“PlayStation” is a literal description of what you do with it: it’s a station at which you play. Nintendo has released systems with “game” in the name–Game Boy, GameCube. But Xbox doesn’t mean much of anything. Originally it stood for, in charming Microsoft fashion, “DirectX Box,” as it used the familiar DirectX graphics technology. Now? It’s just a box. Who knows what it does?
And that’s fitting, because the Xbox One, newly announced today, is barely a games device.
Microsoft spent the first half of the Xbox announcement on non-gaming elements of the system. People tuned in, excited to hear about the first new Xbox in eight years, and Microsoft talked about voice control and motion sensing navigation, the addition of live TV, Skype integration, a new guide that lets you search by show/actor/genre, how to connect your cable box to the new Xbox, and a new TV show from Steven Spielberg. After all that, there were some games, but even the games were tempered with non-game parts; the new version of Madden NFL has a fantasy football integration, the new Halo will have a standalone TV show exclusive to the Xbox.
This is all because the Xbox isn’t a games console: it’s Microsoft’s living room device. This generation, there are only two consoles on the market that cater to hardcore gamers (the Xbox and the PS4). Microsoft already has locked down a fair number of exclusive franchises, and isn’t trying to reinvent the gaming wheel, which makes the Xbox unlikely to fail. That means this isn’t really a battle; Microsoft doesn’t have to beat Sony at all. It’ll sell plenty of consoles and games by just cruising. The real game is to get non-gamers to buy Xboxes, and the Xbox One is a ridiculously high-level entertainment device.
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Let’s say you don’t play games at all. Not your thing! But you are an American, and as such you spend hours and hours a day watching TV and movies. And because it is 2013, and the new season of “Arrested Development” is only available on Netflix, you have to have some kind of way to connect your TV to the internet.
Your options: use a “smart TV,” which are usually designed in a way that couldn’t be less smart, or get a box. Roku and Apple TV are the two most successful; they are very small boxes that cost around $100 and have apps to watch things.
Or: the Xbox One. The Xbox integrates your existing cable box or, presumably, HD antenna, so you don’t have to use multiple remotes or switch between inputs. It has a pretty guide for this input. It has a web browser and Skype, which neither Roku nor Apple TV have. It has more apps than the Apple TV (including HBO Go and Amazon), and integrates with your computer, tablet, or smartphone (provided you’re using Microsoft products) better than Roku. It has a crazy-futuristic control scheme; you can turn it on by talking to it, you can navigate by waving your arms, you can yell at it and the thing listens and obeys.
And, of course, if you want to play games, it’s good at that, too.
It’ll be more expensive than $100–we don’t know how much yet, but $350 or $400, with the Kinect, wouldn’t be surprising–but you get so much more. It makes existing media devices seem like little toys from some decade past. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a well-used Xbox One in a house with no games–it’s a tremendously capable and forward-thinking gadget even without that element.