The Fifth Column: The Xbox One Looks A Lot Like The Future
After the partial PS4 reveal, where we did not get to see the actual console, I was leaning towards the PS4 as a replacement for my ageing 360. My one major gripe is the PS4 controller but I was willing to overlook it. Now that I have watched the Xbox One launch event, I am leaning back into the Xbox camp. As always the launch event is as much about what they said in addition to the things that they do not say. So let’s see how it all adds up.
The primary focus of the presentation was on the integration of games, TV and social media. This of course makes sense because the major battleground in the console war is for the control of your living room not just your video game console. With the expanded feature set of the Xbox One, Microsoft has fired a major return salvo squarely at Sony and any other pretenders to the console crown. Microsoft has done their homework very well and is leveraging a number of strong partnerships in order to make the Xbox One a success. There is a new partnership with EA, Call of Duty: Ghosts was presented as a launch title and a new Halo TV series produced by none other than Steven Spielberg was also announced. This is a brilliant move because it combines one of the biggest video game franchises on the Xbox with one of the greatest names in the movie industry, once again placing the Xbox One front and centre as a home entertainment system as opposed to purely a gaming device.
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The Xbox One has an impressive spec list, it has an 8 Core CPU, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, wireless, HDMI IN and OUT as well as USB 3.0 The only complaint that I have is that the hard drive is a bit on the small side; 1TB would have been an ideal drive size. The cynic in me says that Microsoft is setting us up for a ridiculously overpriced accessory upgrade in the not too distant future but we will have to wait and see how that pans out. The controller has also received a number of revisions, the D-pad looks much improved but as always the proof is in the playing. I also got design hints of the original S-controller in the new Xbox revision but then again I have two of those parking in my lounge so it could just be some wishful projecting on my part.
One feature set that I was seriously impressed by was the voice and motion commands. In the demonstration, the Xbox responded almost immediately to commands to login, change channels, access the Internet and even answer a Skype call. There appeared to be no input lag and the response to the motion gestures when maximising and minimising the screen was wonderfully accurate. They also demonstrated how to multi-task on the Xbox One by answering a Skype call while watching TV. This is a feature that would annoy the hell out of me, but then again maybe that’s just me.
Now let’s move on to the bits that they did not mention. The Xbox One will be available this year but no date has been announced for the release. My bet is that the console will be available for the festive season. Microsoft did announce some of the hardware specs but no detail as regards what type of CPU and/or GPU is in the Xbox One, this is most probably only of interest to us tech heads but it would have been useful to benchmark the console against the competition as well as the previous generation. There was a lot of talk and demonstrations of TV programming but I doubt that any of it will be available in South Africa without having to jump through a bunch of proxy hoops in order to get it working. Microsoft has not yet provided an adequate response to concerns that have been raised about the lack of backwards compatibility, the apparent ‘block’ of second hand games and the fact that the Kinect sensor cannot be switched off. But there is still plenty of time before the retail launch for them to implement the necessary changes in order to avoid a significant consumer backlash. If, however, these concerns are not adequately addressed, it could have dire consequences for the console once it is launched at retail and is a potential deal breaker for prospective customers.
I was not expecting a lot from the Xbox One reveal but my expectations have been massively exceeded. I am genuinely excited by the Xbox One. The integration of voice and motion commands looks practical and very effective. The hardware revision appears to have learned from the design flaws of the previous generation and has also ramped up the specification and feature set to a high level. In addition the partnerships with EA, Activision and the Steven Spielberg produced TV series have placed the Xbox in a prime position in the battle for your living room. There is nothing revolutionary about the Xbox One but it does look like a good product offering. By the looks of things Microsoft has provided a few solid opening shots in the next-gen console war but their victory is far from certain, especially if they do not address the concerns that have been raised.