After a long period of speculation and mystery, Microsoft today finally unveiled their next generation XBOX gaming console, the XBOX One. At a press event over at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, Microsoft showcased the capabilities of XBOX One as well as having the actual system on display, something which Sony has yet to do with the Sony PlayStation 4.
For much of the event, Microsoft focused on what the XBOX One will bring to the home entertainment experience. XBOX One features such as voice command recognition, integrated Skype support, seamless switching between games, multimedia, and live TV were demonstrated with ease.
As for the gaming experience, the graphics and processing hardware of the XBOX One brings a much needed upgrade. The XBOX One system is reminiscent of a black HTPC case. In regards to the specifications, they are very similar to the Sony PlayStation 4, as the XBOX One is equipped with a AMD octo-core x86-64 processor, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, blu-ray drive, WiFi-N, and USB 3.0 ports. Kinect for the XBOX One will utilize a 1080p camera, with greater sensory and voice recognition support. The controller itself is a minor update of the XBOX 360 controller, as it features a similar shape and button layout.
Representatives from Microsoft, EA, Activision-Blizzard showcased some of their upcoming games for the XBOX One, such as Forza 5, Quantum Break, Call of Duty: Ghosts and the next generation NFL/NBA/FIFA games. Graphics found in games like Quantum Break and Call of Duty: Ghosts were particularly impressive and were essentially on-par with the graphics found in high-end PC gaming these days.
With the XBOX One system unveiled and it’s capabilities & services showcased, my initial impressions is this: the XBOX One is a bona-fide all-in-one home entertainment setup. Rather than the XBOX One just being only for gaming, Microsoft is really pushing the XBOX One to be THE system that will provide the entire home entertainment experience.
While features like voice recognition and seamless gaming/media/TV transitions are certainly impressive, they aren’t exactly ground-breaking. Many of these features found in the XBOX One are features that HTPC gurus have seen before, via HTPC programs like XBMC, MediaPortal, etc. However, setting up an HTPC system hasn’t always been easy (especially for the mainstream), as it mostly required users to go through extensive configuration to get the HTPC system up and running optimially. The XBOX One changes that, bringing a full-blown HTPC system without having to jump through the hoops to get it up and running.
What I found to be the biggest announcement in terms of the live TV services offered is that the XBOX One will have direct access to NFL live streaming. This is huge, as the NFL in the past have largely restricted live streaming of games to cable & satellite providers, such as Comcast and DirectTV. With American football being extremely popular in the U.S., this will be a slam-dunk feature for much of the American audience. I’m not sure if Sony will have access to NFL live game streams, but if they aren’t able to provide this service, I can guarantee that many Americans will choose the XBOX One over the PS4 because of the NFL exclusive access.
Now for the hardware. I was generally unimpressed with the look of the XBOX One. As I noted previously, the XBOX One looks like a typical high-end HTPC case. I wasn’t too impressed with the upgraded Kinect sensor either, as it still seems to be more of an afterthought, rather than an essential component of the XBOX One. The controller is probably the most disappointing, as there were barely any improvements made from the XBOX 360 controller setup.
What was more interesting was what was inside the XBOX One. With the specs unveiled, they are very similar to the specs found in the PS4, with both systems utilizing an AMD octo-core processor, 8 GB RAM, and an x86-64 architecture. What this means is that since both systems will be running on the same architecture with similar specifications, game developers will have an easier time with developing games for both platforms. Along with the shared x86-64 architecture, this will also mean that game developers will be able to port games to the PC platform easier and faster. However, because of the switch to the x86-64 architecture and the amount of work involved with backwards compatibility, XBOX One will not be compatible with XBOX 360 games.
Overall, Microsoft has really thrown down the gauntlet with this event, fully showcasing what the XBOX One looks like and what it can bring forth for the next-generation HT and gaming experience. Between the XBOX One and the PS4, I don’t expect there to be much difference between the graphics capabilities of the two systems. Rather, the real battle will come down to the available game library and the services offered by the XBOX One and the PS4. The ball is now in Sony’s court, as their PS4 announcement back in February was fairly unimpressive. Sony really needs to respond quickly and really showcase the strengths of the PS4 and what it can provide over the XBOX One.
I suppose we will be bombarded with information about both systems at E3, coming up next month.