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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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Nope.
By inighthawki on 5/22/2013 8:12:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
My favorite line of that article is that these new measures would stop one person from buying a game and passing it to all his friends so that they can install it... This is bull sh*t plain and simple.

Under the model of allowing users to install the game to the hard drive and play from disc, there has to be a new form of authentication, otherwise you can simply allow anyone to run your copy of the game. Even with a one-time verification during install, nothing prevents you from walking to a buddies house, signing in, installing the game, and switching accounts. Piracy would go insane.

quote:
Don't forget: YOU NEED TO SIGN IN WHEN YOU WANT TO PLAY YOUR GAME :)

Why is this such a huge deal? There are no fees required to use an xbox live silver account. If you have an internet connection at all this should never ever be a problem. Auto logon when the console turns on and you're done. Steam has been doing this for years and nobody seems to have an issue with it.


RE: Nope.
By half_duplex on 5/23/2013 1:24:30 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Under the model of allowing users to install the game to the hard drive and play from disc, there has to be a new form of authentication, otherwise you can simply allow anyone to run your copy of the game. Even with a one-time verification during install, nothing prevents you from walking to a buddies house, signing in, installing the game, and switching accounts. Piracy would go insane.


Sorry, but this is pure BS and it almost seems that you are trying to confuse people.
There is currently NO issue with multiple people sharing games or piracy, period. Right now, you load the media to your HDD but you STILL need disc in tray to play it.

This isn't an attempt to stop 'piracy', because there is none. This is a move to take control of the used game market.
The collateral damage is my ability to:
- Trade games with friends.
- Play without an internet connection.
- Sell shit games face to face, or trade for non MS merchandise, for a price that I feel is fair.

quote:
Why is this such a huge deal? There are no fees required to use an xbox live silver account. If you have an internet connection at all this should never ever be a problem. Auto logon when the console turns on and you're done. Steam has been doing this for years and nobody seems to have an issue with it.


I don't know why you keep comparing XBOX to Steam. Steam is a service. XBOX is a ~$500 piece of dedicated electronic merchandise. The two are very different.
When you make a huge investment in a piece of hardware, it should not behave like a service.

MS is going after the used game market, plain and simple. As a result, XBOX users lose A LOT of liberty in how they use their device. This has NOTHING to do with piracy or creating a better user experience.


RE: Nope.
By wempa on 5/23/2013 2:48:33 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I don't know why you keep comparing XBOX to Steam. Steam is a service. XBOX is a ~$500 piece of dedicated electronic merchandise. The two are very different.
When you make a huge investment in a piece of hardware, it should not behave like a service.


^^^ THIS
^^^ THIS AGAIN

This is acceptable only if they are providing you the Xbox for free and providing a service.


RE: Nope.
By half_duplex on 5/23/2013 4:59:23 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly.

Mail me a free XBOX and I will gladly buy your non-expiring, single-user, non-transferable, login-required video game licenses.

Until then, nope.

This is about as stupid as a pilot having to buy a plane ticket to fly in a plane that he already owns... and in this case he can only buy one ticket at a time.

If they go forward with this... the new XBOX will make their other recent flops look like a walk in the park.


RE: Nope.
By inighthawki on 5/23/2013 6:02:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Sorry, but this is pure BS and it almost seems that you are trying to confuse people.

Sorry, my quote was supposed to read:

"Under the model of allowing users to install the game to the hard drive and not play from disc"
This is the model they are striving for. Install the game and not have to deal with discs. If this is the model, then nothing prevents two people from installing it on their hard drives and playing it. It requires a second form of authentication, which if it's not a disc, it is a user account.

quote:
I don't know why you keep comparing XBOX to Steam. Steam is a service. XBOX is a ~$500 piece of dedicated electronic merchandise. The two are very different.

How are they any different? Steam still requires a piece of hardware to play - a computer. The console itself is just a computer than can use this service, in the same way a PC is the piece of hardware required to use steam. It's just more specialized and runs a subset of games. No different than say, steam supporting OSX.

How can you honestly believe this is not fundamentally the exact same concept? It IS exactly the same.

quote:
MS is going after the used game market, plain and simple. As a result, XBOX users lose A LOT of liberty in how they use their device. This has NOTHING to do with piracy or creating a better user experience.

I disagree entirely. Although they are surely trying to take some of the market of used games, I find the approach that is proposed simple and easy. I think it provides a significantly enhanced user experience for the vast majority of the users who can make use of it. Trading in your games and obtaining new used copies is even easier than before. You won't even have to leave the living room. Just jump on the store, trade in existing licenses for credits, and use those to buy new games. I enjoy steam for its ease of use, and I think this sounds even better.

Not to mention, because games can be tied to user account digitally, it will allow me to no longer haul around games I want to play if I take it somewhere. If I go on a trip with some friends, I can just log into my account and download/stream the game on demand. No need to reserve packing space incase we feel like playing game X or Y.


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