Xbox One: Is It All That?

It’s finally here. After many years of waiting, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has unveiled the newest of its gaming consoles: Xbox One.

Many had been expecting Microsoft to go from the Xbox 360 to an “Xbox 720,” but instead it went the other way, and there was good reason for the choice of the new name. One of the first things shown off about the device was its ability to link together a number of different elements of entertainment all in one device.

Microsoft’s Don Mattrick said that the new mission with the Xbox One was to connect games, TV, and entertainment. Yusuf Mehdi came on after Mattrick to talk about the all-in-one experience that the Xbox One is intended to offer.

In his demonstration, Mehdi showed off a lot of what the Xbox One could do. Simply saying, “Xbox, on,” he made the machine turn on. He then showed how voice commands could quickly switch from television broadcast to a movie to music to a game and around and back again with only a second of delay between the command and the completion of the task. Voice gestures were only the beginning, as body gestures could be picked up by the Kinect and translated into controls for the device, such as grabbing the air and squeezing in toward the torso to get back to the Xbox One home screen.

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Mehdi also showed off the various forms of integration between elements that took place on the machine. He showed a movie running side-by-side with an Internet browser that he could then control with a completely separate tablet. He also showed a feature that will be a favorite among sports enthusiasts, showing how he could watch a live broadcast of a sporting event and have the Xbox One keep track of his fantasy league statistics in real-time. If he wanted, he could even pull Skype open in the middle of all that to brag to a friend.

In terms of what’s “under the hood,” as Microsoft’s Marc Whitten put it, the device will have eight gigabytes of RAM, making it a powerful multitasking device. It will support Blu-ray. It is built on 64-bit architecture, it runs “three operating systems in one,” and will have “practically silent operation.” Also, for whatever it’s worth, it will have five billion transistors — significantly more than the Xbox 360. That’s just the hardware of the main machine. The new controllers stay true to the older version, but will be able to deliver vibration more precisely, such as to the triggers. The Xbox One will also include a new Kinect device with many upgrades from the original, the ability to process “two gigabits of data per second,” and a central role in the Xbox One experience.

Microsoft is also working to make it one of the fastest and most seamless experiences it can. As Mattrick put it, they want to create an experience that is “simple, instant, and complete.” A strong focus on the cloud is one way the company will do this, and to keep that supported, the company will have 300,000 servers running for the Xbox One. Whitten said that this is “more than the entire world’s computing power in 1999,” and it compares to the 15,000 servers available for the current Xbox Live.

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Of course, it’s not only about the hardware and support. Content is what drives the platform. At the event, a deal with EA Sports (NASDAQ:EA) was announced for four new games running on the new “EA Sports Ignite” game engine, including a Fifa, a Madden, an NBA, and a UFC game. Also, perhaps some of the bigger news, an Xbox One exclusive Halo TV series is being produced with the help of Steven Spielberg. Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) Chief Executive Officer Eric Hirshberg also came on to announce and show the next game in the company’s most popular franchise, “Call of Duty: Ghosts.” The new game will feature numerous upgrades and even a dog-friend. Microsoft’s Phil Spencer added that more titles were currently in development for Xbox One than at any point in the rest of Xbox’s history. He said there were 15 exclusive games in development and that eight of those were brand new franchises.

One of the most interesting — and potentially creepy — notes of the event was how often the company hinted at some level of artificial intelligence. A promotional video said, “You and your TV are going to have a relationship,” and suggested a number of things it would know about users. Mattrick said the Xbox One would be a platform “where your TV becomes more intelligent,” and said Xbox Live was a “living service that gets better every day.” Adding to the eeriness is of course the ever-watching, ever-listening eye of the Kinect device. Needless to say, those are all meant to be elements that make the console great, not creepy.

Much more can be expected in the coming weeks, especially as one of the bigger gaming events — E3 — is set to take place soon.

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