It’s been eight years and nine days since Microsoft showed the world the Xbox 360 on May 12, 2005. Today, we see what’s next. The Xbox One.
We’re on-site in at Microsoft’s Xbox HQ in Redmond, Washington, to check out the new Xbox. You can watch the livestream here.
New consoles are exciting in a way that it’s hard for other product releases to match, even anticipated ones like an iPhone, because they’re so infrequent. This is at least a five-year bet on Microsoft’s part about what the future of gaming will look like. We’ve already seen what Sony and Nintendo think. Now it’s Microsoft’s turn.
Microsoft can only hope it’s half as right as it was last time around. The 360 was built to last. That eight-year stretch of dominance makes it the oldest of the current generation of systems, and the last to be cast off in favour of a new system. Over that time the Xbox has picked up new features, like the Kinect motion sensor and ever more media streaming capabilities, but its core has remained the same.
Today’s event is only supposed to run for an hour — far shorter than the almost three hours the Sony crew was on stage for the PS4 event — which means it should have a bunch of information packed into a very short time. We’ll have impressions from further sessions.
We’re underway, and the intro video for the new Xbox has users saying that the new Xbox is going to “recognise my name, my voice, my movies” and know what you like. That’s a big cue that this generation is going to focus heavily on entertainment. Don Mattrick, President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, says that Xbox 360 is leading the industry in entertainment, because gamers are quick to adopt new tech.
The focus for the next gen is going to focus on different types of content, and use new tech, like cloud interfacing and streaming. It’s the all-in-one home entertainment system.
The console turns on just from you saying “Xbox on”. It will launch into what you were doing last. This passive listening is a huge deal for natural interface. It seems incredibly responsive in the demo, but for now it’s unclear if this is an actual demo or if it’s being simulated.
It also integrates right into your TV. “Xbox, watch TV” drops you right into a live television feed. The amazing part of this is that you can switch quickly from movies, TV, games, a browser or anything else, just by saying “Xbox, go to”, or even just “Go to movies”.
Two at Once
You can also use Windows 8’s snap mode (with one app “snapped” to the side of the screen” to run another app on the side of the screen while your movie, or TV or game is playing. This is kind of an amazing addition, not just for browsing movies while watching one, like an onscreen IMDB, which is what the demo is showing, but you can also, say, snap a walkthrough for a game you’re playing.
Oh, and Skype! You can use Skype while watching a movie or playing a game too.
Or! You can go to ESPN to watch sports (“Xbox, go to ESPN”) and get update cards in the top of your screen whenever one of your fantasy team scores or accumulates other stats (or just snap in the full panel).
Microsoft also added its own TV guide, with full voice Kinect voice controls (which seem far more accurate than current Kinect voice controls in this demo). You can go to any channel or program by telling the Xbox to go to it, or you can just go to a Trending page with the most popular content.
Update: Xbox One’s live TV won’t be available in Australia at launch. Read more at Kotaku.
There are three ways the Xbox One is upgraded. Hardware and new architecture, the new accessories like Kinect and SmartGlass, and a new Xbox Live.
The new architecture is what is responsible for the fast switching between apps and content. But it also means it’s not backward compatible with older Xbox games. Microsoft did not address this at the show, but it’s been speculated that it will use game streaming, like the PS4, to play older games on the new hardware. We’ll update you once we get a chance to shake down some Microsoft employees.
Kinect is “completely redesigned” to respond to you and your voice, and is made to be more conversational. It picks up motion at 13 billionths of a second, the time it takes light photons to bounce off you and make it back to the sensors.
The new Kinect has a 1080p sensor, and captures videos at 60fps and far finer detection. It detects the twist of a wrist or how balanced you are. it can read your heartbeat while watching you exercise. This is next level stuff. The sensor field is expanded by 60 per cent, uses a modulated IR beam and “time-of-flight” tech to measure the time it takes photos to travel back to the Kinect. Microsoft claims it works in complete darkness.
The controller has heaps of new features too, like the ability for designers to send feedback right into the triggers.
SmartGlass also gets a lot of upgrades, because it’s going to be treated as a native part of the platform, and not just an add-on, as it previously was.
Xbox Live is getting a massive overhaul as well. It currently runs on 15,000 servers, but it’s going to go to 300,000 this year. Insane. You’ll be able to access your movies, music, games and saves from anywhere. The Xbox One is NOT always online. But developers will be able to use Microsoft’s Azure computing (perform rendering tasks remotely), which would require even singleplayer games to be online if those are used. Those aren’t mandatory, but Microsoft hopes developers use them.
It also seems the new online gaming feature will restrict your ability to play used games, since they will be tied to your specific used Xbox Live account once activated online.
It will have a native editing and sharing DVR tool to snap highlights of your gameplay and share them. Matchmaking is also more advanced to hopefully make sure you’re not repeatedly sent up against the same jerk who wipes out your whole party before they even get out of the APC. And it’s going even further globally, so hopefully bring in more people to the games (though it’s unclear how latency plays into this).
EA’s making an effort to use the new innovations from Microsoft and Xbox Live especially with a roster of new titles. FIFA 14, Madden 25, NBA Live 14 and UFC will all launch in the next 12 months, and EA promises that they will all change the way you play. They’ll be powered by a new game engine, called EA Sports Ignite, unveiled today.
EA Sports Ignite is supposed to make decision-making and contextual contact more realistic. It will supposedly have 10 times more animation detail, called “True Player Motion”, and the crowds are 3D, with dynamic sidelines. Basically, everything’s going to look even more realistic.
Oh, and FIFA 14‘s Ultimate Team mode, the most popular mode, is exclusive to the new Xbox.
Watching the demos of the new engine on Xbox One, where you really see the detail is in the lighter contacts, like a defensive lineman trying to slip a block, or Lionel Messi shedding a tackler trying to drag him down by the arm. You can really see intricate movements and motions in a way you can’t on current hardware.
Obviously, there will be some exclusive games through Microsoft Studios. It will release 15 games in the first year of the Xbox One, eight of which will be brand new franchies. Microsoft is trying to focus on new ways to play games. We got to see Forza Motorsport 5 running on the Xbox One, and the reflections, textures of the materials, and lighting looked awesome, but driving game eye porn always looks great in the cinematic cuts.
We also got a look at a new game from Remedy, responsible for the Max Payne series, called Quantum Break. It will let the choices you make affect the entire world around you. The preview was deeply confusing, with some adults talking to a little girl, a cut to a boat tearing through a bridge, the tagline “Time is the fire”, and a character landing in the wreckage.
All Call of Duty downloadable content (DLC) will launch first on Xbox One.
Original Xbox Content
Xbox One wants to be immersive, personal (with smart recommendations) and social. The Studios are going to use the immersive capabilities to do new stuff with comedy, drama, sports, and all the rest of the stuff you watch on TV. It’s starting with Halo.
343 Studios announced a new live-action Halo TV show created by Steven Speilberg. So, like, holy crap. Microsoft and 343 this will be a premium show, on par with Game of Thrones, which is mighty big talk, but we’ll see.
There’s also a new NFL partnership with exclusive content for the Xbox, but it seems like some in-depth fantasy stats and the ability to use natively formatted apps next to live broadcasts. Nice, but not as groundbreaking as Microsoft is making it out to be.
The New Future
This is what we were hoping Microsoft would show us. We saw a new and massively updated Kinect. New game engines, with improved graphics (but still such cold, dead eyes). Some issues, like backwards compatibility and streaming games, we hope will be cleared up throughout the day of events.
The Xbox One will be available “later this year”, which almost certainly means in time for the Christmas shopping season. For some frame of reference, the Xbox 360 was announced in May of 2005 and went on sale six months later.
Check back for more impressions later in the day.