Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One Box to Rule Them All

Today Microsoft revealed the new Xbox console to be released later this year. Called Xbox One, the system is striving for dominance in the living room of tomorrow.

Reminiscent of an old VHS player, the physical look of the new machine is unimpressive. That said, the first Xbox was also a giant box, and that didn't stop me from enjoying some excellent games. What's under the hood is more important.

Xbox One is definitely an upgrade from the Xbox 360. The RAM goes from 512 MB to 8 GB. Standard hard disk drive goes from 20 to 500 GB. Cloud software is no longer just for saving. With the new system cloud computing can take over some of the processing power. This will allow developers to create larger multiplayer matches thanks to the dedicated servers. Currently the average game allows 16 to 32 players, but with the upgrade, games will be able to reach up to 128 players. Cloud computing will also allow players to access their achievements and installed games from whatever console they sign in on. No more memory cards, or person-to-person MP, thanks to this new tech.

Xbox One features a built in wi-fi adapter and a blu-ray player. This doesn't seem like much for PS3 owners, but for Xbox fans it's a welcomed addition. There is no backwards compatibility, and for the most part the controller is the same. The system is also extremely quite compared to previous consoles.

The Kinect is now a standard feature, and has received a significant update to its capabilities. The new camera is 1080p, and captures video at 60 frames per second. The motion based system can now detect your entire body with greater ease, measure your heart rate, and voice commands run everything and anything the console has to offer. Interestingly the controller wasn't even apart of the main demonstration today. The speakers utilized Kinect and smartphones to navigate through the presentation.

Overall the hardware upgrades seem decent enough. I would have liked more RAM, and an HDD seems out of date compared to the SSD tech seen in today's PCs. The lack of backwards compatibility is a shame. The Kinect seems to have improved, but without personally testing the device I can't say for sure. (Past experience with the 360 version has left me unimpressed.) Cloud computing is a welcomed addition, yet I wonder how long the dedicated servers will remain open. The beauty of peer-to-peer system is the game lives on as long as there is another person to play with or against. Will Microsoft go the EA route, and shutdown servers a few years after a game is released?

Microsoft is definitely taking a page from EA in regards to used, and rented, games. All Xbox One games will have to be installed onto the hard drive. Once installed the game links to your Xbox Live account. If you want to play the game on another Xbox One, then you will have to pay a fee for the second install. No more going to a friends house with your game to play on their console. Hell, you can't even play the same game, in the same house, on two separate systems. This seems terrible to a person who grew up sharing games with friends and siblings.

GameFly and GameStop are in for some changes as this "feature" will directly effect their businesses. Are you willing to pay an extra fee, on top of the costs of the used game, to play? How will game rental business continue to operate? These are questions that will have to be answered as more information is revealed about Xbox One.

Besides the hardware, the main focus of today's unveiling was to showcase Microsoft's ambitions to dominate your living room. Need to make a phone call? Use Skype on Xbox One. Want to watch TV? Give a verbal command, and Kinect will switch to your cable box. Need to check out your fantasy team stats? Don't bother with the tablet. Use the "Snap In" feature to simultaneously surf the web while watching ESPN.

The "Snap In" idea is really neat, but anyone used to a PC will probably produce a patronizing sigh. The Xbox One basically allows you to have two working windows at once. Taking a phone call on your TV may also take some getting used to, and I wonder how clear the communication is when the Kinect is across the living room. Finally switching between cable television, and your game console, can be done today with the TV remote. It's called the "input" button.

Not many games were showcased today, but this is no surprise with E3 right around the corner. Of course EA came on stage to hype up the same sports titles gamers have seen since the Sega/SNES days. Also, Call of Duty: Ghost was featured. None of the videos showed significant gameplay, and mostly touted the tech behind the game. Am I suppose to be excited for fish with AI and a dog, or that new physics engine for sports titles? Cause I'm not.

Microsoft has a long ways to go before I start pinching pennies for an Xbox One. The new features showcased today didn't produce any "wow" factor, and I'm concerned with some of the upcoming changes. Perhaps my opinion will change once more games are hyped at E3, or maybe it's time for me to start looking at the PS4. 

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