Friday, May 31, 2013

The All In One Box

Microsoft’s big reveal for this month was their all in one entertainment powerhouse, the Xbox One. Microsoft’s event relayed a lot of information about its latest console with regards to the different ways that the Xbox One will change televised entertainment but any information on games was severely lacking.  The console specs are comparable to Sony’s Playstation 4 with some minor differences. The user interface is a mix between the Xbox 360’s latest interface and Windows 8. Every Xbox One comes with a Kinect sensor and is fully integrated into the system.

The Xbox One’s Kinect has to be connected to the console. Microsoft seems adamant about forcing people to use the camera technology by allowing users to navigate through console‘s menu with only voice commands and hand motions. The problem I have with the Kinect is that amount of space required to use it. My Xbox 360 is hooked up to a television in my room which isn’t a large as a living room. A Kinect wouldn't work in such a small space which is why I've been hesitant to purchase one (along with the fact that no game I want requires a Kinect). So unless Microsoft has found a way around the issue of space, a Kinect in my room is worthless. The Kinect is always on which may cause users to become hesitant towards the Xbox One. Players can use voice commands to start the Xbox up which means Kinect will be listening even when the console is turned off.  It feels like Microsoft is walking on the fine line for customer privacy with this always on Kinect sensor.

Xbox 360 controllers or other accessories will not be supported on the Xbox One. This isn't something I’m too concerned about since every generation does upgrade their controllers. The updated controller for the Xbox One has an new directional pad, updated triggers, the guide button closer to the top of the controller, a bezel to each of the analog sticks and the start and back buttons replaced with two different icons. The new directional pad looks better but I can’t be sure until I actually try it. The original dpad on the 360 controller was awful. I would press down and the controller would register a left or right input. What seems like an awkward design choice was moving the guide button to the top center. I feel like my thumbs wouldn't be able to hit the guide button as easily as any of the other buttons. A new feature for the controller is the triggers have a rumbling feature. I can see this improving immersion in first person shooters by having triggers jam up or provide feedback directly to our fingers. Other than the oddly placed guide button, the controller seems like an improvement over the great Xbox 360 version.

Microsoft was eagerly showing off the different ways that the Xbox One was able to multitask. Players will be able to utilize the snap feature from Windows 8 to pull up a second app while playing a game or watching a video. Microsoft’s latest acquisition of Skype will begin to show some synergies in the upcoming console. Microsoft showed off the ability to Skype call a friend while playing a game using the Kinect. Xbox One’s player chat will be controlled by Skype allowing users to access both their Xbox live friends list and their Skype contact list. It is also rumored that Skype will provide players the ability to remotely take over a friend’s console and play their game. Users will also have access to local television broadcasts as well as a horde of apps dedicated to bringing you the latest media entertainment. Microsoft is really pushing to dominate the home entertainment market share by creating a device that will encompass everything you need for your living room.

The one thing that I believe will hurt the Xbox One is the lack of backwards compatibility. While Sony’s PS4 won’t have backward compatibility support from the launch, they stated that they are looking into streaming capabilities to allow users access to the extensive backlog of Playstation games. Microsoft didn't indicate any plans of allowing any form of Xbox or Xbox 360 games to be playable on the Xbox One. Backwards compatibility will essentially make a difference depending on how well the launch games are received. Better launch games will mean that customer’s won’t have to rely on last gen games to help buffer the time it takes for the top games to be released.

One great feature added to the Xbox One is the ability to immediately play games while they install to the hard drive. This feature is also complemented by the fact that players can suspend and resume games instantly with the Xbox One. This allows players the ability to stop their session mid game to handle some emergency and then resume right away when they can. It helps promote short play sessions and allows users to commit as much time as they want.

The Xbox cloud processing system sounds great at first but makes me weary for the future of gaming. The cloud processing system will allow for more calculation to occur on Microsoft’s servers which means more dynamic lighting and physics. However it also means that the user has to be on Xbox live to take advantage of these features. Some users don’t have readily available high speed internet in there area or a consistent connection. I’m more worried about the future when maybe 10 years down the road when the Xbox One is no longer supported. What happens to the games that relied on these cloud computing servers if they are not available? Will I not be allowed to play a single player game that I purchased for the Xbox One because it requires a connection to the cloud servers which were eventually shut down? These are questions that I begin to ask my self when I purchase games digitally. I almost always prefer to own a physical copy of a game just in case something happens to the servers in the future. However with the Xbox One, owning a physical copy might not entitle me to play the game in the future. This also points to another feature for the Xbox One. The discs will have a DRM on them that locks the games to the console. However what happens 10 years from now when the Xbox One isn’t supported and I happen to find some extremely rare used game. Will my Xbox refuse to play the game because it is linked to another console?

The Xbox One is an interesting console. Microsoft’s strategy for creating an all-in-one media monster is seen throughout the Xbox One, both in software and hardware. The physical design of the Xbox One rivals the design of VCRs, DVD players and Blu-ray players. The Xbox One does not resemble a gaming console because Microsoft wants to take the Xbox brand and create a multi-media experience. However I am still worried about the privacy we are giving up by having an always on Kinect and the future of our games that might require access servers that will eventually be taken down. While Microsoft didn’t show much gameplay at their reveal event, I believe they are saving most of the game related details for E3.

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