It's been seven years since Microsoft launched the Xbox 360. Compared to modern computers and laptops, or even the Playstation 3, it's something of a dinosaur. So the new system announced on Tuesday, called the Xbox One — and its juiced up core and Jetsons-like features — should have users very, very excited.
"We're about to change entertainment forever," boasted Microsoft's introductory video. That was before Don Mattrick, president of the company's interactive entertainment business division, took the stage at Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, to tell the world what this thing can do. Because it's sleek, but it's boxy, and if it wasn't for the slot loading Blu-Ray drive, you might mistake it for a VCR. Mattrick called the Xbox One the "ultimate all-in-one entertainment system," so a VCR this is not. But, wait, you're thinking, isn't this supposed to be a video game thing? Well, yes, but Microsoft's mission with the Xbox One is to navigate everything you do on a television, from talking to it and watching it to interacting with every gamer on the planet. This isn't just a second-screen experience wrapped inside a game console; it's trying to be the only screen. Let's break down just how this bad boy can transform your living room.
Talking and Movement Commands
Easily the coolest new part of the Xbox One are the speaking commands, by way of the new Kinect motion-control cameras. Similar to Apple's Siri, you can now speak to your Xbox and tell it what to do. Walk into the room and say "Xbox on," and your Xbox will turn on. You can also switch from playing games to watching, say, Game of Thrones with a simple "watch TV," command. If you're dubious about how well this would work in practice, Tuesday's Microsoft demonstration was going very fast and the machine was very much able to keep up. How it would work in a room full of people yelling out different commands and being jerks about it, well, that's another question. But the (very) cool new movement controls have some new tricks, too: the updated Kinect cameras can track your movements for game playing and app switching in beautiful 1080p video. (You can operate using two apps at once using the Windows Snap technology.) The enhanced technology can register should and wrist rotations, shifts in balance, and also, allegedly, your heartbeat, by way of your face pigmentation.
The Entertainment Hub
Everything, from your television to your cable box, will be connected through the Xbox One to give it total control of your home entertainment set up. Wired's Peter Rubin explains:
Chief among those—at least in the US—is HDMI pass-through, in which the cable box, satellite box, or similar device (e.g., the aforementioned cablecard-equipped TiVo ) connects directly to the Xbox One, which then passes the mediated signal to the television via an HDMI-out port.
As has long been in the goal in its battle for the future of the living room, Microsoft wants you to run your entire TV setup through the Xbox. Wanna watch TV? Use your Xbox. Wanna watch Netflix? Xbox. Games, of course, will be played on the Xbox. The new Xbox acts as a central guide for your television experience. You can also use the Kinect camera to Skype with your friends while you watch TV or play games. The Xbox's channel guide allows you to ask things like "What's on ESPN?" and it will automatically show you what's on that channel. You don't even have to strain your thumbs with a remote anymore. There are also trending topics, of sorts, and other features that show you what everyone else on the Xbox system is watching. Like, for instance, the new live-action Halo TV show produced by Steven Spielberg, which sounds exciting.
Let's talk about what's under the hood for a moment, because that's what all the geeky gearheads care about. And this thing has some serious power. The Xbox One has an 8-core CPU and 8 GB of RAM, so it's at least in the same ballpark as the recently announced Playstation 4. There are 5 billion transistors (the things that make beautiful graphics) in the Xbox One. So that's enough to make any college kid play the new Call of Duty game, also announced at Tuesday's press conference, for hours and hours on end. Those hours will begin sometime later this year, when the Xbox One should become just about the hottest holiday gift aside from, you know, that long rumored Apple TV.