Right now, the Playstation 4’s fanboys are having a field day.
Some of The Motley Fool’s and Yahoo’s bloggers have made a cottage industry of creating click-bait articles meant to draw huge numbers by throwing red meat to PS4 fans and incensing Microsoft fans.
This article is different: Should latecomers still jump in now and get an Xbox One? Let’s consider Microsoft’s Public Relations angle. Is their product worthy of buying right now?
I’ve found myself wishing there were “updated” reviews for certain products that were pretty comprehensive while addressing updates, refreshes, additions and changes, so I decided to do it myself.
I went all-in and picked up the recent Titanfall Xbox One bundle at Best Buy. It was a good feeling: No electronics purchase gets me as excited as a new game console, whether it’s the first week of release or a year later.
Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m of the Atari/Nintendo generation and grew up playing video games, but I really enjoy the engaged escapism they provide.
The Gradual Shift to Multimedia
It’s been interesting to watch the shift in the platforms from games-only consoles to more multimedia-focused ones, which really began with the PlayStation 2’s DVD playback.
The Xbox line upped the ante, adding music and the ability to stream content from your computer, which matured on the Xbox 360.
Of course, the PlayStation 3 was the first to market with a Blu-ray drive, although the 360 did a half-in approach by putting out a competing HD-DVD add-on.
It’s important to note the effect the BD drive had on the PS3: It offered early adopters the option of Blu-Ray glory on top of their console, but it also drove up costs considerably, making it too expensive for a number of gamers.
With all that in mind, let’s get to the real point: The Xbox One is essentially a $500 all-in-one media box, hence the Xbox “ONE” moniker. It’s too expensive for some gamers, while still debuting under the original $600 price tag of the high-end PS3 SKU, which in today’s dollars would come out to around $680.
Still, the functionality is pretty amazing, and the system looks amazingly sleek.
It comes with the console, power brick, HDMI cable, controller, headset and Kinect. For $500, it better!
The Kinect Sucks Much Less Now
The Xbox One’s Kinect is light years beyond the clunky add-on which saw the first iteration released for the Xbox 360 in 2010.
It’s a centerpiece for the system, despite the initial backlash, enabling voice- and gesture-control. It also features an “IR blaster,” which in plain English means it can send signals all over the room to control the Xbox, TV, cable box and audio receiver. I find myself utilizing this feature all the time.
The voice commands work much better than I anticipated. “Xbox: On” will turn on your entire entertainment system should you set it up to do so, eliminating the need to look for three or four remotes.
Gesture control isn’t quite as polished as the voice functionality, however. The 1080p camera can certainly see and detect me, but waving my hand in the air to navigate the dashboard is a little clunky. Still, I find myself waving my hand in the air, like I just don’t care. (Yeah, I quoted the lyric. Sorry).
To activate it, you wave your hand above your head, and a virtual hand appears on the screen. You can make a grabbing gesture and move to the various Metro-style screens on the dashboard, or make a pushing motion to activate a tile. It’s not perfect, but I use it when I’m feeling too lazy to grab a remote.
This is already seeing updates as Microsoft refines the software. It’s not my favorite feature, but it’s useful for navigation here and there.
I haven’t tried the Skype feature yet, but it looked pretty awesome on the videos I’ve seen.
With Xbox Live Gold, you get six months of free group video calling and 100 minutes of world calling a month. Pretty cool. Now you can see fat slobs from all over the globe in high definition. (Hopefully it won’t devolve into Chat Roulette).
The Keys are on the Dashboard
The dashboard is what you see when you turn on the unit. You’ll have to navigate this to utilize the various features.
Debuting with the Xbox 360, the dashboard has evolved over the years from a simple menu to an interactive housing for games, apps and features.
The metro-style interface echoes that of Windows 8 as Microsoft wants a unified visual language for its various platforms.
While I wouldn’t want it for a keyboard-and-mouse setup, it’s great for touch and console applications.
One cool feature of the dashboard is the ability to “snap” the central window which features TV or games (we’ll get to that). It allows for multitasking the apps or features you use most.
From the Xbox One page:
“When you “snap” an app, you move it to one side of your screen, where it will continue to run while you do something else on the main part of your screen. For instance, you might be playing a game, and then you snap the Netflix app so you can watch a video or snap Parties so you can talk while you play.”
As with the Xbox 360, apps are a key part of the Xbox One’s functionality.
Netflix and Skype are already there, but I’m surprised at the lack of an HBO Go or Comcast Xfinity app. There’s no excuse to not have day-one releases for some of the most popular apps already on the Xbox 360.
The apps do look great, though. I expect greater depth to these over time than we saw with the 360.
Comparatively, the Netflix app, for one, looks even more polished than the 360’s counterpart. The design is clean and appealing, and videos seem to load faster than they used to.
Glorious Television Integration (If You Can Find Anything worth Watching)
A major feature (good enough to be a system-seller for TV-enthusiasts with deep pockets) is the addition of a console first: HDMI pass-through. This allows you to plug the HDMI cable running out from your cable box INTO the Xbox One.
As I mentioned, it can control your cable box, and actually lets you go to channels via voice. I can say “Xbox: Watch TV” and see the cable feed. Very cool.
The Xbox OneGuide replaces the standard TV listings you get on your cable box, while still allowing for the same functionality, since it sends the commands to the cable box. It can make recommendations based on viewing habits, and allows you to create “favorite channels” MUCH EASIER than you can on Comcast, for example.
I’m hoping for DVR functionality at some point. It’s a logical extension of what the Xbox One already does. I think it’s just a matter of licensing. It’s likely a refresh of the X1 may eventually come out that is in itself a cable box, but that would be a ways off. It’s certainly been speculated about.
The Xbox One Controller: The Best One Yet
I LOVED the Xbox 360 Controller for everything from Skyrim to Halo 4. Anything related to navigating a 3D world went off smoothly (unless the game designers were morons).
I think everyone looking forward to the Xbox One had a thought in common: “They better not mess it up!” Thankfully, they actually IMPROVED it.
The controller rests comfortably in the hand, and has an AWESOME D-Pad. I was so impressed I downloaded Killer Instinct, and had the best button-mashing time since the Street Fighter 2 days.
The haptic vibration in the triggers is great, and everything is super chic.
The headset fits into the jack better than last-gen, and the headset also feels high-quality, with a greater array of control buttons built into the attachment.
Much has has been made about the hit-or-miss 1080p resolution for games, particular in the arm-wrestling match between the One and the PS4. Part of that is due to the processing bandwidth reserved for the Kinect, but there are a few improvements on the way:
First, there is an update coming which will boost the resources available for the GPU.
Second, the Xbox One is due for a DirectX update. This is a biggie, enabling greater efficiency for coaxing awesome visuals from the system and easing the work porting PC titles to the One. A software development kit is going out, and it’ll make the toolkit much easier to use.
Currently, the Xbox One tends to upscale 700p or 900p content to 1080p output. The downside is a slightly less-sharp image (not easy to discern) but there’s a silver lining: it makes things less prone to stuttering due to a reduction system resources needed.
The DirectX upgrade and the boost in the GPU resources should make a difference, and I expect full 1080p on nearly every title soon.
Backwards Compatibility? …MAYBE..
Finally, one last point. As is also true on the PS4, due to a different system architecture than last time around, there is currently no backwards comparability.
Yes, you might want to keep your Xbox 360, which is still a fantastic system with a mature set of features.
There’s always the chance we’ll see emulation or play via cloud-based servers, but neither Microsoft or Sony wanted to up production costs by either including the hardware internally to play old games or the software to emulate them. While it isn’t a huge issue, many gamers wouldn’t mind having fewer devices hogging HDMI ports on their TVs.
There’s been buzz over the last few weeks that this MAY be on the way. We’ll see.
The Xbox One is a great system. If you cut the competitive hype about both the One and the PS4, each system is awesome and will offer amazing experiences.
The Xbox One benefits from the foresight to make the Kinect a part of the core experience, which ensures that it can grow through updates into something we’ll take for granted in a few years, just like we’ve done with touch screens and motion control.
Whether now is the time to pounce is up to you. If you love the central Xbox experience, chances are that you will join the ranks in the fall. This holiday season will likely be a big one.
Don’t count Microsoft out yet: We’re still in the first inning.