The Xbox One is out of the gate. It’s available now in the U.S., and November 22 in the U.K. We’ve got one in our offices, and since the Xbox Live Servers are just now launching, we’re giving it some time in the real world before making a judgment and rendering our verdict. While we work through our review process, enjoy our updated hands on assessment.
One console to rule them all. One console to find all your devices, one console to control all your services and in the living room bind them.
That’s Microsoft’s plan. Gaming, cable television, music and movies all streaming into one system: the Xbox One. It’s ambitious, but the hardware seems capable.
The real question is this: can the Xbox One overcome the mixed messaging, the now-canned 24-hour online dependence and the other potholes that had it stumbling out of the gate, and allowed Sony to win E3 2013 with some sharp PlayStation 4 counter-programming?
Thanks to a strong launch lineup and more than a bit of damage control, the Xbox One is repairing its reputation. Still, does it have a chance at the ubiquity of the of its predecessor, the Xbox 360? Or will it trip over its own $500/£429.99 price tag?
It’s quite the legacy to live up to. For long stretches of the last console generation, the Xbox was king. While the Wii was everywhere, and millions of gamers and AV enthusiasts eventually picked up a PlayStation 3, for a while there the phrase "let’s play some Xbox" was almost interchangeable with "let’s play some video games."
It was the console that brought Xbox Live into maturity, setting the standard for the online experience on a gaming console. It taught couch gamers to tolerate the tech support look of a headset in exchange for voice communication, and that you get what you pay for: a year of Xbox Live Gold might have cost as much as a game, but the service was more robust than Sony’s PSN.
Now at the dawn of a new console generation, the Xbox One stands before us, a combination game console and home theater system. Can it truly wrangle all the disparate devices of the living room, as well as support a robust library of games, or has Microsoft bitten off more than it can chew? Don’t worry, we’ll slice those facts nice and thin for you in our review.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Xbox One is what an absolute beast it is. It measures 274 x 79 x 333 mm, making it longer and taller than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox 360. You don’t need a tape measure to figure that out though, the thing just looks huge.
Its size and girth harkens back to the original Xbox, an imposing black plastic beast covered in black plastic ridges. Microsoft seems to be throwing back to that design, bringing back the all black and the ridge-covered aesthetic.
When you first take the Xbox One out of its box, you’ll notice an eyesore of a sticker next to the Blu-Ray drive, asking you to kindly not move the system while a disc is inside.
A good warning, as that can damage a spinning disc in any system, but an ugly sticker – luckily it comes off nice and clean. We also have hard time imagining that gamers will be moving their hulking Xbox Ones very often, especially since the system is also not designed to stand on its side.
It’s massive size and black, rectangular construction evoke a stereo tuner from the nineties. Its imposing bulk begs to be hidden away, with just its slot loading disc drive exposed, little white Xbox logo glowing in lonely TV cabinet darkness.
Flip the machine around and you’ll see a plethora of ports. It has all your standard nodes: ethernet, HDMI out, power, S/PDIF (commonly used for optical audio), dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR out. Additionally, there are two proprietary ports, one for hooking in the Kinect, and an HDMI in, which is how you feed the Xbox One your cable or satellite signal. There’s also a third USB 3.0 port found on the system’s right side.
We’ve been told that the HDMI in can be used as a regular old pass through, allowing you to play your Xbox 360, a VCR (do they make HDMI VCRs?) or even a PS4 through the Xbox One. That’s something we’ll be testing in our full Xbox One review.
You can’t talk Xbox One without bringing up the new Kinect. While the system can operate without being hooked into Microsoft’s magic eye, you’d be losing a lot of its most unique features and showroom wow factor.
The new Kinect is a whole lot bigger than its predecessor. It’s also designed to sit in front of your TV, rather than perched on top of the screen like the PlayStation Camera. It’s too big and, presumably, delicate for that.
Just like the system itself, it has a white light up logo on its right side. Dull red lights intermittently glow when it’s active.
The underside of the Kinect has rubber feet that provide a firm grip. It’s not going to fall off your entertainment center any time soon. It can also tilt up and down, with enough range of motion that there shouldn’t be any trouble finding the right angle for your living room.
The Xbox One is more than a game console. That got it into some hot water when it first debuted at E3 2013. There were accusations that Microsoft had shoved games to the side in favor of media features and cable integration.
While this may have been true about that particular presentation, we’ve found that the Xbox One itself achieves an admirable balance of gaming and television features, while keeping the former at the forefront.
Also, its online requirement, which threatened to lock up the system without a daily server ping, has been dialed way, way down. Out of the box, your Xbox One will need to download a day one patch before you even arrive at the homescreen. After that, you can cut the ethernet cable or smash your router; there’s no further online connectivity needed for single player gaming.
Xbox One Guide
While this functionality won’t be available to UK customers at launch, North Americans can use that HDMI in to turn the Xbox One into a cable box. Using a built in guide, you can navigate channels and search for specific shows, using the controller or your voice via Kinect.
Xbox One also integrates streaming services that you’re currently subscribed to, and helps you find what you’re looking for across all options. For example, if you want to watch The Matrix, search for the film, and the Xbox One Guide will tell you if you can watch on Netflix, if you own it on Amazon, show a link to buy it through the Xbox Marketplace, or give you a heads up that it will be on cable next week.
Media and games can also share your TV with splitscreen multitasking. Much like Windows 8, apps can "snap" to one side or the other, letting you have music controls next to your racing session, or keep the news next to your Call of Duty match.
Xbox One apps
Like the Xbox 360, the Xbox One will play host to a series of apps. Most of them are for video streaming, but some, like Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Skype, are file sharing and communication tools.
We’ve been told that in addition to obvious first party apps like Xbox Music and Xbox Video, the launch lineup will include notables such as Netflix, NFL, ESPN, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus.
The list will also include:
- FOX NOW
- Verizon FiOS TV
- Target Ticket
- Redbox Instant by Verizon
Notably absent is HBO GO. That one hasn’t hit PS4 yet either, but must be on the way for both systems. Surely the powers that be see the crossover between the gaming and Game of Thrones crowd.
Xbox One Kinect
Kinect is back and it’s better than ever, and frankly, it had better be. After all, the fact that it’s bundled in the box is the reason your Xbox One is $500, $100 more than a PlayStation 4. Its PlayStation Camera is sold separately at $59.99/£54.99, but doesn’t have nearly as much functionality.
The Xbox One’s interface can be navigated almost entirely from Kinect. You can go from starting up the system to playing a game using only your voice and the Kinect’s microphone. "Xbox on" will boot the system, while "Xbox play Killer Instincts" will launch said game.
While it’s fun and functional, it’s no Siri when it comes to interpreting colloquial speech. The syntax for commands is pretty rigid, but laid out nicely by the Xbox One’s manual. Basically, you have to say "Xbox play Forza Motorsport 5," not "Xbox Play Forza" or even "Xbox I wanna go fast! Vroom!"
Saying "Xbox" gets the system’s attention, denoted by a microphone icon lighting up in the upper right of the screen. Saying "stop listening" puts it into a sort of standby, but don’t kid yourself, the Kinect is never not listening. As long as it’s plugged into your system, its microphone is live, listening attentively for orders like a well trained dog.
Here’s where it gets a little creepy, but also very cool: the Kinect can recognize faces, and even log you in based on a peep at your mug. Not only can it use your face for the initial log in, it’ll automatically switch profiles if you hand the controller to a player it recognizes.
When it comes to sharing your face with another human being, rather than a robot, the Kinect works wonders with built-in Skype support. Skype provides free video chat over WiFi, and the Kinect’s camera has an optical zoom that works to keep all participants in frame.
Hands on gallery