On Tuesday, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) unveiled its next gaming console, the Xbox One. It might be an understatement to call it simply a “gaming console,” but in some ways it might also be an overstatement.
All media on even footing:
When the first Xbox came out, it had a feature for watching DVDs and playing music, but there was no arguing that its central role was as a machine for games. Across the seas, Nintendo’s GameCube and Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Playstation 2 were on the same page. In the next generation, Nintendo’s Wii stayed in the gaming spirit, but tried to do something very different with games. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 both focused on games, but added a bit more in terms of video and music applications. With the latest generation trickling out, it’s a wonder just what direction each company will go — Microsoft’s direction may be surprising.
During the premiere, Microsoft showed off many features of the Xbox, but one of the things it didn’t show off terribly much of was games. The hardware was shown, the controller shown, the Kinect device emphasized and showcased with the software, but very little gaming was actually shown.
It may be that Microsoft knew there would be plenty of time for it and game developers to show off games at E3, which is coming up in only a matter of days. The company may have felt that the premiere was a better chance to show off all the new things the Xbox One could do on top of playing games.
Quick and seamless interaction:
During the presentation, Yusuf Mehdi showed off how much the Xbox One could do and how quickly it could do it. He turned the device on simply by saying, “Xbox, on.” He then switched quickly back and forth between television broadcasts, different channels, movies, music, and a video game, and he only used his voice.
The Kinect’s camera could also be used to interact with the Xbox, as a user could make body gestures to slide pages over or go between content and the home screen. Mehdi also showed off the way devices like a tablet could be used as a controller for the device, as he looked at an Internet Explorer page about Star Trek on the screen side-by-side with the film itself.
Microsoft’s Don Mattrick emphasized the company’s desire to create a product and experience that is “simple, instant, and complete.” That ideal might be a lot of the reasoning behind the name Xbox One over the largely expected name Xbox 720.
TV, TV, sports, TV, Call of Duty, a dog, and TV:
This video succinctly shows what Microsoft emphasized in the unveiling of the Xbox One:
Microsoft wanted to put the Xbox One at the center of the living room media-consumption experience. To do that, it had to make the device capable of delivering TV, movies, games, music, and whatever else. Given the TV’s potential to distract from Xbox in the past, it seems the company made sure to show users they didn’t have to turn off their Xbox to watch TV.
With the announcement that Steven Spielberg would be working on a Halo TV series, it seems clear that Microsoft will be looking into creating more exclusive video content for its Xbox One platform.
More Internet engagement:
Microsoft’s Marc Whitten said that the Xbox One would launch with 300,000 Xbox Live servers. He claimed that would be “more than the entire world’s computing power in 1999.” For comparison, Xbox Live is currently supported by only 15,000 services.
The company emphasized the importance of the cloud and also showed off a lot of Internet-related features during the premiere. First of all, users can quickly jump from whatever they are doing on the device to open up a web browser. Mehdi also showed off how he could quickly pull up Skype to make a video call to a friend while in the middle of something else.
The Internet will surely have some prominence for the console, especially as it will require at least occasional Internet connectivity — though not constant connectivity, as some users had worried would be the case.
During the premiere event, Microsoft kept hinting at the intelligence of the Xbox One. The opening promotional video said, “You and your TV are going to have a relationship,” and then went on to add a list of things the Xbox would know – or learn — about users. Mattrick said the Xbox One would be a platform “where your TV becomes more intelligent,” and described Xbox Live as a “living service that gets better every day.” All that artificial intelligence talk is slapped on top of the always-on eyeball that is the Kinect.
With the Xbox 360, the Kinect wasn’t always on, but now Microsoft has shown that it can be, and the premiere suggests that the company wants it to be. While watching TV: on. While playing a game: on. While in the room with the TV and Xbox One off: on, waiting, and listening for the user to say, “Xbox, On.” It’s almost a wonder Microsoft didn’t name it the Xbox HAL 9000.
There were a lot of concerns earlier in the year about Microsoft and Sony making changes with their next generation consoles to block users from buying cheap used games or lending copies to their friends. It seems Microsoft has found a way to do this to a degree.
According to Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Phil Harrison, Xbox One games will have a code that “sits on your hard drive, and you have permission to play that game as long as you’d like.” Some of the bits of information will be the actual game data, while other bits will code for a user’s right to play the game. For the game data, “you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One,” but “they would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live,” Harrison said.
This gives Microsoft a chance to cash in on the used game market. It’s possibly going to upset players, as they will surely have to pay more to get a game. While currently, a new game could be played and passed to a friend who could then play the game for free, the new system doesn’t sound like it would allow that. In fact, it sounded like Harrison suggested the friend would have to pay full price to play the game.
On top of the game fees, it’s likely Microsoft can make a pretty penny on Xbox Live. Currently, users have to pay for a subscription to Xbox Live if they want to do very much — including playing online multiplayer. Given that the Xbox One will have more features than its predecessor, it’s likely that Microsoft will continue charging a subscription and may even charge extra for certain elements of the service.
Not beating Sony:
Maybe it’s because Microsoft wanted to focus more on the complete media experience and not just games, or maybe it’s just because it didn’t get lucky, but in terms of technical specifications, the Xbox One falls short of the PlayStation 4.
There are a number of points where the devices match up. Both have the same AMD (NYSE:AMD) Jaguard processors, with 8 cores, and threads, and an estimated clock-speed of 1.6 gigahertz. That makes both pretty fast machines capable of handling a lot of heavy tasks. Without going to deep into the computing side, this is about where the devices stop being even.
The PS4 has almost three times the system memory bandwidth of the Xbox One, with 176 gigabytes-per-second compared to 68.3 gigabytes-per-second. That means a lot faster communication between everything inside the PS4 and a lot quicker functioning. Both consoles have 8 gigabytes of RAM, but not all RAM is created equal, and the PS4′s 5500-megahertz GDDR5 system memory boasts higher performance in gaming than the Xbox One’s 2133-megahertz DDR3 system memory. On top of that, the PS4 has a higher performing graphics processor, which should give it more power to create high-end visuals in games.
Microsoft might be trying to distance itself from Sony so that the competition doesn’t just come down to the hardware, because it would have lost the last battle — and the next battle — if those were the stakes.
A 2013 launch:
The Xbox One will have Blu-ray capabilities, a built-in 500-gigabyte hard drive, and Wi-Fi capability. The package will also include the Kinect device, of course.
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