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Xbox One Launch Post-Mortem: The Good And The Bad

In the wee hours of the Australian morning, Microsoft finally unveiled its next Xbox to the world. Dubbed the Xbox One, the new machine is set to compete against other next-generation consoles like the Sony Playstation 4 and Nintendo Wii U. Here’s everything you need to know from the launch event; both the good and the bad…

The Xbox One launch event was pretty light on pricing and availability details, but otherwise there was plenty to talk about. As per our expectations, Microsoft is pushing its latest console as a multimedia solution for the whole family. We suspect the company would probably prefer it if you didn’t call it a video games console at all. Below are the main announcement highlights that got us excited, along with a few damp squibs that we’re wary about.

Xbox One Launch: The Good

#1 Improved controller(s)

The Xbox 360 was a troubled beast at launch: it had a dismal failure rate, no Blu-ray drive and a big ugly power supply brick. One thing it did get right though was the controller: the addition of actual triggers was a godsend to FPS fans and it swiftly became our controller of choice. Thankfully, Microsoft has decided to keep everything that was good about the old controller and has also thrown in some extra bells-and-whistles including rumble feedback in the triggers.

The motion-sensing Kinect peripheral will also be getting a significant upgrade: the integrated camera will have a wider field of view, and the revamped sensor is capable of identifying wrist rotation and shoulder movement. The next batch of fitness games are going to be more sophisticated (and punishing) than ever.

#2 It’s not just for gamers

While the PlayStation 4 and Wii U can do more than play games, neither have embraced multimedia as thoroughly as Microsoft. The Xbox One is being billed as “the ultimate all-in-one entertainment device”: it clearly wants to become the central media hub in your lounge room.

The intro to today’s event claimed that the new console will be able to recognise your name, face, voice and the movies you like to watch. One of the major new features is Live TV, which boasts everything from an inbuilt TV guide to exclusive NFL content. However, this will initially be a US-only feature (more on this later).

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#3 Sexy specs

While we’re sure hardcore PC gamers will sniff derisively at the Xbox One’s processing chops, there’s no arguing that the Xbox One is a supremely powerful video game console. The new machine is powered by 64-bit architecture boasting an 8-core CPU and 8GB of system memory (compared to 512MB on the Xbox 360). It will also come with USB 3.0, Wi-Fi Direct and a Blu-ray disc drive — something that the Xbox brand had previously refused to adopt. One thing’s for sure: the divide between reality and the uncanny valley is about to narrow.

#4 Inbuilt voice control

Taking a leaf from the latest smartphone technology, the Xbox One will boast voice functionality straight out of the box. For instance, you’ll be able to turn the console on by simply saying “Xbox on”. You can then quickly access your games, movies, web browser and live television feeds via voice commands. In other words, you don’t need a remote or game controller for console navigation — instead, all commands can be spoken.

It will be especially interesting to see how this functionality will be integrated into games in the future — imagine playing a spy/espionage game where your captor can sense if you’re lying by the tremor in your voice? There are a lot of possibilities here and we hope game developers use them.

#5 Snap Mode

The Xbox One will be borrowing some software tricks from Windows 8, including Snap Mode, which allows separate applications to be run on screen simultaneously. This is real boon for fans of multitasking: it means you can play a game while chatting in Skype, read online game guides onscreen and browse IMDB movie trivia while the film is playing, to name a few examples. This is made possible by Hyper-V hypervisor technology which allows users to switch between intensive applications on the fly.

While this might seems like a minor addition, it really does open up a whole new way of consuming media. In a few years, we’ll probably wonder how we ever got by using a single application on our TV screens.

#6 Halo TV show directed by Steven Spielberg!

Steven Spielberg will collaborate with 343 Industries on an exclusive Halo television series to be brought to Xbox One. This is big news for gamers and movie fans alike and should help to ship plenty of Xbox One units. (It’s Halo! Directed by the guy who made 1941!)

Xbox One Launch: The Bad

#1 Where are the games?

If there was one thing that stood out about the Xbox One launch is was the lack of fresh gaming announcements. Forza Motorsport 5, Call of Duty: Ghosts, a handful of new EA Sports titles and a sci-fi game from Remedy Entertainment were the main showstoppers, none of which scream “killer app”. We criticised Sony for much the same thing during its PS4 launch, but at least they had a large collection of games to show off.

#2 USA! USA! USA!

In stark contrast to Sony’s internationally-flavoured PlayStation 4 event, the Xbox One’s launch was a highly localised affair. Most tellingly, the Xbox One’s hotly-touted ‘TV Live’ feature — which took up a large chunk of the event’s running time — won’t actually be available outside of the US at launch.

Here are Kotaku editor Mark Serrels’ thoughts on the US-centric nature of the event:

Whilst watching I was very aware this was not only tailored specifically to a western audience, but more specifically to a US audience. The fact that Microsoft spent so much time focusing on functionality that will only be available in the US without making mention of the fact that said functionality won’t be available at launch outside of the US is dishonest. This was a global announcement.

There are no details on when the rest of the world will get this feature, but considering all the Xbox 360 features that were never rolled out in Australia, we won’t be holding our breaths.

For further proof of Microsoft’s splendid isolation policy, just look at when the chose to hold the event. While Sony’s PS4 conference suited most time zones to a degree, Microsoft’s took place at around 3am Australian Eastern Standard Time. And then there were the major game announcements which mostly cantered around a new partnership with EA Sports — Madden, NBA Live, et al. All in all, it almost felt like we were peeking through the windows at an exclusive party held for US citizens. Tch.

#3 Big black and boring

We know console aesthetics aren’t that important — it’s what’s inside that counts. However, there’s no getting past the fact that this isn’t the most beautiful hardware we’ve seen. It kind of looks like a cross between an old Xbox Elite, an oversized Kinect sensor and a PVR. At least they’ve ditched the loading tray.

#4 Restrictions on used games?

In the lead up to launch, most of the hoopla about Microsoft’s new console has surrounded whether it would require always-on internet connectivity. Today’s launch appears to have (mostly) debunked this rumour, but there is an all-new caveat to be mindful of: apparently, Xbox One games will be tied to an individual Xbox Live account and need to be partially installed on the HDD.

According to a recent Wired report, each game disc can only be installed to a single owner’s console. Second-hand owners will be required to pay a fee to unlock access to a game. What this will mean for the used game market remains to be seen but anything that hampers your ability to sell something you’ve paid for can’t be a good thing.

You can read a whole lot more about the Xbox One launch details over at our sister site Kotaku.