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Xbox One first impressions

- May 23rd, 2013

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.

Remember when everyone said Microsoft wouldn’t call the Xbox 360 ‘Xbox 2′ because it would have a lower number than the PlayStation 3? Well…

 

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.

Resistance is futile! Assimilate! Assimilate!

 

 

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 ‘muscle+force’ stickmen have a reddish tint to show where the player’s weight is being distributed. I’m second from left.

 

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.

Wasn’t broke. Not fixed. Whew.

 

 

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?

Microsoft says there won’t be advertising on the Xbox One dashboard’s main panels, just recommendations of things you might enjoy. Tomato, tomahto…

 

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.

Microsoft’s president of interactive entertainment business, Don Mattrick, does his best Vanna White with Xbox One.

 

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.)

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8 comments

  1. Scott | May 23, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I’m guessing the One rather than 1 is an attempt on their part to see this device as the one and only you will need in the living room (eventually). A One device to rule them all kind of mentality. Probably explains the basic black box design as well … less showy and gamey, more entertainment workhorse. Now will it be these things … who knows? They’ve laid down the path they want to walk on … it’s up to the machine’s features to do the rest. And the games, let’s not forget about the games.

  2. Tony Stacey | May 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    For me it’s all about the games. We can most likely count on Halo, Gears and Forza. So far the system seems promising but they are focusing way too much on features that may never be fully utilized or even used. System looks a little dull, but hey, we can probably expect a re-model in two or three years. Let’s also hope that they don’t have hard ware issues like they did on the 360. Remember RROD? I do. Too early to tell if this will be my next system of choice, but so far I like Sony’s approach. They seemed to have learned from the PS3 situation while Microsoft seems to have grown arrogant with theirs.

  3. Joel | May 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    It’s the stuff their not saying as in you will pay us at every turn if you buy this box. Encode this, encode that, in the cloud my ass, it is just another way to get into your wallet. Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!

  4. Daniel Genaille | May 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I loved the live footage of what it can do , it was great and i’m happy that they kept alot of the xbox ones game capability secret so i’m guessing its going to be showed alot more at e3 , there is already alot of hate just because they showed one thing about it .
    its sad i’m definitely getting one !

  5. art | May 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I think it’s a very clean and functional design. Lots of character, strong lines and presence.

  6. Jay | May 24, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I’ve owned a PS3 since it first came out. I finally ended up buying an Xbox last year because I really wanted to play a certain Xbox exclusive game. I bought the game, played it for a while and kept on looking for other games that I couldn’t get on the PS3 that I wanted, but I’ve still only got 3 total Xbox games. The selection just doesn’t do it for me. I’m not sure I’ll end up buying this new version unless they really start making some amazing games that I can’t get anywhere else. I don’t agree with the controller being the best, I much prefer the PS3 controller.

  7. TKarais | May 24, 2013 at 7:05 am

    I’m hugely disappointed. From a gaming perspective they’ve done nothing but spit in the face of gamers. Want to take a disc to a friends house to play? You have to log in on your account. Want to swap games with a friend or try out a game before buying? You’ll need to be on their account which means they can’t play it. Buy a used game? Get ready to basically pay full retail for it again and have to register it. Use your downloaded games that you’ve already paid for? Sorry, out of luck. You’re going to have to repurchase your digital games again. What about system linking? Haven’t heard anything about that yet and right now it doesn’t appear it will support that. This box sucks from a gaming view. I won’t be buying one.

  8. Luc | May 29, 2013 at 5:59 am

    all-in-one entertainment box great praise for this if you live in the US useless in Canada – there seems to be all kinds of great tech in the world today always available to Canadians but all blocked out by our government regulatory bodies – what a waste…

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