Microsoft Unveils Next Xbox: the Xbox One

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Today, Microsoft took the wraps off of its latest console, the Xbox One. Filled with the latest in motion control, the new system promises to be a central hub for entertainment. From any angle, the new generation is living up to its Xbox name, as the design is much boxier than its predecessor.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the design brings to mind the classic Sony offerings from twenty-five or thirty years ago. And it’s large, too. This new Xbox will slide right into your entertainment center, and unlike every other game system out there, it won’t look remotely out of place. Microsoft is targeting both the larger audience of gamers, and simultaneously acknowledging that gamers, as a group, are older.

The average gamer is well into their thirties right now, despite what the accusations of multiplayer misconduct might make you believe.

Inside of the Xbox One is an AMD eight-core chip, just like inside the PlayStation 4. This guy runs at right around 1.6GHz, and features a GPU on-die. Unsurprisingly, it also features memory controllers, et al, built into the same silicon. At the event, Microsoft announced that the technology featured more than 5 billion transistors, built on a 28nm manufacturing process. 

Microsoft Xbox One

Wired spent some time with MS execs a few weeks ago, and mentions that Microsoft is taking heat very seriously with this new generation. The Xbox 360 was plagued with the infamous ‘red ring of death’ errors that were caused in almost all cases by improper heat mitigation. This new version has specially designed heatsinks, heat pipes that sit between the CPU (APU?) and heatsink, and even custom hard drives.

In addition to the AMD-provided processors, Microsoft is including 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and USB 3.0. It seems obvious that they’d also include Bluetooth, but we don’t know yet. Neither do we know when it’ll ship (“later this year”) or where (“worldwide”) or how much it will cost (probably a lot). There’s also a Blu-Ray drive (look at how far we’ve come!), and HDMI in and out.

We do know, however, that every system will come with a Kinect 2.0 control. The Kinect has also increased in size, but likewise in capability. The new Kinect can read your heartbeat from across the room, and since every single Xbox One user will have one, developer support should be through the roof.

The optional nature of the first Kinect kept its adoption limited at best, with most gamers disappointed with the lack of serious games that used the technology. MS claimed that games would use the Kinect to watch how you hold your controller, so if you lift it up, your in-game gun/wrench/futuretool does as well.

Kinect will change how most people use the console in general. Even in sleep mode, you’ll be able to turn the Xbox One on with just your voice. Kinect will take a quick look at your face, and log you into your individual Xbox Live account and services. It’s unknown whether Microsoft will require multiple Xbox One users at the same residence to each subscribe to Xbox Live in order to use Live features, like they do with the current setup.

Like the PS4 (or the BlackBerry PlayBook, if we go back far enough), the Xbox One will offer advanced, realtime multitasking. Switch to TV  with your voice, and your game pauses, with the Xbox instantly flipping over. Switch to Music or Movies, and the Xbox responds – switch back to your game, and you’re dumped back in control with no waiting for your game to reload. If it works half as well as the demonstration slowed, it’s going to be the best part about the new console. 

By and large, the Interface seemed the same. Colorful Xbox tiles on a gradient background. One major difference was the ‘Xbox Snap’ feature that Microsoft borrowed from its Windows 8 OS – you’ll be able to watch a movie and ‘snap’ another app, like Internet Explorer or Skype (which comes packaged with every console, and is going to be a huge hit to accessory makers like Logitech, which make pricey Skype video cameras for the living room) and do two things at once.

Having the ability to answer a video chat without disrupting what you’re currently doing is going to help Microsoft maintain its Skype userbase against flexible newcomers like Google’s Hangout offering.

Similar to how Sony showed off the PS4 without showing the actual console, Microsoft showed off the Xbox One without any gameplay – save for an extended look at Call of Duty: Ghosts (which, granted, looks totally awesome). They’re planning on showing the actual titles at E3 here in a couple of weeks (and don’t worry, we’ll be there).

There was zero mention of any kind of backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 titles, which makes sense the two system run on entirely different architectures. We’ve heard rumors, however, that Microsoft is considering asking/letting developers recompile their titles for the new system, with perhaps some sort of download-tied-to-disc unlock or reduced purchase price.

The new Xbox One is promising, to say the least, and Microsoft seems to be making a much broader play for the entertainment space (compared to Sony, which seems slightly more focused on actual gaming experiences); it’s by no means certain which strategy will be successful at this point in time – pricing will play no small part in that – but it’s clear that Nintendo has its work cut out for them if they mean to stay relevant.

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