The Xbox One game console, controller and Kinect sensor. (Microsoft)Link
The Xbox One game console. (Microsoft)Link
The Xbox One game controller. (Microsoft)Link
The Xbox One Kinect sensor. (Microsoft)Link
Sony's PlayStation 4, left, and Microsoft's Xbox One. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)Link
A scene from "Ryse: Son of Rome." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Forza Motorsport 5." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "LocoCycle." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Crimson Dragon." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Dead Rising." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Xbox Fitness." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Powerstar Golf." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Killer Instinct." (Microsoft Studios)Link
A scene from "Zoo Tycoon." (Microsoft Studios)Link
“Go ahead,” the screen on Microsoft’s Xbox One will tell you, “say ‘Xbox.’”
“No,” you may very well think, “I am an adult, and I will not talk to my video-game console.”
Oh, but you will.
That’s because Microsoft’s $500 all-in-one entertainment system is the first video-game console ever made that can utilize your voice to go from zero to playing Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video in 47 seconds.
One simple command, “Xbox on,” brings your hardware and television to life; three more commands and you’re on YouTube watching her get fierce with a sledgehammer — all without pressing a button.
The Xbox One terms such ability “automagical,” and while that’s a marketing buzzword that probably shouldn’t be attached to anything that doesn’t involve Tinker Bell, it’s admittedly pretty neat.
But what does it have to do with games? Well, not much, but Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox 360 wants to play with your television and the way media is consumed as much — perhaps more — than it wants you to slay enemies as a Roman soldier.
The release Friday of the Xbox One comes just one week after Sony’s PlayStation 4, the latter of which sold more than 1 million units in its first 24 hours of availability. Xbox One is priced $100 more than the PS4, and in terms of technical capabilities, both systems offer a 500-gigabyte hard drive and souped-up PC infrastructure. Additionally, the PS4 and Xbox One often overlap in their ability to act as a media hub. Stream television and purchase or rent films? Check and check.
But their presentation — the arguments they put forth about how games can and should be integrated into our lives — varies greatly. Sony’s PS4 takes a targeted approach by emphasizing games and the places players go to talk about those games. The PS4 controller contains a button labeled “share,” and pressing it will instantly stream your game to the masses and connect you with like-minded gamers.
The Xbox One has sharing abilities as well, but its system places broader, non-gaming ambitions front and center.
The Xbox One’s operating system has a refreshed look that closely resembles the latest Windows devices. It re-imagines the television as something that can more closely align with the smaller mobile and tablet screens that increasingly occupy our time. A swipe of the screen right brings you to a store full of apps as well as music and movie options. A swipe to the left brings you to your own personally curated screen of entertainment choices, be it your favorite games, television shows or apps.
The Xbox One comes bundled with Kinect, the system’s camera, which boasts that it can read your heart rate. While this trick wasn’t tested — the Xbox One’s robust fitness applications were not yet turned on for media previews — the Kinect can recognize when you walk in the room. The big pitch for families or households with roommates is that the Xbox One’s Kinect can recognize up to six different people at once, instantly switching between their profiles and their saved games, much of which is saved on Microsoft’s servers.
Another key differential: Only the Xbox One can speak to your cable box. Microsoft wants you to never again have to switch inputs on a television, enabling you to jump from a game to a sporting event in seconds using only your voice.
If your viewing habits are largely of the on-demand variety, however, the Xbox One’s TV integration may not be a make-or-break proposition. The Xbox One can communicate with your cable box’s DVR functionality, but to access and program the latter you will need to go all-2013 and use a remote.
The PS4 and the Xbox One want to be the media centers of your choice because they’re designed for the upsell. Ultimately, you will want both devices connected to the Internet 24/7, and you will likely need a PlayStation Plus membership ($9.99 per month or $49.99 a year) or an Xbox Live Gold membership ($9.99 per month or $59.99 a year) to fully unlock the capabilities of each system.
Sony, in its bid to appeal to the most serious of gamers, won’t charge you to upload video clips or stream your games, and it likewise won’t charge you to access services such as Netflix. Microsoft saves such features, including an editing suite for game footage, for its Gold members. On the other hand, Sony gives only Plus members 1 GB of online storage for saving games, while the Xbox One comes with a free 7 GBs of cloud storage for photos and video and lets everyone place their save game data in the ether (Microsoft declined to say how much space the operating system consumes on the hard drive, and the Xbox One conceals such information).
Bottom line: At some point, you will likely end up with a subscription, especially if you want the ability to play games online on the PS4 or want to rent a movie on the Xbox One, but you can more easily live without it on the PS4.
Video-game machines have progressively become a more risky purchase at launch. Neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 offers a game that clearly makes a case to the common player that these $400 and $500 devices are accomplishing something in games that has never been done before.
Graphical leaps are impressive, but incremental, and advertising campaigns for both machines have puzzlingly emphasized the most predictable, worn-out aspects of the last decade of gaming, as they are selling their systems with post-apocalyptic, gun-filled, zombie-ravaged worlds. You don’t need a new console for a 20-or-so-hour game with a sci-fi-narrative and a dude with a gun, but Sony has given us “Killzone: Shadow Fall” just in case.
On the flip side, arcade-style Xbox One games such as the dragon flier “Crimson Dragon” and motorbike fighter “LocoCycle” are ones I couldn’t uninstall fast enough. Either console purchase is one based on the promise of things to come, yet in 2013 that can be a dangerous justification for buying a game system.
Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s handheld device the PlayStation Vita are cleverly designed devices that emphasize touch-based control schemes. At launch, both felt like the future, as they give creative game developers new design tools for which to challenge players, many of which have distressingly gone underutilized.
Today the Vita is at risk of becoming an expensive accessory for the PS4 and the Wii U, which is only now getting a few new noteworthy games, underwent a price cut.
So if one were to judge the systems based solely on games available at launch, the Xbox One would have a hair of advantage — a hair. I’m not sure how long I’ll be sticking with “Ryse: Son of Rome,” Microsoft’s big launch exclusive, but it’s the best-looking next-gen game on the market. For now that’s keeping me entertained, as is the life-like look of “Forza Motorsport 5.”
This, coupled with the Xbox One’s media versatility, may be enough to sway those interested consumers who haven’t yet picked a team.
For here’s a confession about living with the Xbox One for a week: I turn it on constantly. I turn it on if I am watching basic cable. I turn it on if I am using the Wii U. I turn it on if I am using the PS4. I have six devices capable of streaming Hulu to my TV, but I turn on the Xbox One for Hulu.
Why? The voice commands. Volume up, volume down, mute, pause, rewind, turning the TV off and on, etc. It’s that simple.
The voice recognitions features aren’t always perfect, as there are times I have told it to search for the Chicago Cubs and have ended up at a cooking website, but even with some kinks to work out the Xbox One already feels integrated in my day-to-day life. If only I could tell it to find me a great game, one without guns and most definitely one without zombies.
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