Xbox One: Gaming Console or Home Entertainment Unit

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Earlier today Microsoft revealed their next generation console, the Xbox One. If you haven’t seen the launch video, check it out here. Otherwise, I have put together some of the main points discussed and questions posed of Microsoft’s new baby.

The presentation began with a sweeping speech about technology and its place in our lives, and how the Xbox One was going to become the “All-in-One Home Entertainment Experience.” Then cue the sensationalised video of how the console looks (that’s a given, right?). How does it look? Well, a bit hit and miss. On one hand, it is a basic black box that should match everything else in the average TV unit, but on the other hand, it is uninspiring and clinical. For something that is meant to be full of life, and natural, it has too many straight lines and right angles for nature. So I guess it is a matter of preference.

Now for the showy part: The Kinect has been refined and is integrated more with the use of the XB1. There is more voice recognition and new gestures, such as grab and pan, and swipe up, to navigate. The XB1 cannot function without a Kinect sensor bar and thus one comes with each console. It is able to sense speed, motion, impact, depth and intricate movements such as wrists and fingers. This is all to enhance the sleek and fast instant switching between functions and new “snap mode” that allows simultaneous running of apps. This was showcased in the form of receiving Skype calls while continuing playing or bringing up fantasy league statistics while watching a sports game on the ESPN live TV. The XB1 will even have a TV guide, if you live in the U.S. The menus are a bit more personal too. They reflect what you have been doing recently, and there is a “trending” page that shows what is popular with your friends and globally. You can even use your Windows smart phone or tablet to navigate the apps brought up in “snap mode.”  There was a major emphasis on television and sports, but most of this only works in the United States. We are yet to see how it will be executed and if or when it will come to other countries.

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The Xbox One Architecture runs three operating systems. The first one is the base Xbox operating system, the second is the Windows “kernel” that provides access to web-based applications, and the third one connects the two to ensure speedy switching and multitasking. There is a new controller with around 40 new features apparently. It reads your heartbeat, has a better center of gravity due to the battery being internal, rumbling triggers, a better D-pad and analog sticks, some more superficial changes and a resizing so it fits better in more people’s hands. Smart Glass has native integration, content is stored in the cloud, you can capture moments with DVR and asynchronous matchmaking means you can keep doing something else while waiting for pvp matchups in the background. Microsoft promises no “waiting for opponents” screens or lag with its next-gen console (how can it promise no lag when it has no control over our internet providers?). Some of these features are more intriguing than others, and some are more, as I said, superficial.

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The rest of the presentations were third party and featured partnerships with EA Sports, the NFL and 343Industries. EA Sports has a new title coming out for their four main franchises, each using their new EA Sports Ignite gaming engine. From the sounds of things if you were ever considering trying out one or more of these franchises, now is the time. The partnership with the NFL will provide exclusive content and allow easy updating to fantasy leagues; great for those who have them. The partnership with 343Industries will bring a live action TV series set in the Halo universe, directed by Steven Spielberg. Sounds big. There were a few trailers for games such as Forza Motorsports 5, Quantum Break, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The rest of the games will be revealed at E3, but we are assured that there will be more than 15 exclusive titles within a year of the XB1 release; 8 of them new franchises.

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The presentation was exciting and impressive, but afterwards I felt like I was distracted from the real points of interest with shiny baubles. There was so much left unanswered that gamers especially want to know. It looks like it will be a good home entertainment device, but why was there no real focus on games?

Most people would argue that a Home Entertainment Unit can include gaming, and it can, but the point being made is that the focus of what is meant to be a next-generation gaming console is really just a combination device with some better specifications. I’m not saying it is inherently a bad thing, but in a time where we have devices that do so many overlapping activities, the last thing we want is another superfluous technological paperweight. If you don’t already have each of these other devices, and own a large HD TV (it only has a HDMI port), then this might be great for you. I say might as in practice it might not be as useful as you think (like all those extra apps we download and never use).

Comparison ChartDifferent Consoles with Different Priorities

Now, don’t take my harsh remark to mean that I think it is an entirely useless device. What I don’t quite understand is their target market. So much of what you are capable of doing seems utterly pointless to the average or hardcore gamer. Much of what it can do, we wouldn’t want to anyway. The only solid market I can see reflected in the presentation is the “Jock Gamer” market (I use this term to indicate gamers who have only really come about in recent times, tend to be rather shallow in their game appreciation and generally only play sports games or FPS games). This is on account of the focus on sports games, fantasy leagues, the NFL partnership, and FPSs. A niche market is not enough to bank on.

It is clear Microsoft is trying to bring the focus of home entertainment back to the living room and TV unit, but these days, with the devices we have, we have shifted it to wherever in the house we want. It seems odd that we would want to step backwards in that regard despite our nostalgic cries for a game console that brings us back to sitting only in front of the TV. However, the online requirement puts a dampener on that. If you want an old school gaming experience, go to a store like Gametraders and pick up an old console. They don’t need internet connections and other fancy stuff like that. You will have to keep your 360 though anyway because the XB1 won’t be backwards compatible. But what about Xbox Live games? This is currently unknown, but we have been assured that achievements will come across.

The "Good Ol' Days"

Lastly, pre-owned games. Plenty of rumours have been flying around but Microsoft still will not definitively answer them. Since all games will need to be installed on the hard drive, there is supposedly going to be fee to install pre-used games. The amount has not been specified, nor has the detailed approach to reselling games. We are told, however, that if you go to a friend’s house to play your game, you will not have to pay the installation fee if you sign in to your profile on their console. Also, we have heard nothing of an app store, which, from a development standpoint, is a very significant feature of Xbox Live.

While I understand where the name Xbox One comes from, the numerical connotations of the name make it a confusing choice, considering it is really the third Xbox generation. So far Microsoft has shown nothing that can’t be bested by a gaming PC, and has implied with this presentation that gaming is not even the primary concern for the Xbox One. Ultimately, it is an interesting home entertainment unit that can play games; not a gaming console. Does that really matter? To some, only in regards to terminology. Will I buy one? Well, the price and usefulness of the features to me will determine how long AFTER the PS4 I may buy it. After all, I only recently bought an Xbox360, and I only ever use that for video streaming from my PC to my TV via Media Center. Should you buy it? That depends on how impressed you are by the novelty, whether you care for the exclusive releases, or if you are a loyal fan. None of those are bad reasons. It looks like a good device if you will make use of the features. Both next-gen consoles are expected to come with a hefty price tag, but what I wonder is whether they will be region free or not.

Schmanda Rose

 

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