Digesting the Xbox One announcement

By Mike on 11:34 pm

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In case you were living under a rock, dear gamer, the new Xbox One was announced today. I must say I felt rather underwhelmed with Microsoft's presentation. Especially after Sony's strong showing back in March. Here's a peak and some commentary at what's coming up for the nextbox.

It has an odd name
When gamers refer to the Xbox One, they usually mean the original Xbox. Guess that well known fact went unnoticed at Redmond. It's a bit of an odd choice, and completely out of left field. Many figured it would be called the Infinity, which makes (ahem) infinitely more sense. Then again silly names can work sometimes. Just look at the Wii. Though I still think it's code name Revolution was cooler.

It will be out by the end of the year
Microsoft hasn't set a date but they did confirm it will launch by the end of 2013. Expect a November launch window in the run up to the holidays. That seems to be the norm these days.

We don't know how much it costs
Microsoft didn't say a word about pricing, or even if there would be different models to buy. With cable integration, we can speculate that this may be part of the much rumoured subsidization program. So far, Redmond is tight lipped on the subject.

Keep reading after the break more details on the Xbox One

It's primarily a media centre PC
We'll forgive you if you thought they were introducing their first HTPC and not a game console. Microsoft spent most of the press conference touting the Xbox One's media capabilities. As many expected, the system attempts to be an all encompassing system. It's designed to replace your DVR, cable box, and smart TV.

The Xbox One features Live TV integration, complete with voice activated controls. Tell it what channel you want to watch, and it tunes it for you. No need to remember what number it is on your cable guide. Say a show you like to watch and the One will find it and pull it up on your interactive programming guide. The technology is powered by Windows 8. Snap Mode lets you run multiple things simultaneously with voice commands.

The One will also feature DVR capabilities with a built in 500 GB hard drive.

A couple things are worth noting about the media functionality. Firstly it seems heavily focused on American users. Second, cable TV is all fine and dandy but people are looking for IPTV alternatives today. Cable is a dying medium. Microsoft didn't really touch on streaming content.

UPDATE: IGN has confirmed that the Xbox One's Live TV feature will only be available in the United States at launch.

It has two operating systems, make that three! 
Microsoft claims it has three operating systems. On the gaming side, you have the classic Xbox OS. On the media side, it runs a modified version of Windows 8 complete with Metro interface. The third OS supposedly ties the other two together seamlessly. It will be fully capable of multitasking.

It will offer cloud services
Games that live in the cloud, smarter AI that learns from how you and your friends play, share content across consoles. That's the name of the game in this new connected world.

It has a new controller
The new controller for the One is a lot like the old one. It's wireless but finally includes an integrated rechargeable battery. The direction pad, which was a big issue with the 360 controller, has also been redesigned. The triggers now have a built in vibration function which Microsoft calls "impulse triggers".

Kinect is improved, required
If you thought you could escape Kinect this time around, tough luck. Though, it has improved significantly. It's been upgraded to 1080p. It's even said to be able to distinguish players by their appearance and even their sound. Impressive stuff. Whether the device's actual functionality has improved remains to be seen. The original Kinect worked poorly for anything that wasn't a party game.

Good news is you'll be able to use it to Skype. Though that's pretty standard today.

Oh Xbox One, you so sexy. Like overpriced audiophile DVD player

It will need to be online
Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One will require you to be connected to the internet to use it. However, it does not require the rumoured always-on connection. The downside is it will need to be connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours to stay functional. So much for taking it to the cottage.

It will ban used games, sort of
Microsoft dropped a massive bombshell in their typical way, by glossing over it. Yes, it seems the Xbox One will indeed ban used games, sort of. They've adopted a system similar to Steam other digital download services. Disc based games will come with an activation code that must be entered when the game is first installed. This ties the game to your Xbox Live account. If you chose to sell the game or even bring it to a friend's house, you must pay full price to reactivate the game on a different account.

While not outright banning used games, it makes them obsolete. Who's going to buy a preowned disc if they're going to have to pay full retail price to activate it? GameStop's stock took a nose dive, dropping over 5% on the announcement.

This news has also stirred up a hornets nest among gamers, including loyal Xbox fans. Judging by the comments on various websites, this is a deal breaker. Many are pledging to jump ship to Sony, who have not announced plans to limit used games on the PS4. I originally thought that Microsoft was too smart to implement this, given both gamer outrage and their competitors' decision to maintain the status quo. Seems I was incorrect.

It will have the same hardware as the PS4
Well, close enough anyway. Microsoft was pretty mum on what the Xbox One has under the hood. We do know that it has an x86-64, 8-core AMD processor, 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a custom designed GPU, and Blu-ray drive. For connectivity it has integrated WiFi, USB 3.0, and both HDMI inputs and outputs. Aside from that, we know next to nothing about it.

Unlike Sony, Microsoft did show off what the console actually looks like. It's a minimalist, piano black, rectangular box. It appears like a lot of high end BD players. So far reviews on its aesthetics have been mixed, though I like it.

You can't upgrade the hard drive
If you get the 500GB Xbox One model, you're stuck with it. The hard drive is integrated into the system and cannot be user upgraded. However, it does support external USB drives. What, if any limitations will be placed on these external hard drives is yet to be seen. It's a poor design choice since even 360 owners could upgrade the drive with larger modules.

The obvious problem is that as games keep getting bigger, more storage will be desired. Especially since the Xbox One requires mandatory hard drive installs for all games. Bioshock Infinite, one of the larger games I own, uses 17GB of hard drive space. If this becomes the norm, it means the Xbox One can only hold about 30 games at a time. That's not including other content such as saves, music, videos, and DVR recordings.

It won't play Xbox 360 games
Like the PS4, the Xbox One won't be backwards compatible with it's predecessor. It uses a different CPU language and current generation games are hard to emulate through software.

Microsoft showed off very few games
One thing conspicuously missing from a game console announcement were the games. We saw a few things but nowhere near what Sony had to show back in March.

Microsoft has paired into a partnership with EA Sports. Quite a few sports games including FIFA were shown or mentioned. Call of Duty: Ghost will also make an appearance on the system. Only teaser trailers were offered for these titles, but it seems the Xbox One is at least as capable as a modern gaming PC. Visuals look fantastic.

Two exclusives were shown. Quantum Break, by the producers of Alan Wake, a sci-fi action game that allows the player to manipulate time, so it would seem. The biggest coup against Sony, however, was Forza 5. Microsoft's exclusive grand tourer has quickly surpassed Grand Turismo as the preferred racing simulator. GT has become dated and Forza is a fresh and exciting take on the genre. What little footage we saw of Forza 5 looks stunning. With GT6 coming out for the PS3 only this fall, it's definitely an upper hand against Sony. Though I doubt it's enough to grab killer app status.

In fact none of the games shown had a killer app quality. Most games we saw were multiplatform titles, which will also be appearing on the PS4. It's a sharp contrast from Sony's event which was heavily focused on games, namely exclusive games, and featured plenty of in-game footage. Gamers, of course, aren't happy.

The launch event was lacklustre at best
Today's Xbox One unveiling was a far cry from the 360's way back in 2005. No Elijah Wood to pull the blanket off this shiny new game console. In fact the event seemed rather dry and spoke little of things that matter to Xbox's core audience. It's quite odd to see a game console launch with hardly any games being shown. It was as they were introducing a new line of computer mice instead of the future of gaming.

While the media stuff is indeed cool, a lot of gamers were left scratching their heads. Many felt the good stuff will come at E3 next month. Others were less optimistic. Angry Joe had a good long rant about the unveiling. Kotaku called it a disaster. The consensus seems to be that gamers were left unimpressed, if not deeply disappointed.

I'm firmly in the Playstation and PC camp by this point. While the Xbox One has some cool stuff, there's just nothing here to get anyone excited. The 360 was a fantastic console. This, well, I'm not really quite sure what to make of what I just saw. Angry Joe probably summed it up best, calling it a gaming PC without the performance. Given the drawbacks, he went on to say that there's no advantage to using this over the PC platform.

Kaz Hirai is a very happy man 
Sony stock went up 9.25% on the announcement of the Xbox One. By contrast, Microsoft stock traded flat, ending the day down two-thirds of a percent. That's not what you'd expect from such a big product unveiling. It seems investors are not impressed with the new console and are putting their money behind Sony.

You'll have to wait until E3
Microsoft will show off more games at the E3 convention next month. Util then, the Xbox One is shaping up to be the underdog for this round. The unveiling had a little good mixed in with a lot of bad. For now it seems that the Playstation 4 has the clear upper hand.

-Angry Joe

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