It's called Xbox One? Really? Microsoft’s math is slightly off in naming its third console, but the use of the loneliest number highlights the computing giant’s clear intention to market the new Xbox as an all-in-one entertainment device.
“Where all of your entertainment comes alive in one place,” is how Microsoft’s Don Mattrick described it on stage during Tuesday’s unveiling of the new Xbox at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash.
Beyond a brief look at the next gen “Call of Duty” and a few sports Titles, few video games were shown during the hour-long presentation. Instead, viewers were told how cable television, Skype, sports programming and web browsing could all be enhanced with Xbox One.
It might sound strange for The System That Master Chief Built to make video games ride in the backseat, but it’s likely a sound strategy for 2013 and beyond. When Microsoft first started selling the Xbox 360 in 2005, smartphones and tablets didn’t exist and Facebook was just an obscure website used mostly by college kids.
These days, the console game market is eroding thanks to "Angry Birds," "League of Legends" and countless other gaming choices offered by other emerging platforms. Game sales fell from almost $11 billion in 2011 to below $9 billion in 2012, according to NPD Group, and Nintendo’s Wii U sales have been near disastrous lately. Microsoft’s Xbox One feels like a concerted effort to broaden the company’s base with an all-purpose device.
But then what the heck does it do, exactly? Here are a few highlights:
- Details are sketchy, but Xbox One will be capable of both broadcasting live cable and acting as a DVR so that you can record shows and save them in the system’s hefty 500-gig hard drive. Between that and apps for Netflix, Hulu, HBO, ESPN and others, consumers possibly could replace both standard cable boxes and Roku devices with an Xbox One.
- Xbox One comes standard with an upgraded Kinect sensor that can capture 1080p high definition video, as well as detect more points on the body for more accurate recognition. You’ll be able to use the Kinect to surf the web, pick a movie, or take a voice call via Skype. It will also recognize physical gestures and even detect your heartbeat. "This is human control for a human experience," said Microsoft’s Marc Whitten. A little creepy? You betcha.
- Using Kinect, the new Xbox will identify users, log them in and bring up all their favorite apps and games on the home screen. It promises to remember what you were doing last time you played and a "trending tab" shows what's popular with your friends and the entire online community.
- With the so-called Snap Mode, you’ll be able to multitask and do two activities at once, like watch a movie trailer while talking to a friend on video chat. One interesting example was the ability to check your fantasy sports stats through Xbox One while simultaneously watching the game on ESPN.
- Microsoft says the Xbox One’s Live service will have 300,000 servers backing it up (beefed up from 15,000 currently), which will let you save your games quickly to the cloud. There’s also a DVR style function that will allow you to record your own game play and share it with others.
- The new controller has been altered with an updated cross-shaped D-pad and “vibrating impulse triggers” designed to provide extra feedback to your fingertips.
- And yes, it will play a lot of games, but it’s hard to say how much of a change we’ll see in graphic fidelity. If the trailers for “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Madden NFL 14” are any indication, Xbox One has enough juice under its hood for a modest, but not mind blowing boost in visual quality.
Hardcore gamers may be disappointed with what they've seen so far, but Xbox One holds a lot of promise as a device capable of consolidating all of your consumption of movies, TV, music and games into one big, black rectangle.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
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