The Xbox One, Microsoft’s upcoming videogame console, will embrace Blu-ray discs and gaming in the cloud…
If you’ve come to expect a certain shape from Microsoft’s games products, you can be forgiven for not instantly recognising the upcoming version of its Xbox. Microsoft’s first ever games console very much put the ‘box’ into Xbox – with its bulky square mass – while the Xbox 360 only moved slightly away from that, so it’s a surprise that the design of the newly announced Xbox One has been made to look more like a Blu-ray player or television set-top box.
This change of tactic is no mistake, though. Microsoft doesn’t want the Xbox One to be hidden away in cupboards or behind TVs, but used as the main entertainment device at the heart of the living room. Making it blend in with the other appliances in the same space is just good sense from that point of view.
So what does this new device have in store for gamers when it arrives before the end of 2013? Well, Microsoft refers to the Xbox One as the “ultimate all-in-one home entertainment system” and it aims to be much more than that just a videogame machine. To that end, the Xbox One will allow users to navigate and watch live TV from their cable, broadband or satellite set-top boxes directly through the console without having to switch HDMI leads or channels. That could see UK users controlling and enjoying their Sky, Virgin, BT, TalkTalk and Freeview content directly through the Xbox One.
The OneGuide will collect together all of the entertainment options a user has when they log in, so they can easily find and access their favourite channels, movies, albums or games. As well as displaying the kind of programming information you would find in a regular TV service, for example, this will also include related themes that are currently trending and could offer up items such as fantasy sports stats while watching a live Barclays Premiership game. “Our unique, modern architecture brings simplicity to the living room and, for the first time ever, the ability to instantly switch across your games and entertainment,” says Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business.
Given that it looks like a Blu-ray player it is also good news to hear that it also works as a Blu-ray player. During the format war at the start of the high-definition era Microsoft backed HD-DVD – the rival to Blu-ray – and famously lost out to Sony’s technology. PlayStation 3 owners have long enjoyed being able to play Blu-ray discs and adding this technology into the upcoming Xbox One makes it a more attractive purchase. There are also practical benefits to using this technology, as Blu-ray discs hold much more data than DVDs and Xbox One games can be contained on a single disc instead of swapping multiple discs.
The Xbox controller may look very similar but it too has also been giving a design refresh, with Microsoft pointing to more than 40 technical changes. These include a better ergonomic fit and an updated directional pad and thumb stick, as well as all new vibrating impulse triggers that will work with supported games.
The Kinect motion control unit has also been redesigned and Microsoft says it will be more responsive and more precise. That’s great news if it’s true, as new control features for the Xbox One will see the console power up when you say, “Xbox On”. Users can then search or browse using both voice or motion detection – imagine scrolling through onscreen channels and menus with a flick of the hand, like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
Online play has long been a staple of the Xbox gaming experience and existing gamers will see their subscriptions and scores transferred over to the Xbox One. Some upgrades to the online service include the ability to add up to 1,000 players to the online friend list, as well as a better matchmaking system (called Smart Match) to find worthy opponents online. Much of the information will now also be stored online in ‘the cloud’, so gaming data such as levels can be accessed more quickly. This appears to be similar to plans Sony has for the upcoming PlayStation 4, which should allow players to access games from any console connected to the internet.
Powering all of these enhancements is an eight-core, x86 processor and more than five billion transistors, which Microsoft claims will do away with lag and load times. The company even expects the Xbox One’s processing power to be nippy enough to allow users to instantly jump between a videogame and their other entertainment options, while also running other apps at the same time.
The only downside so far to owning an Xbox One may be how it deals with games. Microsoft confirmed at the launch of the console that the games each player buys will be tied to their specific Xbox Live account. That could mean that if they want to sell a game second-hand, Microsoft may charge the person buying it a fee to transfer it to their system. Some reports have claimed this fee could be as high as 90 per cent but Microsoft has neither officially confirmed nor denied this so far.
All we need now is a price and a release date. But with Microsoft promising to feature the console heavily at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this month, you’ll most likely have to wait until then.