active.
Another killer feature: the One integrates with your existing cable set-top box, a feature we’ve long held Apple should add to its Apple TV hockey-puck. This means you can navigate and watch live TV from your cable, telco or satellite set-top box through your One.
And with the ability to switch to, say, ESPN straight from a video game just by saying ‘Xbox, ESPN’, the new Xbox has a lot to offer as a home theater entertainment device.
But wait, there’s more.
With the new Snap multitasking feature, you can play a game while watching your favorite movie, or chat with friends on Skype (group Skype calls are supported) while watching live TV or track your fantasy team on TV as you watch the big game.
They also have a tailored program guide called OneGuide which lets you search content by network, name or time, just by asking.
Topping it all off, your One features NFL Fantasy Football integration, has Skype and Smart Glass (basically Microsoft’s AirPlay) and will install games on built-in storage.
Here’s more on that multi-year NFL partnership.
With features like these, the One admittedly stands a chance of becoming an all-encompassing home entertainment system.
Here’s your Xbox One unveil video.
Another one with Xbox executives Yusuf Mehdi, Phil Spencer and Marc Whitten discussing how the One brings your games, TV, movies, music, sports and Skype together.
Microsoft as of today has 76 million Xbox 360 units worldwide and 46 million users connected via the Xbox Live service. Xbox Live itself is powered by a network of an astounding 300,000 servers – that’s more server computing power than was available in all of the Internet in 1999, according to Major Nelson.
And right below is the behind-the-scenes video with Lisa Gurry and Major Nelson explaining how the Xbox One was created on Microsoft’s Xbox campus in Redmond, Washington, where the magic happens.
Here we get to catch a glimpse of Microsoft’s in-house model shop with 3D printing, extensive testing in its accessories lab (with robots and simulated button pressers testing the lifecycle of the controller with up to two million pressers per controller), an anechoic chamber used to advance speech recognition in Kinect, and the Xbox Operating Center, which acts as the hub of online excellence for Xbox Live.
For those wondering, Microsoft has over 3,200 employees working on the Xbox project.
Microsoft also posted the following clip titled ‘Xbox One Anthem,’ basically a celebration video of the Xbox community with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and film director Steven Spielberg, along with users and creators, discussing why the new console sets the benchmark for everyone else.
Summing up, all this whiz-bang technology comes at a price: the One won’t play your existing Xbox 360 games – but who the heck cares about legacy games, anyway?
Speaking of games, here’s Quantum Break, a new title from the creators of Alan Wake and Max Payne that promises to blur the line between gameplay and television.
Forza Motorsport 5 from Turn 10 Studios, an Xbox One launch exclusive.
Call of Duty: Ghosts Reveal also looks promising.
And here are EA Sports upcoming One titles powered by the new Ignite engine that incorporates human intelligence algorithms, true player motion and living worlds.
Microsoft will have more Xbox One news, including pricing and availability, coming up at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which takes place June 11-13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
An avid gamer like myself would praise Microsoft’s execution of today’s unveiling. I’ll just go ahead and admit that I’m pretty stoked about the One.
With that off of my back, it’s worth pointing out that not only is Microsoft pushing aggressively into the home entertainment space with the new Xbox, it’s also keen on not repeating the mistake of Google (Nexus Q Orb), Apple (Apple TV) and others.
At a time when people are growing increasingly wary of unsightly boxes, methinks Microsoft has created an unsuspecting, stealthy gadget that just unassumingly sits right under your telly, “ready when you are.”
And make no mistake about it, Microsoft’s One sure as hell means trouble for the Apple TV (not everyone agrees, of course).
So, what do you make of all of this?