XBOX ONE: an all-in-one home entertainment system

Microsoft’s Don Mattrick summed up the vision for the Xbox 360’s successor today. It will serve as the hub “where all your entertainment comes alive in one place,” and will be called Xbox One.

Introduced as an “all-in-one home entertainment system” for games and entertainment, Xbox One’s shell harkens back to that of the first Xbox. The curves of the 360 have been hammered out and attributes to a rather austere and monolithic looking Xbox One. It doesn’t shout gaming console, instead, it looks like something that will nestle into your living room with subtlety and will not appear out of place next to your Bang & Olufsen amplifier.

There’s a sharp focus on voice interaction with Xbox One. For example, a voice command such as “XBOX ON” will launch to a personalised home screen. Xbox One will remember what a specific family member was doing last, for example the game they were playing or the music they were listening to.

A new trending feature will present a wide snapshot of what is popular in the entire Xbox Live entertainment world in real time, or a more narrow view, focusing on your friends’ recommendations. An additional favourites feature will keep track of what you like to watch.

Saying, “XBOX, GO HOME” will take you back to the homescreen and you can utter other commands for doing things like instantly switching among live TV channels, opening Internet Explorer, viewing the TV guide and launching a movie.

The improved Kinect sensor allows for new gestures. For example, split your hands, grab and bring them together to go to your home screen.

One introduces snap mode, so you can use multiple programs simultaneously. Microsoft showed off the ability to watch TV and do a Skype video call — yes Xbox One allows 1080p group video Skype calls while simultaneously running live TV; and of course all of it can be operated by voice.

Microsoft will be doing all sorts of interesting interactive TV stuff. The company announced a partnership with NFL to, for example, show a split screen with someone’s fantasy football league status which updates in real time, featured highlights and on-demand clips from players — all while a game is being aired live. For competitive types, Microsoft touted the ability for a person to initiate Skype call during a game for friendly smack talk.

Microsoft will also partner with 343 Industries and Steven Spielberg for a live action Halo TV series. Spielberg called it the “intersection where tech and myth making meet.”

Oh, and yes, you can also play games on the Xbox One. What type of games can you expect? Let’s take a look at what’s under the hood.

8GB of RAM, a single custom 40-nanometer chip with an 8-core CPU and GPU system-on-a-chip by AMD, and a 500GB HDD built in-house by Microsoft. The Xbox One has a 64-bit architecture and runs on a combination of three operating systems: Xbox OS, the kernel of Windows and one that glues the two together. On board is USB 3.0, and 802.11n Wi-Fi for gaming and entertainment.

The new Kinect has a 1080p wide-angle camera that Microsoft claims is so high-fidelity that it can detect your heartbeat while you exercise — it transfers 2Gbits of data per second. It’s “rocket science level stuff” boasted Microsoft’s Marc Whitten.

As for the new Xbox controller, it has 40 design changes and impulse triggers with tactile feedback.

Finally, there’s SmartGlass, Microsoft’s software that turns your smartphone into a remote control, which is the fourth input method if you’ve been counting.

Despite the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive, Xbox One is all about the cloud to store game saves, game clips, movies, TV and music. Initially, Xbox Live consisted of 500 servers which grew to 3000 with Xbox 360. Live uses 15 000 servers today and it will expand to utilise 300 000 servers to cater for Xbox One — that’s more than the world’s collective computing power in 1999, boasted Whitten.

Some titles that were shown off included Fifa 14, Madden NFL, NBA Live and UFC which EA’s Andrew Wilson promised “will fundamentally change the way you play.” The visuals looked jaw-dropping, which Wilson attributed to its new gaming engine called Ignite, made possible with Xbox One’s computing power. Expect things like 10 times more animation depth, detailed and 3D crowds, dynamic sidelines and real world content that impacts games as you play.

Head of Microsoft studios Phil Spencer introduced a stunning preview of Forza Motorsport 5, which will be available at launch, and a new exclusive title called Quantum Break, which looks to be a play on the interactive movie model.

Spencer said that 15 exclusive Xbox One games will launch in the console’s first year with 8 of them being entirely new franchises.

Activision’s Eric Hirshberg showed off a new version of Call of Duty called “Ghosts,” which which really flexed the Xbox One’s muscles; it was the most visually impressive of all the titles showing off tricks like curvature fidelity that remain in check as objects are approached. It will be launched first on Xbox One.

Microsoft remains mum on the official launch date, but we were promised more news at E3.



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