Microsoft Packs Xbox One With Home Entertainment Power
The Xbox One may be one small step for a gaming console, but Microsoft is pitching it as a giant leap for home entertainment systems. You can connect your cable or satellite box to it, allowing easy toggling between TV and games. You can divide the screen to do two things at once -- say watch a TV show while Skyping -- and you can control the system dashboard with voice commands.
Microsoft has officially unveiled the Xbox One, promising it will usher in a new generation of games, TV and entertainment. The One comes a dozen years after the original Xbox video game console debuted, and eight years after its best-selling Xbox 360 proved that Microsoft was a serious contender in the gaming arena.
The reveal took place at an event at its Redmond, Wash., campus on Tuesday, three weeks in advance of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show to be held this June in Los Angeles.
Although even average desktops have surpassed the computing performance of the Xbox 360, Microsoft has gone beyond leveling the playing field with the Xbox One. It features 8 GB of system memory, a 500-GB hard drive and something the Xbox 360 never delivered -- a Blu-ray drive.
In addition to plenty of on-board storage, the Xbox One offers access to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform.
It has USB 3.0 and HDMI connections, as well as voice-connectivity options that let gamers make commands conversationally. The game system's controller features 40 design innovations, according to the company, many of which are meant to enhance ergonomics and control precision in a newly designed D-pad.
The Xbox One offers "some solid improvements and an impressive industrial design," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
It features built-in Kinect functionality, including the ability to monitor the user's heartbeat while working out. The build-in 1080p camera reportedly enlarges the sensor field by as much as 60 percent and captures video at 60 frames per second, making it ideal for games as well as Skype video calls.
Going the Distance
Despite its advances, it isn't clear whether the Xbox One will have the longevity of the Xbox 360.
"The question will be how long will the hardware remain current," Enderle told TechNewsWorld.
"The problem with the last series is that everyone left the hardware in place for too long and the industry almost died out," he said.
"At launch -- and for at least the first two years -- this will be interesting, but after that staying ahead of the technology curve will be more difficult, and the move is toward mobile," Enderle added. "Its main competition will likely be tablets and products like the Nvidia Surface rather than the PlayStation 4 or Nintendo offerings."
Microsoft also announced a new partnership to bring exclusive content to Xbox Live via Skype and SmartGlass technologies. The SmartGlass tech will automatically pair the system with compatible smartphones and tablets, allowing them to interact with the TV as a remote control.
With the Xbox One, "the Kinect sensors are much higher resolution with greater sensitivity, and can handle detailed, simultaneous multiplayer input," said independent video game analyst Billy Pidgeon. "They've made improvements to the matchmaking routines, so there should be better local and connected multiplayer gaming."
Thanks in part to the cloud support and Kinect improvements, the Xbox One should be able to provide dedicated servers for hosting multiplayer matches -- perhaps up to 64 or even 128 players rather than the typical 16- or 32-player limit. Multiplayer play is a big component of many games.
"That'll likely be handled in the back end, and Microsoft's back end is as capable as anyone else's," said Enderle. "Blending the different screens -- tablet, PC, smartphone -- is where this'll get interesting, as you could craft a game that's optimized for each and provide a very different experience to each."
As for actual games, Micosoft's Phil Spencer said during Tuesday's event hat 15 games are in development and will arrive within the first year of release of the new system. Eight of these are entirely new intellectual properties.
While a powerful game system, the Xbox One is just as much a multifunction set-top box.
"Xbox One is more dedicated to living room entertainment beyond gaming than Xbox 360," Pidgeon told TechNewsWorld.
It will offer a variety of content, including a new Halo live-action TV series produced by Steven Spielberg, which will be exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem.
The Xbox is becoming a powerful media center for the home, Enderle said, "particularly as folks divorce themselves from traditional time-sensitive TV programming and move to on-demand streaming. It is a much more impressive product than I expected."