Microsoft has taken the wraps off the Xbox One – and unlike Sony's PlayStation 4 launch, it actually managed to bring a console along to the party. Along with a new name, it's packed in an array of features including more intuitive voice controls, a fancy controller, a more sensitive Kinect, some next-gen games and a Halo Television Series made by Spielberg. Want the complete lowdown on the one Xbox to rule them all? Read on...
The Xbox One is voice activated – as all self-respecting future gadgets should be. That means that the console will spring to life and recognise you when you utter the words “Xbox on”. Similarly, “Xbox TV” takes you to live TV, while an Instant Switching feature lets you jump between features instantly by simply saying “go to game”, “TV”, “Internet Explorer”, “watch movie”. It certainly looked seamless in Microsoft's demo presentation.
Gesture controls seem to work flawlessly too, with the help of the new, more accurate Kinect. Simply grab and pull out while on the homescreen, and the movie or game tile will pop out and fill the screen. Snap Mode lets you run multiple windows at once, which can be controlled using your phone – for example, you can watch a film and look up movie times along the side. You can also have Skype running down the side of the screen, so you can chat with pals while watching a film or gaming. If you're watching sport (NFL only for now, it seems), you'll also be able to access your fantasy team during games.
Even the TV guide is smart. It features voice controlled search, favourites and trending. Name a show or channel to channel hop, pin your favourite shows and check out the most popular programmes.
Microsoft's aiming to future-proof the Xbox One – as well it might, since we're now some eight years on from the launch of the Xbox 360. To that end, the Xbox One packs in an eight-core processor based on the AMD Jaguar, 500GB hard drive, 5bn transistors (compared with 1.4bn in your average chip), 8GB DDR3 RAM, USB 3.0, a Blu-ray drive and 64-bit architecture, all while running four times quieter than the Xbox Slim and supporting 4K video output.
There'll be three 802.11n Wi-Fi radios to handle the controllers, streaming and connections with tablets and smartphones. Microsoft's also boasting that its new console will run three operating systems, though you'll be hard pressed to see the switch in what should appear to be a unified serving of Xbox One OS (think Windows 8 dashboard skewed for gaming and media). Alas, without backwards compatability, your stock of Xbox 360 games is not invited to the Xbox One party.
The new Kinect sensor has super-vision, with a 250,000 pixel infrared depth sensor that can see you in more accurate detail than ever. For example it now has wrist and shoulder rotation recognition. It can even read your heartbeat. It's also a better listener with a more conversational voice system that's more likely to understand your natural commands.
Thank the gaming gods, Microsoft hasn't changed the Xbox One controller too much from the previous generation. You get better grips on the sticks and more subtle button colours – but enough about aesthetics – the main point is that the new controller delivers feedback directly into the triggers. Tingly. The new Kinect will also recognise when you're using the controller and track its position – letting you raise the controller to hold up a shield, for instance.
Microsoft says it has 300,000 servers ready for Xbox One – more than the entire world’s computing power in 1999. That means bigger matches with more players – effectively offering the ability to live in persistent worlds. Hello cloud gaming. Goodbye reality.
A gaming DVR is built into the Xbox One. And thanks to editing software you'll be able to nip and tuck your latest headshot as you please. Presumably upload to your choice of sharing platform will be easy too.
EA – FIFA, Madden, NBA Live and UFC are set to launch in the next twelve months. And they’ll all be powered by EA Sport Ignite – a new game engine the company claims can do four times faster computing for "human-like" intelligence.
Forza Motorsport 5 – available at launch – looks stunning, with every fleck of metallic paint visible on the cars. But little else was revealed. We'll have more details from E3 in early June.
Quantum Break – Remedy, the maker of Max Payne and Alan Wake fame – is introducing a time-shifting game with phenomenal graphics. It looks great, but beyond that the details are (perhaps predictably) something of a mystery.
Call of Duty: Ghosts – this reboot of the venerable CoD franchise has new characters and a storyline scripted by Oscar-winning writer Stephen Gaghan (who penned Traffic and Syriana). For your Xbox One processing grunt you'll get a realistic dog (with visible ear tattoo!), fish that flee your approach and mind-boggling graphics that pick out every hair on your arm and the dirt under your fingernails.
There are more titles in development now than at any other time in Microsoft’s history – fifteen are due out in the first year of console release, eight of which are new franchises.
While there was no word of a new Halo game, Microsoft and 343 Industries had one big surprise up their collective sleeve – a live-action Halo TV show is on the way, with involvement from none other than Steven Spielberg. We can't wait for more details, but in the meantime, we're off to check out these Halo short films by Neill Blomkamp for an idea of what the future could hold for the franchise.