All for One and One for all?
Xbox One and only.
Microsoft unveiled the successor to its Xbox 360 on Tuesday and showed off a console that tries to do it all.
Microsoft execs promised more power but also more simplicity for the modern living room. The Xbox One is intended to be an all-in-one entertainment system that can run your cable system, pump out tunes, display social media apps, stream movies and - oh, yeah - play games.
The console – which will be released “later this year” at an undisclosed price – will be controlled through voice commands and hand gestures picked up by an improved Kinect sensor. You can say, "Xbox, watch TV," and your television will start. You can also use your voice to call up a channel guide and change channels. Or you can say, "Play game," and grab a controller and start blasting zombies. And those with short attention spans can do multiple things at once, like watch a movie and browse the Internet or chat on Skype at the same time.
All of these transitions happened without any lag whatsoever - at least in the demonstration. I have to admit that I've seen enough similar demos to be a little skeptical about the speed and efficiency that I'll actually witness in my own living room. And I suspect that getting my cable fed through my Xbox will probably require more money, time and/or effort than I’m willing to spend. However, it did make for a very cool demonstration.
The console itself appears to be much larger than the Xbox 360 and a lot boxier. Inside is more memory, a faster processor and – for the first time in an Xbox – a Blu-ray player.
The Kinect camera and software also received upgrades to make the sensor more responsive to voice and gesture commands. And the traditional handheld controller includes more than 40 design innovations to make it more sensitive and ergonomic. The most noticeable change in the controller is the migration of the giant “X” button away from the center of the controller. This appears to make it a little tighter. Thankfully, none of these innovations appear to include a touchpad - an often-pointless feature that's available on Xbox's competitors, Sony's PlayStation 4 and Nintendo's Wii U.
The Xbox is actually the last of the new generation of consoles to be introduced to gamers. Nintendo unveiled its Wii U about two years ago and released it last fall with a resounding thud. A bulky touchpad controller and graphics comparable to those available on the old Xbox 360 and PS3 haven't been big selling points. The PS4 was introduced in February. It seemed to offer plenty of impressive upgrades to the PS3’s technology and many of the services provided by the Xbox One, but nothing that really got gamers' juices pumping.
However, helping Microsoft pitch the console Tuesday was an all-star lineup of third-party supporters.
Fans of “Halo” should be intrigued to learn that 343 Industries – the team that created the latest installment of the sci-fi shooter series – is collaborating with filmmaker Steven Spielberg to create a live-action “Halo” TV show that will be available on Xbox One.
EA Sports showed off a new game engine and touted its upcoming “Madden NFL” – for fans of American football – and "FIFA 14" – for fans of un-American football. And the graphics were truly dazzling in teasers for Remedy’s "Quantum Break" and the upcoming edition of Microsoft’s “Forza Motorsport 5.”
However, the high point of this segment of the show was Activision’s unveiling of "Call of Duty: Ghosts," by Infinity Ward. The next installment of the shooter series will feature a new world, characters and game engine. It will feature a United States that’s been devastated by a foreign force and left with only a handful of special operators to come to her defense.
Overall, Xbox One has lined up 15 exclusive games for its first year, including eight that will be new franchises, such as “Quantum Break.”
Tuesday’s demo didn’t provide much fodder for griping. However, some major questions remain.
The top question is price. In the current generation of consoles, Sony set the price of a PS3 out of the range of all but the hardest of hardcore gamers. It never caught up in sales, which enabled the Xbox 360 to dominate the market for serious gamers and Nintendo to sell a gazillion Wiis to grandmas and families with small children.
Another big question is whether there will be backward compatibility with old Xbox 360 games. The website Gamespot quoted Microsoft Xbox Live vice president Marc Whitten as saying that the new system’s architecture won’t be compatible with the older games. This was a major source of complaints during the last generational shift. People had to choose between cluttering up their living rooms with extra consoles or abandoning their longtime favorites. It appears that gamers are going to face the same dilemma again.