Finally, two months after the PlayStation 4 reveal, Microsoft has announced its new console, and on first impressions it’s not quite as impressive as its competitor. For one, calling it the Xbox One seems a fairly unimaginative get-out clause to using a bigger number, and, although probably unintentional, seems like a direct ploy to have a lower number than the PlayStation 4.
Not only has Microsoft reset the clock, it’s also reset its design ethos; Microsoft has taken the stance of creating a multimedia entertainment hub that allows you to jump from TV to movies to music to a game (and it’s listed in this order on the Xbox website). The Xbox One is compatible with your satellite or cable TV connection, and has Skype, which can be used in Snap Mode while you watch TV. Another feature heavily emphasised is that the Xbox One can be voice and motion controlled – this just seems like a flashy gimmick rather than a necessary addition, though. The console will be available later this year.
Getting down to what’s important, the main tech of the Xbox One is as follows: an 8-core CPU, a D3D 11.1 chip with 32 MB embedded memory GPU, 8GB RAM, a 500 GB HDD storage memory and a Blu-Ray compatible disk drive. This machine is surprising similar in architecture to the PlayStation 4, so it seems a mystery as to why Microsoft has so clearly chosen broad entertainment as its focus over pure gaming.
It’s difficult not to compare the Xbox One launch to the PS4 one as they are the main competitors in the home console market, but Microsoft made a wise decision by almost immediately showing the hardware itself (something Sony has yet to do, though they released a teaser just yesterday). It’s certainly nothing like the 360; it’s rectangular and looks more like a TV box than a games console. Its look is completely understated, but it has a few design flourishes; the top of the console is subdivided into two 16:9 rectangles, which is the traditional aspect ratio of widescreen televisions. It does seem that the Xbox One is focused on TV rather than games, being more concerned with people watching Game Of Thrones on their machine than playing the new Halo. Indeed, no games were announced at the launch.
Microsoft also announced a new Kinect, which is more responsive to your movements and has an infrared camera for when you feel like playing a game in the pitch dark. A new controller was also announced, which boasts 40 technological innovations – all of which seem to be slight tweaks in responsiveness and design as no new features have been added. The new Xbox SmartGlass turns your mobile or tablet into a second screen that interacts with the Xbox One for navigation purposes, or to provide extended experiences to all the available media.
It seems that Sony and Microsoft have swapped ideals; with the PS4 becoming a great gaming machine that caters to developers of all sizes (much like the Xbox Live Arcade, which was far better at publishing indie games than PSN) and the Xbox One has become a hub for all types of entertainment (alluding to Sony’s emphasis of its links to LoveFilm and Netflix with the PS3) suggesting that indie developers may struggle to be noticed among all the TV channels.
However, E3 will certainly be the deciding moment for both consoles; the machines, and the games to go with them, will finally be put to the test. In this regard, Microsoft could be playing a very smart game indeed; showing off the console’s overall entertainment abilities first, and then letting the games at E3 do the talking on its gaming prowess. If this is the case, Sony may yet have some very hard competition, and naturally it should be the games that are the deciding factor.