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New console features heavy voice support, Windows-like features, focus on multimedia

After months of rumors, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) announced its next generation Xbox console at a rainy 1 p.m. EST event in Redmond, Washington.

I. Meet the Xbox One

Microsoft had endured a rocky couple months after the rumored leaked out that it would be banning used games on its upcoming console.  Arch-rival Sony Corp. (TYO:6758), hot on the heels of its PlayStation 4 announcement, drummed up the issue, saying it would not ban used games.  Frustration boiled over in creative director Adam Orth's tweets to an Xbox fan, posts which got the manager fired, and generated an official apology from Microsoft.

But if there was a scent of fear or frustration in the air, it was well disguised at the launch event, as Microsoft appeared confident its console would emerge on top of both Sony's PS4 and the struggling Nintendo Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7974Wii U console, which went on sale last November.

The culmination of four years of work, Microsoft's President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick announced the Xbox One, which he says embodies his company's vision of a cloud-connected, always-on, "all-in-one" entertainment system.  He comments, "It must be simple, instant, and complete."

Xbox One

II. "Three Operating Systems In One"

Microsoft brags the Xbox One features "three operating systems in one".  The bottom layer (which interacts with the hardware) is the Xbox operating system.  The top level is an embedded Windows kernel, which drives the user interface.  And a third "operating system" glues the two other OS layers together.

The new multi-level OS relies heavily on voice commands to seamlessly switch between different applications.  

The new Xbox turns on via the voice command "Xbox on", which dumps you on your personalized home screen.  The Xbox reroutes TV via the command "Xbox watch TV".  Other voice commands include similar commands to jump to internet explorer ("Xbox goto Internet Explorer"), to play a game ("Xbox play game"), or listen to music ("Xbox play music").

The new Xbox also features application snapping -- similar to that found in Windows 7/8 -- to run to active applications in the display at once.  The console is also remote controllable by Windows Phones with special gestures.  Microsoft also showed off new group video-calling in Skype -- the video-calling subsidiary Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5B USD.  The Skype calls are "snappable".

The console features an in-game DVR feature.  Native editing apps are included to help you edit and post your gameplay videos to the Xbox Live cloud.

For TV, the console also provides voice-searchable local TV listings.  Commands like "Watch SciFi channel.", "Watch MTV", "Show the guide.", or "What's on HBO?" all work as expected.

Xbox One TV Guide
Xbox One's localized TV Guide

Users can pin favorite TV shows to an area called "Favorites".  You can also check out what's trending among other users.

III. The Hardware and Controls

Here's the hardware (as stated by Mark Whitten in his "Under the Hood" presentation):
  • CPU
    > Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
    > 5 billion transistors (up from 500m in the Xbox 360)
    > Native 64-bit
    > Variable power states
  • Blu-Ray Drive
  • 500 GB HDD
  • WiFi Direct (802.11n)
  • USB 3.0
  • HDMI out
  • 8 GB of DRAM (up from 512 MB in the Xbox 360)

The console has three controllers -- an upgrade Kinnect, the good old fashioned controller, and "smart glass" (your Windows Phone smartphone). 

A new version of Kinect comes bundled with the Xbox One. The Kinect camera has been bumped to 1080p HD RGB video camera (30 fps) and features some pretty advanced firmware.  It features proprietary time of flight technology, which measures the time it takes photons to bounce off objects in the view to sense depth.  It also features the microphone array that drives the voice commands.

Kinect 1080p
Kinect has been bumped to 1080p and has new depth-sensing technology.

Microsoft brags that it's upgraded "the best controller in the industry" (the Xbox 360 controller) with "over 40 improvements", including integrated battery compartment, integrated "pulse" controllers with features, better ergonomics, and better wireless response.

Xbox One Controller
The Xbox One brings back the good old-fashioned controller

Microsoft appears to have hedged its bets against the Wii U with Smart Glass.  The smartphone-enabled controller technology allows mini-tablet gameplay/gesture control similar to the Wii U.

IV. Software

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is a big fan of the console saying it has a "very special relationship" with Microsoft and a shared "common vision".  EA recently made waves dumping Nintendo, opting not to develop titles for the Wii U console.

Andrew Wilson, head of EA sports, showed off four special titles for the console -- FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA Live 14, and UFC.  

EA Ignite
A soccer stadium in EA's Xbox One Fifa 14 "Ultimate Team"

Driven by a new Kinect-enabled engine called "EA Sports Ignite", the titles will launch within four months (which hints at the Xbox One's launch window).  EA says the new engine provides 10 times more animation detail.  It also features 3D crowds and dynamic sidelines.

EA Madden 25
Xbox One Madden 25

Microsoft Studios promises to release 15 exclusive games in the first year, eight of which will be brand new franchises.  Among the existing franchises showed off included a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 title, Call of Duty "Ghosts" (which features bruising, cuts, dirt under fingernails, and even fine hairs on arms and legs), a super-detailed upgrade to the Forza motorsports series, Forza Motorsports 5.

A new title from Remedy -- Quantum Break -- was also showed off, complete with time travelling (or teleporting?) little girls, crashing ships, and more.

Xbox Entertainment Studios had one other huge announcement -- Steven Spielberg (a self-professed Pong fan) is heading a project to turn the Halo science fiction shooter franchise into a live-action television series.

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg, "Halo the Television Series" producer

It sounds like the series will be some sort of directly distributed TV programming for the new console.

V. Wrapup

No official launch date or price for the new console was given, so some of the most important details are still unknown (Sony still hasn't announced the PS4 price either).  Likewise the question of always-on DRM was not directly addressed (although bloggers may get an answer from Microsoft executives in interviews today or tomorrow).

(We do know the launch window is this year -- or within four months (by September), according to EA.)

Otherwise, from what was shown the Xbox One looks to be very strong from a user interface and controls standpoint.  The real test will be how easy it will be for third parties to develop for, and whether Microsoft can avoid backlash of potential DRM decisions such as banning used games.

In short, the Xbox One launch event answered some questions, but left many of the biggest ones to be determined at a later date -- perhaps during the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

Sources: Microsoft, The Verge

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Glad it'll actually play video games...
By half_duplex on 5/21/2013 2:17:53 PM , Rating: 5
It's a little concerning when games aren't mentioned in an article about a new gaming console until the last 2 paragraphs.

Skype, TV, Facebook, voice control, music... I just wanna put the game in, press the on button, and clear my head. No cloud, no always on, no DNA/retina scanner and no talking/waving/farting at the device.

I'm guessing you'll need an account to basically every single social media site to even turn this POS on.

By karimtemple on 5/21/2013 2:30:34 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just glad this looks so lame (so far), as it makes it easier to choose a path (PS4).

Perhaps MS will later reveal that 4 of those 5 billion transistors are GPU and that the One is a graphics leviathan. That'll turn things around. Otherwise, things are looking pretty clear as to which one I'll focus funds on.

By inighthawki on 5/21/2013 5:00:47 PM , Rating: 2
That's because the reveal wasn't intended to show off games. It showed off a number of titles and some of the graphics capability but they are waiting for E3 to show off all the blockbuster titles for ship.

The goal of the reveal was to demo features, which extended far beyond just playing games.

RE: Glad it'll actually play video games...
By nikon133 on 5/22/2013 1:46:25 AM , Rating: 2
Yes... While they did show the looks of unit, they were even more vague on actual specs, which doesn't encourage. 8GB of RAM - but what RAM? Is it shared? If it is 8GB of shared DDR3, that will cripple gaming performance and shorten console's lifespan. Is there decend performing card with DDR3 that can achieve 1080p with high details in current demanding games, anyway? I was under impression that DDR5 is pretty much a must these days.

RE: Glad it'll actually play video games...
By Zapp Brannigan on 5/22/2013 4:10:51 AM , Rating: 1
The "One" will have somekind of embedded DRAM on the gpu to help offset the lower bandwidth of DDR3.

GDDR5 isn't all that, it has amazing bandwidth but high latency, which is why it's only used in graphics cards. Sony using it as general purpose memory is a bold move which could be a masterstroke or a problem, either way, will be interesting to find out.

By karimtemple on 5/22/2013 8:24:50 AM , Rating: 2
I have serious doubts the eDRAM will be used to "offset" DDR3. My guess is it'll have a similar use as it does in the 360: removing the performance penalty of anti-aliasing and helping the scaler easily upscale (this time, to 4K).

Anyway, it's a balancing act that both will play -- the higher latency in the PS4 can be offset by highly-threaded CPU-bound code (it does have eight (!) cores afterall), and the lower bandwidth of XBO can be offset by pumping up the memory clock and/or using heavy texture compression/streaming/whatever.

Latency is vital to the XBO switch-to-apps-like-TV-channels strategy, and bandwidth is probably part of a strategy by Sony to lower costs and also win in overall game performance.

RE: Glad it'll actually play video games...
By BZDTemp on 5/22/2013 5:50:02 AM , Rating: 2
Even more concerning if look at the games as they were shown in the presentation. I mean they of course looks better than current XBOX 360 games, but I did not see anything towards really interesting game play wise only more of the same.

Based on what is known so far I think the PS4 and the ideas Sony have been telling about their platform sounds much more interesting to me as a gamer.

Also I gotta wonder what was with all the always connected thing. Microsoft has said the thing will run without the internet, but on the presentation they mention always being connected several times. It even seems the thing is supposed to always be listening for commands, which has me wondering about possible privacy issues and secondly about how much energy the thing will be using 24-7.

By half_duplex on 5/23/2013 5:05:43 PM , Rating: 2
Phil Harrison clarified (again) that it isn't actually "always connected"...

But you DO need to be connected when you start the game because the physical media is tied to your user name and XBOX and it's all sitting on some MS data store somewhere and you must be verified because according to MS, people are buying games and then letting all their friends install them on their XBOX and everyone's just playing for free.

See my link above.


"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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