Today, Microsoft unveiled its new console, Xbox One, from its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. There’s still going to be news coming out between now and another announcement at E3 in June (which we’ll be at), but this is what we saw so far.
TV, TV, TV
This is just barely a gaming console. Microsoft is pitching it as something more like a Living Room Entertainment Box. For about half of today’s presentation, no games were even mentioned; instead, Microsoft opted to show the ways Xbox One is integrated with TV. It functions sort of like an amped-up Google TV: it’s a command center that hooks up to a cable box and allows you to control what’s happening on TV through gestures and voice control. You can switch between TV, games, and a web browser–all through a single system. Say “Xbox on” and the console fires up, then “Switch to TV” or “Switch to internet” and it flips over.
One big, controversial rumor was that the Xbox One would require an internet connection to play any games. That’s turned out to be both true and false. Your games are downloaded to the console’s hard drive, but certain features in certain games may require an internet connection. It’s up to the game-makers to decide if they want to use those.
[Update: According to Kotaku, you will need to connect to the internet at least once a day, even if you’re not looking to play a game online.]
But there are apparently some restrictions on used games. The first time you use a game, it gets tied up to your Xbox account. If you want to move that to other accounts, you’ll need to pay a fee.
This is actually a pretty major departure from the Xbox 360’s design at launch. The controller, as predicted, looks fairly similar, but the sleek black console-box is a far cry from the white-and-green 360 we saw before a black version was adopted. That makes sense: after all, if this is something meant to work as more than just a console, it needs to be able to disappear in the living room.
The Xbox did get a bump in power (obviously): it’ll have 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0, a fancy Blu-ray player, and an HDMI in port, but more interesting is probably the overhaul of Kinect. The Xbox’s motion-sensitive camera looks like it’ll be better at picking up movement, with a 1080p camera replacing the lower-res VGA sensor of the last generation. Microsoft also announced that the gadget would automatically respond to a specific user’s voice and movement patterns. In other words, it knows you, and just you. Apparently that new Kinect is a mandatory feature, too.
This is last for a reason. For better or worse, Microsoft seems to be backing off the idea of a console devoted only, or even mostly, to games. Even an announcement seemingly about the popular Halo game series ended up being an announcement about a live-action Halo TV series.
There’s a racing game (Forza Motorsport 5) and the new Call of Duty: Ghosts (in a promotional video, they made a big deal out of the game featuring a dog, for some reason). There’s also a partnership between Microsoft and EA for a slew of sports games, including the next edition of the popular FIFA series. More original franchises, they say, are on the way. We’ll probably see more when Microsoft takes to the more game-centric E3 next month for another announcement.