Microsoft's Xbox One will attempt to unify your living room experience later this year
Microsoft's answer to Sony comes in the form of the Xbox One, the all-new home entertainment device set for release this holiday season. I say “home entertainment device,” because the Xbox One transcends the traditional game console stereotype. In fact, it goes so far beyond doing “just” gaming that there was barely a mention of it during the hour-long presentation that streamed live on Tuesday night. Microsoft's strategy is interesting. Not many efforts were made to please their core fans, with attention being given to functionality that is more focussed on unifying your living room experience. Exclusive TV shows, including a live-action Halo series, interactive sports content like fantasy football alerts (made possible thanks to a partnership with the NFL), with software design that seamlessly allows you to switch between media and inputs (with the sound of your voice, no less) collectively contribute to the Xbox One's “wow” factor.
Gamers, however, had to make do with passing glimpses of a couple of their favourite franchises, with the promise of 15 exclusive releases (including 8 new IPs) from Microsoft Studios within one year of the Xbox One's launch. There will also be some EA Sports games on the new home entertainment device, as well as a certain Call of Duty game that features supernatural elements (not really, but you get the point). Let's not be quick to dismiss, however, because, let's face it, the new Xbox does some pretty cool stuff.
The software powering the Xbox One is pretty impressive. There are three operating systems working in tandem to bring you the best possible entertainment experience, with seamless switching between anything hooked up to your television — even outside of the Xbox One. Multi-tasking seems to have been taken to another level entirely, with excellent voice recognition (whether or not it will understand our particular brand of accents remains to be seen) that allows you to swap between playing Forza 5 (a confirmed exclusive), your favourite episode of a show featuring Drew Carey, your pirated music collection, or even the NFL channel that you don't have a subscription to. You will also be able to use your voice to pull up sports statistics, TV schedules or run rudimentary searches. “Snapping” content (similar to Windows 8) will play a major role as well — it appears that SmartGlass (a mobile/tablet/PC app that lets you control content on your TV) will help you leverage this feature quite well. All of this sounds great in concept, but without local content and tie-ups with service providers, it will prove difficult to make the best of these features in our part of the world.
Let's not forget, the bundled next-gen Kinect device also sports a camera, which in turn sports facial recognition for quick log-ins, with the added benefit of allowing you to carry on inappropriate conversations with several friends over Skype in group chat mode. Very little of Kinect's role in the games of Xbox One was discussed. Microsoft seemed to demonstrate its effectiveness as a tool that makes accessing content easier (with voice commands, new and intuitive gesture controls) rather than show off its gaming features. But we do know that the new iteration of Kinect is a substantial improvement over what currently adorns the top (or bottom) of our TV sets. We don't know much more about the hardware of the Xbox One other than the fact that, like its main competitor from Sony, it will have 8 gigabytes of RAM in addition to a Bluray drive, USB 3.0 ports, 8-core CPU, on-board wi-fi and a rumoured 500GB hard drive. Oh, and the new controller looks pretty cool.
All-in-all, it was a disappointing evening for those tuning in to see some games — pre-rendered cinematics of Remedy Entertainment's crossover title, Quantum Break and Turn 10 Studios' Forza 5 and EA's sports montage simply weren't enough. And while the neat featurette of Call of Duty: Ghosts almost redeemed the game-less evening, it did feel like a breath of fresh air. Well, as fresh a breath as a Call of Duty game can deliver, anyway. Both Sony and Microsoft are sending us the same message, it would appear, and that message is this: if you want to see some games, tune in to E3 next month.