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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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RE: Nope.
By half_duplex on 5/22/2013 2:05:46 PM , Rating: 1
1- More than likely you will only need a connection once when the game is installed to validate. Probably through a serial key of some sort. 2- Yeah that does kind of suck 3- This doesn't really seem like that huge of an issue, what is the problem?

1 - No, go read Harrisons comments, he clearly says that you will need to sign into your account to play a game that you've bought. He specifically says that a connection is needed at the start of gaming.
2 - Yes, it really does.
3 - The problem? Right now if I buy a shit game (which I have many times) I can take it back and put about half the price towards another game, or in store credit, or even a PS3 if I want to. The choice is mine and the demand for that game determines what my used copy is worth. With XBOX One, based on the way things sound, I will bring my shit game to an MS authorized trade-in center and receive credit (determined by MS) towards other merchandise (determined by MS). This means they essentially take complete control of the used game market, and our choices.

Do I need to by a $500 dedicated console and a $75+ piece of media to use Steam? That's apples to oranges.

P.S - I use $ because their reach for cash is really changing the way we are able to use the product, but I agree with you and I've always thought it was lame when I saw others doing it.

Anyway, it's their choice, I can only vote with my wallet and try to point out the problems I see. I just don't think another XBOX is worth being constantly tied up with MS. I'd be so excited if they'd just take my business when I purchased the unit and games, and let me go on my way.

RE: Nope.
By inighthawki on 5/22/2013 5:24:02 PM , Rating: 2
1- No, go read Harrisons comments, he clearly says that you will need to sign into your account to play a game that you've bought. He specifically says that a connection is needed at the start of gaming.

I see, I did not read the link you posted, I read a different article that seemed to glance over that issue. I can somewhat understand the issue here, but as a long-time steam user this is normal for me, so I've never really thought twice about how this would be an issue.

3- ...

It would be interesting to see if ownership of the game simply turns into serial key activation, at which point it's not *impossible* that in the future they could provide a simple online service to sell back/deactivate games for credit, which can be used for purchases of new ones in an online store. I think this could actually have a huge advantage over existing retailers since the transaction could be made entirely online without going to the store. This assumes competitive trade-in value, and also comes at the potential disadvantage of only being usable for software credits, so it's not completely ideal. Could be a step in the right direction, I would certainly love to see it happen.

Do I need to by a $500 dedicated console and a $75+ piece of media to use Steam? That's apples to oranges

Your PC probably cost you about $500. What is the $75 cost you're referring to?

I can only vote with my wallet

Well at least you're doing it the smart way, instead of buying it anyway and complaining. Amazing how many people there are that complain that something sucks but don't understand this concept.

"Why does Activision keep pumping out these sh*tty CoD games year after year?"
*runs out to buy new CoD game day of release*

RE: Nope.
By half_duplex on 5/22/2013 5:42:41 PM , Rating: 2
Well, my PC is a MBP that I can take on a plane. I make my living off of it. It's everything.

The $75 is for the physical media.

My XBOX plays 2 first person shooter games and Skyrim 2 hours a week.

If you read closely, you'll see that there is no more ownership of a game. $75 plus whatever the monthly Live fee is will buy you a never expiring license to play that game.

MS has yet to release details on exactly how their used game market will work, but based on what he said, this market will be the ONLY way to decouple a game and a user.

MS is telling us this, you know they are painting a much pretties picture than what they truly have in mind. The fact that they haven't put enough though into the used game market tells you that it's probably a late addition to the plan due to the original outrage of "no used games". It's no more than damage control.

The 3 big concerns are still valid, MS just made it a little more fuzzy.

RE: Nope.
By inighthawki on 5/22/2013 6:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
They're not going to make you pay $75 for the game AND buy a license. (Also not sure where you live, games are generally between $50-$60 in the US, which is what threw me off) This is no different than buying a steam game at a retailer, where you get a disc, but then activate the key on steam to play.
To access the basic functions of xbox live and sign into an account you do not need a monthly fee. All you will need is an internet connection and a free xbox live silver account.

You have plenty of right to complain, but I still see the model as very little difference from steam, except now you will even get the opportunity to trade in games for credit. We'll see how things play out, obviously we don't know the full picture. It's unsafe to make assumptions.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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