One Xbox. Many questions.
Earlier this week, Microsoft finally took the wraps off Xbox One, the company’s next-generation successor to the eight-year-old Xbox 360 game console. Now that the initial fanfare is over – at least until the E3 Expo gets under way in a little over two weeks – I’ve had a day or two to mull over what I heard, saw and touched this week. Here are my early impressions of Xbox One.
It’s got a funny name
Kudos to Microsoft for keeping the Xbox One moniker a secret until this week’s announcement; most Internet scuttlebutt suggested the new console would be called Xbox Infinity or simply Xbox. But every time I heard “Xbox One” during my visit to Microsoft’s Redmond campus this week, I had to remind myself people weren’t talking about the old-school original Xbox. As Sony soldiers on with an uninspired numerical naming system that brings us to the PlayStation 4 this year, Xbox One sounds almost like it’s going in reverse.
It’s kind of ugly
When the Xbox 360 was unveiled in 2005, we marvelled at its sexy hourglass shape, rounded edges and cool white colour. By comparison, Xbox One looks like something from a totalitarian future. It’s big, boxy, and various shades of black, with one half covered by a giant vent. It won’t call undue attention to itself as it sits in your entertainment centre, but it’s about as sexy as a concrete bunker. And it can only be used while the unit is lying horizontally, not standing up on its side.
Kinect actually works
Microsoft’s engineers have rebuilt the motion-sensing Kinect peripheral from the ground up, and from my hands-on (err, hands-free) time with the new Kinect, I’m amazed at the difference. The new Kinect does a much better job of accurately recognizing voice commands and subtle body movements, and it can be used in much smaller spaces, which is great news for us urban condo dwellers. It can detect whether you’re smiling or frowning, and it can even measure your heart rate by sensing blood flow in your face. (Creepy, no?) Kinect will be included with every Xbox One, but there’s no word yet on what the console will cost.
The controller is fantastic
The Xbox 360 controller is the best gamepad out there, and Microsoft wisely didn’t do a complete overhaul for the Xbox One. The new controller feels great in the hand, with a precise and clicky D-pad and redesigned thumbsticks that have a nifty grippy top and feel even more responsive. The triggers now have less travel distance, which bugs me a bit, but Microsoft has added rumble motors to each trigger, giving additional zest to the controller’s haptic feedback.
It wants to be an all-in-one entertainment box
Microsoft says it will talk more about Xbox One’s game offerings at E3 in a couple weeks, choosing this week to focus mostly on the console’s entertainment hub potential. While I’m all for a Halo TV series produced by Steven Spielberg, it’s likely that a lot of the Xbox One’s interesting TV interoperability won’t be available in Canada at launch. And with more and more people cutting their cable cords these days, how relevant will that be in five years anyway?
It’s got its head in the cloud
The new Xbox will be extremely cloud-friendly, keeping game saves, media libraries and so on stored on remote online servers rather than the device itself. (Better start pricing out a beefier Internet plan!) Eventually, Xbox One will be able to tap into cloud processing, meaning it could offer better visuals and other interesting features without requiring a hardware upgrade, assuming the technology evolves to support that stuff.
There’s lots more to learn
Many of us hardbitten journalist types came away from the Xbox One announcement unclear on important details, such as whether the new Xbox will require an Internet connection to function (probably, though it doesn’t have to be constantly online) and whether it will play used/borrowed games (yes, but publishers may be able to charge a fee to allow used games to work on the new console.) We’re still many months away from release, but Microsoft needs to focus their messaging in the coming weeks if they want this new box to be number one on people’s holiday wish lists. As they say on TV, stay tuned.
(Check out our recap of the Xbox One announcement as it unfolded here.)