> I Want (Xbox) One!

I Want (Xbox) One!

Posted on Monday, May 27, 2013 | 1 Comment

It took me ages from release date for me to buy the Xbox 360; I simply couldn’t find a use for it in my life – I didn’t play console games and my original Xbox was hardly used as a result, why would I want to pay for a newer, updated version of something I never used?  The draw of Halo 3 wasn’t even enough to sway me
It was only two years ago that I finally caught up with Xbox 360 and I did so because it had Media Center built right into it!  The perfect, cheap media streamer for the bedroom and as a bonus, I could play games casually whenever I had the time.  It was a clear purchase; it just took me six years to realise it.
May 21st had been etched in my diary for some time, after enjoying the Surface and Office 365 keynotes, I had a great feeling that the new Xbox Reveal would be something special to watch.  So at 6pm on that Tuesday, I fired up the 360 and watched in awe…..and awe it was.
The Xbox One really appears to live up to its name as the ‘One’ device you need for all of your home entertainment needs; it will play all of the latest console games (which as you would expect look absolutely stunning), Kinect brings movement, gestures and voice to the mix, a messaging and communications hub in Skype, a way to stream the best the Internet has to offer and it will also play live, interactive TV!  One device indeed!
The reveal made one thing very clear, I won’t be waiting six years before I buy – I want one.
As an almost non-existent gamer – I never find the time to play – it is not the games that attract me to the Xbox One and I can offer no real, valuable comment on the state of the gameplay or how it compares against the PlayStation 4 or the latest offerings of Steam’s PC streaming.
I also don’t have a strong opinion on the ‘Always On’ or ‘Always Connected’ design that seems to be present in the device; I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion by a few and in a world where everyone claims to be ‘always connected’ through their mobile phones, tablets and computers, I really don’t see what the big deal is with having your console, something which Microsoft are re-positioning as the “central hub” in your life, also enjoying those same privileges of Internet connectivity.
That aside, from the Reveal Keynote though, you can clearly see that Microsoft and their partners have really put a lot of working into creating these online, changing virtual worlds with intelligence and ability to reflect real-life events.  This is going to be, excuse the pun, game-changing for those who enjoy sports games or flight simulations; the ability to play the league as your favourite team and have player transfers, injuries and other real-world factors will have real-fans excited and flight simulators that are able to generate weather details and real-world maps will really bring the simulation to life.  These are just two examples.
Undoubtedly, as you would expect from a next generation console, progress has been made.
Before I move on from games, one additional thing I’d like to address is the second-hand games market, again there are undoubtedly a million people who are able to better comment on this than I, as I don’t really see it as a major problem.  Piracy of games and software has long been something that Microsoft has been clamping down on and this new licensing scheme for games is similar to how they offer the ability to transfer your Windows and other software licenses between machines and owners of said software. 
I don’t see Microsoft charging a significant fee for this transfer of ownership, so most users probably won’t even see it as a problem by the time it comes to fruition, but I can understand some of the frustrations of those gamers who have long traded and sold games as they’ve finished or grown tired of them.  Games aren’t cheap and the market is busy with trade, but I believe the market will simply adapt to these changes once they are in place and the issue will soon fade to the back of people minds.
But that is just my feeling.
What really brings the new Xbox to life, just like the last, is the new Kinect camera to bring those movements and gestures right into the interface and more importantly, in my view, the voice commands that complement the system perfectly.
Voice commands really do play and important role in perfecting the living room experience, especially when it comes to the television elements as nothing is more important than a great ‘remote control’; what could be better than simply yelling at your TV to turn over?
The new camera though has some deep improvements though; the ability to follow your fingers individually brings it on par with technologies by Leap Motion, the face recognition and the ability to read the smile on your face is really impressive, but the real game-changer in the Kinect camera has to be its party-trick that allows it to monitor your heartbeat!
Whilst being able to monitor your heartbeat doesn’t sound like a very impressive feat for a home entertainment console, you’re probably right.  But this tech will really be amazing for those who develop using Kinect; imagine being able to turn this into a medical device in hospitals or health clinics, it really brings the device to a new level.  Combine this with your Xbox One home console and it could allow patients to gain a diagnosis either remotely or from new Internet health services.  I’m going to be fascinated to watch how this space develops further.
Back from the dreaming, the one thing that really seems to let the new Kinect camera down in my view is the fact that the device does look fairly bulky and boxy.  I really don’t see how these boxy devices are going to sit as nicely as one might envision when mounted on, or next to, peoples super slim, modern television sets.
From the new Kinect, the next game-changing tech has to be the inclusion of Skype right there on the console.  Now, bundling Skype into home console is a bit of a brave move and has its problems when it comes to how those pesky Internet video calls will interrupt your favourite game, movie or live TV, but Skype is an in-demand technology for Xbox users and now it is finally here.
The ‘Snap’ technology, lifted directly from Windows 8, to snap the app to the right hand side of the screen just seems to make sense and goes a long way towards addressing how video conferencing is going to work without taking you away from whatever you were doing.  It has real potential to open up social communication between people and allow calls to take place without having to boot up a laptop or pick up a tablet (unless you really need to leave the room for a bit of privacy). 
Skype is one of my favourite technologies at the moment and I really want to start to use it more and more; hopefully the Xbox One will help streamline this transition.
The final ‘wow’ factor left from the reveal that really peaked my interest was the built-right-in ability to bring live TV directly into the console!  As a Windows Media Center user on Windows 8, before the reveal I was really hoping for a console device that could finally mean that I could ditch the living room PC and replace it with ‘thee’ device designed around bringing home entertainment to the home’s big screen.
The execution of live TV, combined with those voice commands from the Kinect mentioned earlier really make seem to have hit all of the right notes with me; it just seems to work and quickly and flawlessly at that.
Watching the demo, this feature alone I was reaching for my Surface ready to start tracking down anywhere I could pre-order from. 
Then, it started to fall apart unfortunately.  There isn’t a built in DVR, meaning I can’t record television to watch later like I can with Media Center, which also means that I doubt the Xbox will handle two channels at the same time – again, like my Media Centre can right now.
Those hoping to ditch their Sky or TiVo boxes in their living rooms also may have an issue; it appears that those devices still need to remain and the Xbox is simply a middle-ware device that sits between your cable/Sky device and your TV, which puts its own overlay onto top of it.  The voice and quick channel switching seems to be the only reason why anyone would watch TV this way rather than just watching it directly from the cable or Sky TV set-top box.
It’s early days yet though and Microsoft may still have some tricks up their sleeves to bring this tech to life; the DVR element could easily be added with a software update and they have already stated that they’ll work with the many TV providers around the world to help integration. 
Right now though, as impressive and slick the whole setup was, it’s not a Windows Media Center replacement just yet and there are some things yet to be revealed here I feel.  Let’s wait and see.
What’s Under the Hood
For me, being the geek that I am, as impressive as the demo was and how great the hardware looks (that bulky Kinect aside), as great as the games and Skype and Live TV is, what really pushes my buttons is how incredibly clever the device’s execution has been delivered.
Microsoft have built three operating systems for the Xbox One; the first handled the games and makes them look absolutely brilliant, the second handles the Skype, Bing, Internet Explorer and apps components that are able to utilise the ‘snap’ functionality and the third is a fast switcher to move seamlessly between the two.  It’s really quite something and a testament to the work that has come before it in Microsoft’s other divisions.
The Hypervisor that Microsoft built for their virtualisation projects has really pushed these three operating systems together and its really peaked my interest in their hypervisor technology and Hyper-V and VDI tech; all of which I hope to start testing and using at work and possibly at home soon.
Console owners and hardcore gamers are really making their feelings known on this console; they don’t like the closure of the second-hand games market and they dislike the ‘always-on’ connectivity.  The Xbox One clearly is no longer just a games-station and now games now sit alongside live TV, Internet Explorer, Skype connectivity, Netflix (etc), and Live TV, all on the same device.
It’s not the arcade, game, home console that we’ve all thought of previously; but it is the first proper interpretation of Microsoft’s vision of a “Home Entertainment System”, something they have really tried to morph the Xbox 360 into fitting (the original Xbox, while aiming for this very goal clearly missed it by a long margin).
The Xbox One really could be that “ONE” device people want to sit underneath their TVs, safe in the knowledge that it will meet every one of the demands users and buyers of this system will expect of it.  Microsoft still have some work to do here, but I’m really ready to buy one right now.


BobbyLove69 said...

Excellent review mate! I missed the reveal, unlike my 2 sons, and need to catch up on it. After reading this I now want 'One' :)

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