The Xbox One is Microsoft’s third generation gaming system which is touted as your all-in-one home entertainment machine. Microsoft has envisioned the day when their system would be the number one choice for gaming, movies, music, streaming, and sharing. However, the announcement at E3 back on May 21, 2013 left a sour taste in many people’s mouths as it seemed Microsoft was concentrating more on media rather than gaming. Didn’t Microsoft understand that gaming has catapulted them where they are today? Why would Microsoft strike a blow to gamers by limiting the way they played their games? These questions were asked over and over by gamers and the media alike. Finally, Microsoft listened. Microsoft understood that their vision of limiting people’s use of the system would ultimately hurt their opportunity to capitalize on becoming the number one gaming system in the world. They changed their tune, with much praise from the industry, and created a better opportunity to land more systems in people’s homes.
Fast forward a few months, and here we are with our hands on an actual Xbox One. The feeling seems surreal that it has been 12 years since the very first Xbox back in November of 2001, and 8 years since the Xbox 360. The system has evolved, adapted in so many ways. Over a decade of engineering, shaping, and improving on the way we gamers play. One thing is for certain, we have entered the era of next generation gaming. Let the games begin!
Hardware & Design
Two words describe how the system looks – sleek and sexy! The glossy finish adds a special touch that all systems should utilize to give it a much more acquainted home on your entertainment center. After all, this sexy beast will be on your stand for quite some time!
In comparison to a DirecTV Genie, the Xbox One measures in slightly smaller and more robust. The system is very well ventilated, with the most important factor in the design – the power supply is on the exterior. This allows the system to run much cooler because of the power the system needs to push. Unlike the 360 however, the power supply is slightly larger and so are the wires. However, the supply is very well hidden behind an entertainment system. The Xbox One has ditched the green circles on the front of the system with a glowing white Xbox symbol.
The Kinect 2.0 sensor is much improved and looks a lot sturdier than Kinect 1.0. It is slightly larger, but if it works the way it’s supposed to (and much more on that later), then it is a well understandable change.
Xbox One was designed for your all-in-one home entertainment system, even allowing you to play other gaming systems through it. Now that’s bold! At first start-up, you’re greeted with the new, green Xbox background before being directed to set-up. The quick system update of 500mb is required to proceed, in my case, this took 5 minutes. I was expecting much longer, however, I was left impressed. After set-up, a quick video showing the Xbox One’s potential is played and you’re asked to hit the Xbox button on your controller to go to the home screen.
The home screen has been redesigned and much improved over the current Xbox 360 menus. Microsoft has still opted to give it the Windows 8 look, but honestly, it looks better than my Windows 8 PC menus. Maybe we should ask the Xbox team to design the next Windows platform? Wishful thinking I guess! You’re able to use Bing from the home screen and pin any applications on the home screen you wish for ease. The color of your home squares can now also be changed which is a nice personalized touch similar to that of a PC. Snap is also a feature on Xbox One where you can perform multiple tasks at once.
The system is easy to navigate and I would recommend just exploring all of the vast options before jumping into gaming. You never know what you might want to use later!
The Xbox One has made some changes that aren’t so glamorous. For example, every game must now install. Yes you can play once the install hits a certain point, however, not all functions in the game are active until the disc has fully installed. This is rather annoying because the installs actually can take up to 45 minutes to install. In the example I’m using, I was unable to play multiplayer until the disc was fully installed, so I was directed to the campaign until the system was finished doing its thing. Plus, the installs are huge. The Xbox One has a 500gb internal hard drive but after 7 or so games, you can utilize much of that hard drive easily, especially if you were doing digital downloads. The system will support USB external hard drives in the near future as it is not currently supported. The friend’s list design on the system is terrible. The screen is so overloaded with information that it is tough to completely understand. No more just scrolling down and quickly seeing what everyone is doing. Now you have to navigate a few screens to have that luxury. Simplified is sometimes better, especially in this case.
Who would have ever imagined so much money could be invested into developing a controller? Well, Microsoft invested over $100 million to develop and if they used that much in a tiny controller, I can’t imagine how much they spent on other aspects of the system. Do you smell that? No? Well you probably would have been smelling it if Microsoft would have incorporated their smell cartridges into the base of the controller that would release at certain points in a game. I’m glad that was left out.
However, the changes that were made are phenomenal. The iconic battery pack is no more! The controller now sports a flush internal battery compartment. This little change makes the controller feel much more natural. The thumb sticks are redesigned and feel sturdier as you move them around. The rubber comforts your thumbs and it feels like it can withstand the most intense gaming moments!
In addition, and the most important change, is the redesigned triggers. The triggers are no longer flat and squeaky! They are now flush and hooked outwards to make the finger more at home when needing to press in dire situations. After all, pulling the trigger does need to come easy in first person shooters.
The controller is completely redesigned and that’s not always a good thing. The bumpers feel very stiff compared to its predecessor and are sometimes harder to press. Honestly, it’s very minor but the bumpers should never have changed.
“Xbox, On!” That’s all it takes to power up your system and get into the action. However, it wasn’t always that nice. Kinect on Xbox One made me skeptical after experiencing Kinect 1.0. Kinect 1.0 was a flimsy, unattractive, cumbersome piece of hardware that just wasn’t up to par and worst of all, it was a rather expensive investment for little return.
For the Xbox One, Microsoft has opted to include a Kinect 2.0 in every system. During set-up, you calibrate the Kinect sensor. At that very first moment, I knew Kinect 2.0 was a completely different beast than its predecessor. The picture quality the sensor was returning on the screen was unbelievable. There I sat on my sofa in stunning high definition quality with a little tag above my head identifying who I was.
I decided to put Kinect 2.0 to the test. “Xbox, go to settings!” Yep, it listened, flawlessly. “Xbox, use a code!” I was then able to scan my QR code for my Day One Edition system without the need to type. That’s impressive and a time saver. In the past, typing those codes became troublesome, especially if you had a couple of codes that needed to be entered. Now, it’s done with a breeze.
Recording gameplay is now able to be accomplished using Upload Studio. Just simply say, “Xbox, record that!” and the system will record a few minutes of your gameplay for your editing pleasure. Very cool feature that will definitely become one of the most used apps on the Xbox One.
Unfortunately, Kinect 2.0 has failed to improve on gestures and voice commands in a group scenario. Gestures are very difficult to use and the sensor very rarely understands when you’re trying to move the screen. To save time, moving the screen is much easier with the controller.
When more than one or two people are in the room, Kinect has problems accurately understanding the instruction it was given.
TV Functionality & UI
Ironically, this was one of the features I was most excited about. I love my DirecTV and Xbox One promised to take it to the next level. With the HDMI In on the back of the console, I ran my Genie directly into my Xbox One. The Xbox One then is connected to an HDMI In on my surround sound, which then is connected to my TV. You’re not gaming unless you have surround sound!
Upon hitting TV on the home screen, the Xbox One instructed me to set-up the TV portion of the system. It asked me to select my TV brand so the system can communicate to increase/decrease volume, it asked my cable provider, and it asked my cable box brand. Afterwards, the Xbox One cable guide generated and sure enough, I was watching cable directly through my system. I was surprised at how easy it was. Then, it got awesome. The Xbox advised I was able to navigate my channels through voice. “Xbox, watch MTV!” Boom, I’m watching MTV. The interface is so smooth and doesn’t hang up as cable boxes sometimes do.
The only negative issue here is DVR functionality. Using the menus of the cable box within the Xbox One is not only weird, it’s unfortunate. The system needs to be able to communicate to the cable box to record and watch shows stored on your DVR. Maybe sometime in the near future, this feature will become a reality.
Xbox Live is the biggest console multiplayer infrastructure in the world. Microsoft has incorporated many servers at launch of the Xbox One to help alleviate any overloading that may come with a launch of a system. In order for the Xbox One to function and be profitable, the multiplayer aspect has to spot on. Also, Xbox Live Gold is required for many functions on the system to work such as Netflix and multiplayer gaming. At 59.99 a year, this price is nominal compared to most subscriptions on the market today.
The friends list is back but with a twist. People can now follow you and see your updates throughout the day just as you would on social media. The friends list has now been expanded to a whopping 1,000 people, which is more than enough for you hardcore gamers. The strength of Live is still going strong. Multiplayer gaming works flawlessly on the system and finding games has never been easier.
SmartGlass is back, adding the second screen opportunity while you play. Many games are taking advantage of this second screen and it’s a very cool factor that many people can enjoy. The best feature about SmartGlass is the home screen functionality as if you were on your Xbox One. Adding friends, following friends, and performing almost everything you can do on your home screen can now be done right in the palm of your hands. It is simplified and more responsive than ever before. It is evident that Microsoft has put a lot of time and effort in making sure anyone with a smartphone or tablet can utilize the integration they designed with SmartGlass.
SmartGlass can definitely be a tool that can be expanded going forward. Wouldn’t it be nice to change from your TV to play a game that you have installed on your system directly on your tablet as a monitor wirelessly? Maybe one day.
The Xbox One has taken a huge step forward in next-generation gaming. With the vast amount of new features, there is so much to learn and so much to improve on. The system performs very well, however, the system also has a lot of work. As with all new technological advances, they’re improved on. As Microsoft has proven in the past, they are committed to constantly improving their products through updates and support. However, is the Xbox One really a system that you should buy right now? Probably not.
The launch lineup is everything but exceptional. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic games and the lineup has its perks but is it really enough to switch from Xbox 360? I don’t think so, not yet at least. Almost every game on the Xbox One at launch is on the 360 and the graphics aren’t much different yet. There are a few titles that might catch your eye such as Ryse, Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5 but are those three games enough for you to spend $499 on? I recommend waiting. Wait until the first couple of updates where all of the major bugs are worked out. By then, many more games will be out and the game lineup could be phenomenal!