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Xbox One: Predictable, but exciting

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Although I am glad that I was on a train as simulated happy people told me how Xbox had changed (define 'changed') their lives (they may not be real people), I was pleased to catch the end of the Xbox One announcement.

Yes, HTC jokes aside, the new Xbox is called the Xbox One. This avoids any uncertainty around the fact that Microsoft may have gone 720 and left many marketeers with Captain Picard palms in their faces.

Xbox One Promo

The all-in-one entertainment system

Well, indeed. This is the state of consoles in 2013 - malleable and nervous devices by design that try not to stick their flag onto any single mast. The running narrative surrounding these launches is how they intend to compete with the increasingly dominant mobile market.

Lets look at how the Xbox One stacks up on the information we saw today.

Xbox Funny Man

It cares about your existing TV service so much, it has HDMI in

Yes, you can connect your existing TV service to the Xbox One using HDMI in. Lots more details and providers I'm sure will follow, but this didn't come as a surprise.

We covered this a while ago and I mentioned that this was a sign of the not-so-changing times. It's 2013, and Microsoft clearly failed to get TV providers to pump video through their box using existing streaming or IPTV protocols.

Of course, like the inclusion of now-neglected features in older Xbox 360s, there is room for this to eventually be deprecated in future box revisions, but this is a baked-in-hardware admission that there is still a world out there for cable boxes.

It wants to respectfully, and carefully, reinvent TV

A surprising element of the presentation, if you sat through it, was the humbled approach to TV. It feels like someone got to the right people at Microsoft (or the right people got there first), and gathered a strategy that firstly asks if people want to use the device for TV at all.

Xbox One EPG

There's an EPG, the EPG has some clever favourites and 'trending' TV shows, but it's still an EPG. Arguably, in the short term, this is a bet no-one can blame Microsoft for making. There are some subtle details to the EPG that seem to have parity with some more experimental TV interfaces (including a recent project of Ostmodern), and I really can't wait to see this EPG in full flow to pick out the nuances.

Pinning favourite TV shows and 'trending' seem like features you might try once and forget about. Here I'm hoping they've carried on the good work of Bing on Xbox, and continued to assimilate third party content such as Netflix and Lovefilm into the core interface. Frustratingly, they didn't show how broad the ecosystem was, so I'm left wondering of the value of this function.

Xbox Favourite Shows

It might have some TV content you want

It comes as no shock that much of the presentation involved American sports being played out through the device. Someone really should tell keynote writers that:

  • Not everyone loves sports, especially American sports
  • Not everyone is American

Right now there is a gaping hole in what we've seen, and what we'd want at launch. The comfort comes in the fact that there is no way the existing content partners such as Lovefilm, Netflix, Sky and all their not-really-friends will pull out for Xbox One.

But, it would be nice to have something new that isn't men in gym suits.

Remember SmartGlass? The TV content is interactive

It's easy to throw a strop because basketball isn't everyone's litre of cola, but the interactive stuff seems fantastic in scope, if a little short on conceptual love in the presentation.

We saw same-screen fantasy league updating during live matches which was fun but had that feeling that it wouldn't work if you grabbed a controller right now. There was also a hint of some nifty second screen experiences showing browsing of contextual content such as trailers. Again, it worked, but it was nothing new, nor even comparable to the excellent Game of Thrones SmartGlass concept from a while ago.

SmartGlass

Most importantly, these functions seemed more baked in than on the 360, using SmartGlass. This time, they mean it - SmartGlass will play a much bigger role in Xbox One. Assuming Microsoft can persuade partners to get on board and make the content, this can only be a good thing for interactive and second screen TV.

They improved Kinect, long live arm waving

I am a lone gunner in my battle to defend Kinect. I blame the magnificent Kinect Party for my religious defence of the technology.

Xbox Kinect 2.0

Anyway - it's back, it's improved, and you're ALL getting one bundled with it. Given that one of the primary complaints about Kinect has been its reliability, the focus on improved detection is welcome. In fact, the resolution seems good enough now that people will be worrying about whether it knows if you're flipping it the birdie, rather than whether it knows if you're in the room.

Many other subtle improvements surrounding this upgrade were mentioned, playing heavily on Xbox's already formidable multi-user capabilities. Its ability to detect controllers (read: remotes) and augment who is holding which could be a powerful tool for TV control and social watching, not to mention gaming. Each ounce of extra precision Kinect gets, the closer we get to a seamless multi-user experience. Lastly, lets not forget voice control, which returns with 2.0 and has so far made it very easy for me to turn off my Xbox whilst doing my shoelaces.

I also won't be complaining about having an HD Skype camera strapped to my TV either. My niece 200 miles away will be pleased.

The UI stays, it's sort of Windows 8 or whatever

Metro/Modern UI/The Square Things are staying. I like them, so no big paragraph here. The animations of the tiles look even more exciting, and well, there were even glimmers of hope that they've put more useful things in the tiles.

Xbox One UI

There's a Blu-Ray drive.

Discs are not dead, but the GoD/VoD steamroller is on its way with games auto-installing to hard disk.

It plays games

But you knew that, right? I didn't even mention Halo once, thank goodness.

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