Well, it’s finally official. Sort of. The first two of the big three things out of the way. The XBOX One has finally been announced, but we have no date of release or price. So that out of the way, let me go over what happened today at the Microsoft event that announced the all new gaming/home theater console. Notice I said home theater. It seems ever since Microsoft started bringing in streaming video apps to the XBOX 360, we have become very accustomed to this device being a part of our home theater. I was really hoping to see two different versions of the XBOX in this update, one that was lower priced to compete with the AppleTV, GoogleTV and all other streaming media boxes, but that is not what we got. Microsoft basically announced a super charged VCR box, I kid, I kid.
So down to the brass tax of what was announced. We have a brand new designed box, and I mean BOX. This thing has design cues from a 1970’s VHS VCR with it’s tall box and flat front panel. The only difference is, there is a thinner disc slot, instead of folding back door to match the VHS tape. They have retained the vented sides from the XBOX 360, but just much more boxy. They have also moved the USB slots on the front, to the side now, which is an odd decision since USB drives or add-ons usually have a habit of sticking out, so I don’ think this will work very well for your home theater tower or shelf that you already have setup. So let’s take a look a this thing.
You see that? What happened to our beautifully designed and thinned out XBOX 360 Slim? I guess they had to blow out the sides of the box to make room for all the new hardware. So what have we been upgraded to? Let’s start with the new 8 core CPU (that now runs 64-bit) from a previous 3 core PowerPC CPU. This thing is an ultimate powerhouse with 8GB of RAM from a previous 512MB on the XBOX 360. It now comes with the LONG AWAITED Blu-Ray drive that has been rumored for very long time as well, from unreliable sources of course. Especially after the ill-fated death of the HD-DVD that Microsoft put so much into. Microsoft even tried to add more space to their DVD based game discs back in 2011, but I guess they had to finally succumb to the Sony backed Blu-ray disc and add it to their next-gen console. After that, let’s talk I/O on this new VCR, I mean XBOX. We finally have USB 3.0, which was standardized in 2008, Wi-Fi (N Wireless) and Wi-Fi Direct, 500GB hard drive, up from a 250GB drive, and a HDMI Passthrough, allowing for HDMI in and HDMI out. That last feature, will allow for live TV to be brought through the new home theater box, I mean XBOX and support for 1080p and 4K as well, for future proofing.
Moving on to the new controller as well. This has a very minimalistic look to it, and seems to go back to the size of the original XBOX. Microsoft is claiming 40 new features in this controller, but I don’t know how you can fit all of that in there. This new controller has a “integrated” battery compartment, new impulse triggers and a precision directional pad. I don’t know what is so “new” about these features, but more can be found as time goes on and we get some more information about it from E3 2013 coming up in just a few short weeks.
They really wanted to focus on three main things during the event. Kinect, Architecture and Controller. Well, we just covered the controller and some of the architecture (more on that later), so let’s move on to the kinect. 2.0 They have also boxed this thing up to look like a small long box as well, with an updated camera that shoots with a 1080p wide angle lens. It now captures 1080p HD RGB video at 30fps that can be used for Skype, which comes built in now. This new kinect also has better body understanding, because it can now see more joints, from the the flip of a wrist to your “heart beating”. They have also used what they learned with the original kinect, to upgrade the voice processing on this one, and make it much easier to use voice commands that are much more conversational than commands. Now with “Live Switching”, you can now say, “Live TV” or “Let’s watch ESPN” and it goes right to the ESPN app. These commands are much more fluid and seem to have worked very well in the demo on stage. Oh, and guess what, every XBOX One comes with a kinect, it no longer is an option, it’s mandatory.
Now moving on to the things not really talked about in the presentation today. What we didn’t hear about was, will we be able to play our old XBOX 360 games? The short answer is no. Because of the new architecture, moving from PowerPC to an x86 64-bit, they just won’t work. It’s like when Apple chose to change their PowerPC to the Intel processors back in 2005. It is a major change to the system, but to help future proof itself even more, they need to be ready to expand. Now, in the future, they totally could come up with a very similar solution that Playstation has come up with, by streaming their games from the cloud. Does that mean that you will have to buy your game again? Will we be able to scan in games with discs that we own and they give us a license? This future is very unknown right now, but let’s go back to the cloud thing again.
Another big mention in today’s announcement was about the cloud based device using the 300,000 servers that Microsoft is running to back up the power to this new XBOX One. This will include the ability to save in game DVR capabilities, so you can upload and share that INSANE CRAZY single headshot you just pulled off in Call of Duty: Ghosts. If I remember correctly, XBOX Live first started off with less than 500 servers back in November of 2002, which moved up to 15,000 for the XBOX 360. With all this cloud based activity going on, you will be able to stream not only games, but your movies, video chats and all sorts of other content as well, without filling up your 500GB drive.
Now with those two things covered, let’s talk about the last thing that could very well change the future of used games retail stores like GameStop or GameFly who rents game discs. Since the cloud seems to be taking over EVERYTHING, and EVERYTHING can be saved to it, so you never lose anything, the same is being done to the games. It is being reported (as rumored) that the disc that you get, will be for an initial install to the harddrive, and you will never have to put the disc back in the system again. Microsoft is saying that it can be used a second time, but the owner of the disc will be charged a “small fee” for it to be installed a second time, but then the second install would be able to play the game without needing the disc as well. There are no details on how these discs will be used in the future, but it is being reported by Wired that M$ will be updating us on this in the near future; E3??? I say, why sell a disc at all, and just give us a digital code, in which we can download the game, but I forget, I have a 50MB connection to my apartment, and not everyone has that kind of speed or time, to download a FULL game to their new XBOX One. So will this be the change over that everyone was expecting, but hated to see come? The day where the game console no longer needs a physical medium to bring the game to you? I think this will be harder for the older games to grab a hold of, especially since it has been ingrained in us that we need to have a cartridge or a disc of some sort to play a game since the original Atari or Nintendo. The younger gamers may not have as much of a problem with it, due to services like Steam, that allow for game streaming via the cloud on PCs. They haven’t invested as much time and money as some of the older gamers who still have a working Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo. Will GameFly and other survive the cloud? Who knows.. but the future of gaming seems to be ready to change this holiday season, as typically the XBOX has been released historically some time in November.
We will know more in a few weeks at E3 2013, and also hopefully more from the Sony camp on the Playstation 4 as well. In the mean time, check out some of the side by side comparisons of the new systems and old systems based upon what we learned today.
“Xbox One and PlayStation 4 specs compared” (JoyStiq)
“Xbox 360 vs Xbox One: What’s the difference?” (Pocket Lint)
“Xbox One vs Xbox 360 vs PS4: fight!” (Engadget)