Microsoft Launches the Xbox One; Here’s What We Know

xbox-one-console-and-logoMicrosoft didn’t hide that yesterday’s big announcement would be for the next-gen Xbox but they sure did manage to surprise with that name. The third-generation Xbox console is the Xbox One whose name represents that it’s an all-in-one system for the living room.

It was that all-in-one nature of the Xbox One that formed the majority of Microsoft’s presentation. Unfortunately, that emphasis on the all-in-one Xbox came at what was essentially the de-emphasis of games as the core of the Xbox One.

These specs seem familiar

xbox-one-specsThere are some similarities and differences in the Xbox One and PlayStation Four specs. Let’s start with a list of the X1’s specs.

  • CPU: 8-core Microsoft custom chip
  • GPU: D3D 11.1 chip with 32 MB embedded memory
  • RAM: 8 GB DDR3
  • Hard Drive: 500 GB
  • Optical Drive: Blu-Ray/DVD
  • Input/Output: USB 3.0
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, three 802.11n radios, WiFi Direct
  • Audio/Visual Output: HDMI, 1080p and 4K output

For the most part, the numbers here sound similar to the PS4. Both have 8-core CPUs but Sony’s is from AMD but Microsoft’s is a custom-built chip. It sounds like the same thing with the GPU as the PS4 will use an AMD Radeon graphics card while Microsoft is again doing the custom build.

What will be interesting is the difference in the type of RAM. Both are at 8 GB of RAM but the Xbox One uses DDR3 while the PS4 uses GDDR5. The big difference will likely be in how the systems handle different types of requests. From what little I’ve been able to dig up about the differences between the two RAM types, when it comes to handling games and video processing, the GDDR5 should blow the DDR3 out of the water. Handling other tasks, like apps and voice commands, the DDR3 is likely to outpace the GDDR5. Perhaps DDR3 was the right choice for an all-in-one machine but it may leave the Xbox One lagging technologically behind the PS4.

Speaking of familiar moves, new controllers

The PlayStation Four debuted with a brand new controller and motion control device so why shouldn’t the Xbox One as well.

The controller has some subtle changes but only a couple of big ones. The first is that the triggers have independent force feedback. The d-pad has an updated design which aims to fix the biggest complaint about the current controller. Apart from that, there are some subtle looking shape changes but nothing that seems to world-shatteringly major.

And, of course, there’s Kinect 2.0. It looks bigger than the OG Kinect but that is likely because of the new 1080p camera that the Kinect 2 uses. There’s also the whole voice commands thing that the Kinect will do. From the looks of it, the Kinect’s voice commands will cover just about everything. Failing that, you can always try gesture commands. Don’t ask how it works in gaming practice. Microsoft didn’t even address that.

Did we mention that this is all-in-one?

xbox-one-tvOne complaint that is likely to surface repeatedly from this event is that very little of the announcement was spent talking about the actual games that the Xbox One was going to run or how the gaming experience would be any different on the One.

Instead, most of the time was spent on TV and apps. They’re touting using the Xbox as a substitute cable box, to stream ESPN, presumably to stream Netflix and Hulu, watch the NFL live and as an augmented TV viewing experience. The augmented experience example was watching sports and getting real-time updates on your fantasy team.

Microsoft is also planning to stream original video content for the Xbox One. The first new Xbox series is going to be a live-action series about Halo that will involve Steven Spielberg.

The Kinect and SmartGlass sound like they’re going to be perfectly suited to navigating you quickly between games, apps and TV channels. The Kinect’s is also critical to the new Skype app. If you don’t have a PC, this is the best way to Skype.

We’ll do it Live

Microsoft is making some changes to Xbox Live to improve the multiplayer experience. Like the PS4, the One will have video capture capability but it sounds like the online multiplayer video will be captured in the cloud rather than on the hard drive.

As for the actual Xbox Live gaming, Microsoft is drastically increasing Live server counts from about 15,000 to 300,000. This is in part to handle the cloud-saved videos. As rumoured, developers can add achievements on the fly without paying exorbitant fees for patches to add said new achievements. There will also be a new Smart Match feature that uses “advanced algorithms to pair players based on skill, language, and reputation.”

How to lose a fanbase

For the longest while, Microsoft did nothing to discourage the rumours that the Xbox One would require an always-online internet connection to even operate. While many of these all-in-one apps are likely to require a constant internet connection, the console itself isn’t always-online. Microsoft’s official line on the matter is that the One requires an internet connection but isn’t always connected… which doesn’t make sense but I guess that’s a polite way of saying almost-always-online without scaring people.

xbox-360-used-gamesHowever, one rumour that stuck around for a while was that the next-gen consoles would prohibit used games. It looks like that it will only be the Xbox One that will restrict used games. A Wired article that all games will have to be installed to the One’s hard drive. They then suggest that this means that the game will be tied to an Xbox Live account.

What Microsoft didn’t have an answer for is if someone else wanted to install the game on their console or play it under a different Live account. That could not only destroy the Xbox used games market even if second installs required a fee but eliminate the old dorm room Xbox if the game is tied to one account on one console. Even with the power of Xbox Live, this policy isn’t going to help Microsoft with gamers on a budget or living with roommates. No wonder why EA stopped online passes.

Also, as was the case for the PlayStation 4, the One will not have backward compatibility. Unlike the PS4, the One doesn’t have an alternative means for you to play older titles. The PS4 has the PlayStation Cloud service to handle that. It doesn’t look like the Xbox One has anything to do the same job. Maybe they’ll cook something up by E3 but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Hardware backwards compatibility would have been a big step up over PlayStation but that extra month to prepare the message seems to have missed out on something important to gamers.

Oh, right! This thing plays games, too.

Games? You want video games? Why on Earth would you expect an Xbox to play games? Okay, Microsoft says to expect 15 exclusives over the first year of the console and 8 of those are going to be from new franchises. Among the new games announced yesterday are Forza Motorsport 5 and Quantum Break from Remedy (though we don’t know if that’s officially an exclusive).

xbox-one-ea-sportsEA announced their new slate of EA Sports games would be coming to the Xbox One including FIFA 14, Madden 25, NBA Live 14 and UFC on the EA Sports Ignite engine. Interestingly, they announced a “special relationship” between Xbox and EA Sports. Nobody clarified that statement but I guess Microsoft is attempting to win the console war through exclusive content relationships. We do know that FIFA 14’s Ultimate Team Mode would be Xbox One exclusive.

Keeping with special relationships, Call of Duty: Ghosts was the only game with gameplay actually shown at this event. Interestingly, they announced that new content would come to the One first with an exclusivity period. Anyone else sick of bullshit like this?

As expected, a bunch of previously announced games that were announced for the PS4 are also coming to the Xbox One. Among the newly announced for the Xbox One are Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed 4, Battlefield 4, Thief and Destiny. Presumably, that list will get longer soon.

When and how much?

Microsoft says that they will get the console out later this year. They haven’t given out specifics on when and where yet but are promising more at E3.

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