Gone is the Infinity, the Durango or the 720. The Microsoft new console will be simply the Xbox One, one box to rule them all: an Internet, social media, video, music and gaming device designed for you mass multimedia consumers, fitting all your eggs in one basket for a better multitasking feat without having to lift a finger… or maybe not with the new Kinect.
As I watched the Xbox Reveal last night, the course of this presentation did not surprise me at all. Given the evolving capacities of the Xbox 360 for the past three years, with the addition of Kinect’s voice and motion controls, sports apps such as ESPN or even the addition of TV giants such as HBO GO and Netflix, the Xbox One team had in mind a greater audience than your good ol’ fashioned – so-called – pure gamer.
Highlighted in the first part of the conference, voice recognition and gesture were expanded to a whole new level on the Xbox One: voice recognized orders that will turn on the standby machine, change on the fly between applications (games, video, interface), zapping between TV channels, content search, minimize and maximize “windows” through Minority Report movements… And the list goes on. Your TV thanks to the Xbox One will feel like a giant glorified tablet, ditching the multi-finger action gesture to a hands, body and voice controls.
Another feature that will delight those who are so deeply rooted in a “virtual” life, will appreciate the Snap Mode, a function that will open a tab on the right side of the screen to view show, game or app related content such as statistics on a football match, the actor’s biography or even the options to Skype with a friend.
The Xbox One team had in mind a greater audience than your good ol’ fashioned – so-called – pure gamer.
It’s a world of simultaneous multimedia multitasking built in the heart of this reveal, breaking the need to have to go through a computer or mobile device to interact, even if the boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred with the unification of functions and interfaces. Connection, harmonization and simplification were the watchwords of this presentation.
Bridges are even prepared to smoothly cross to the film and television industry: Between Steven Spielberg unveiling a future Halo series in partnership with 343 Industries, exclusive distribution contract with the NFL, CBS or the announcement of Quantum Break, a new exclusive Remedy title merged with a weekly TV series, Microsoft’s intentions could not be clearer. Even Hideo Kojima, the movie lovers that he is, slipped briefly in the introductory video, even if no particular project was showcased during the conference.
So what about the heart of the machine itself? Dissected on stage via a video, the Xbox One features an eight-core processor AMD GPU, 8 GB of RAM, not to mention the might 500GB HDD coupled with a Blu-ray player. Unlike the first ever Xbox 360, Wi-Fi (802.11n) will be used without having to invest in an expensive adapter, and at the rear of the console, there are output and input for display via HDMI (logically to bring the TV output through your console), a typical Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (and a third on the edge), as well as a plug for the new Kinect version.
Since we’re talking about Microsoft’s motion control peripheral, the new Kinect is now essential to the functioning of the Xbox One, with an improved camera to capture 1080p footage (no more tri-sensor), works in the dark and requires less range than its predecessor, with the angle boosted by 60%.
The Kinect technology was deeply showcased, explaining the number of joints it can read on a recognized body but also the analysis of depth, rotation, balance and force of impact, promising a more accurate tool, while the microphone will pick up sounds and voice better.
And as the Xbox 360, the controller was revamped. What I myself call the best gaming controller has been redesigned, but yet keeping the feel and spirit of its predecessor. The A, B, X, Y button are here to stay, but the large central Xbox logo has been pushed up to leave some space for two new alteration of the Back / Start buttons, transformed now into View / Menu. The first will open the inventory, a map or rankings in the game, the other will call the game menu.
The bad news now for current generation Xbox players is going to their title catalog and its Xbox Live service. Although the Xbox Live profile will be transferred and the servers are being boosted to an astounding amount of 300,000 full throttle integrated cloud gaming servers, the lack of backward compatibility is a letdown but yet still understandable.
The new Xbox One infrastructure such as the PlayStation 4 is based on different chips, giving the benefits of capturing, editing and sharing footage of the game, optimized matchmaking , automated updates, seamless online games, but restricting only half the Xbox 360 titles library to be played via emulation techniques.
The situation will also be problematic for boxed games loans or resale. Asked by Kotaku, the vice president of Microsoft, Phil Harrison, says that saved game will be tied to an account and others can play on the console where the activation was performed. It will also be possible to use the same account on another console to access the same game.
Giving your game to a friend will push them to buy a single activation key, something that we are used to nowadays with online passes. A whammy for free sharing and second-hand market, especially since the Xbox One requires to be connected at least once a day to keep playing offline for 24 hours. Nevertheless, seeing the trends in the gaming industry, and the ongoing piracy rates not really dropping, this is no different than the Steam profile and library restriction scenarios.
It’s time for a younger and fresher audience to be tapped
The Xbox One is a bold move from Microsoft, maybe not on an aesthetic point of view, or even its core technology – close to the PlayStation 4 – but on stressing out the dawn of new type of gamer. Myself, and many of you who are reading this are the last remnants of the gaming scene as we know it, and as strong as our nostalgic feelings are, we cannot help but admit that we’re the old generation, and it’s time for a younger and fresher audience to be tapped. The one that tweet every second, stream its gameplay daily, upload montages, has even a Facebook page or its own blog… In one way, social media and information has become the world’s greatest product, and we are multimedia mass consumers, whether we like to admit it or not.