Microsoft's latest black gaming box packs some incredible features and some forgettable ones too.
The Xbox has come along way from it's humble beginnings as a late challenger to Sony's PS2.
Back then it failed to make a huge dent in the sales of the unstoppable force that was the PS2 (official counts from both manufacturers put the final tally at 24 million Xbox units vs the 150 million units Sony sold), but today it's a completely different story.
The last generation of consoles saw Microsoft and Sony much closer in their sales figures, so the stage was set for another showdown of black plastic this year.
The bungled decisions (which Microsoft later backpedalled on) to have the Xbox One require an internet connection every 24 hours and not allow users to sell their pre-owned games meant that the console lived in a sort of no-mans-land in the crucial lead-up to its launch.
Now that it's released you can rest easy. The reality is that the Xbox One is a great console that excels in a number of areas, notably entertainment features, exclusive titles and the Kinect 2.0.
On the flip side, while it can definitely hold it's own against the boisterous PS4 when it comes to pushing pixels, it doesn't have the raw power of the Sony. It's also not the prettiest system available in the world, galaxy or possibly the universe.
Talk tech to me
Purring underneath the hood of the Xbox One is some impressive hardware, even if it's decidedly more like a PC than ever before.
Like the PS4 it has an Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) from veteran chipmaker AMD, which combines the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) in what's essentially a chip embedded on a chip.
The CPU is a custom eight core chip clocked at 1.75Ghz and the GPU is based on the entry-level Radeon HD 7790, with 768 shader processors and a clock speed of 853MHz.
Rounding out the performance powertrain is 8GB of DDR3 memory, which is a huge leap forward from the 512MB of GDDR3 RAM found in the Xbox 360.
If you're not a hardcore gamer or tech nerd you may not understand these figures, so just know that the Xbox One is more than ready to tackle the majority of next generation games.
The hardware isn't going to get PC gamers excited, but that's not what these devices are meant to do anyway.
The Xbox One, like the PS4 comes with a 500GB hard drive, but unlike the PS4 it isn't removable.
It'll be slower than the PS4 in some games—Extreme Tech reported Sony's GPU has 50 per cent more power than the Xbox One and it has DDR3 RAM as opposed to the Sony's GDDR5 RAM—but Microsoft might not have had blistering speed in their sights when they built this latest black box anyway.
If you need proof of this you need to look no further than the inclusion of the Kinect 2.0 in every console.
Microsoft is embracing entertainment evolution and the fact that the Kinect 2.0 thoroughly tramples PS4's Eye camera is only one of the indications of this.
I spy with my 1080p eye
The newest Kinect has a vastly improved camera, jumping from 480p to 1080p. It can track your bones, joints and the orientation of said joints. The Kinect 2.0 can even understand where your force is being applied to your muscles and incredibly, look at your blood and skin to estimate your heart rate. It's even capable of gauging your expressions and the expressions of those around you.
All this would be useless if it had no real application to gaming or other applications and in this regard it has a number of functions.
You can use the Kinect 2.0 to issue voice commands and control your Xbox One. Launching games, apps or changing settings can be done through these commands, which seem to be the major feature of the new Kinect. Kinect will also allow you to sign into your profile using your face for recognition.
With or without Kinect you're able to snap between games and apps and watching TV, meaning you won't have to stop whatever you're doing and can resume your game playing or movie whenever you feel like. You can also issue voice commands to record gameplay videos and share them.
Reports indicate the Kinect still isn't perfect in both voice and visual recognition and for some this will be a dealbreaker.
Regardless, it'll be exciting to see how games developers and Microsoft toy with the system.
Don't judge a console by it's cover
The Xbox One has gone back to its roots in the design department, but it's hard to find many who are won over by it's 80s looks. It's larger than the PS4 and still comes with a power brick, which Sony has moved into the console itself.
The gloss-black and matte-vent combination hasn't won any recent beauty pageants, although it's quiet, which will matter when you're playing late at night, or just trying to enjoy a game or movie rather than the sound of fans.
It's a shame that the Xbox One isn't up-to-par with the appearance of the PS4, because Microsoft wants this system front and centre in your living room for all of your entertainment needs.
Not only can you use Skype, but there are also apps for video watching and music.
As usual the launch line up has been decimated on account of us living down under, but you can download apps such as ABC iview, CNET TV, Crackle, Crunchyroll, Dailymotion, Deezer, FOXTEL Play, GameSpot TV, GameTrailers, IGN, Karaoke, Machinima, Maxim, MLB.TV, MUZU.TV, NBA Game Time, Network Ten, NFL.com Fantasy Football, NHL GameCenter, NineMSN, Quickflix, SBS on Demand, VEVO, WSJ and YouTube.
There's also Xbox Music and Xbox Video, although the prices for some of the movies you can buy is prohibitively expensive. On the plus side these marketplaces are easy to navigate.
Remember that to get the full range of apps listed above you'll need an Xbox Live Gold membership, which will set you back $79.95 a year. This doesn't come with the free games Sony offers with their paid Playstation Plus service, but will get you some discounts and access to multiplayer, so for many this will be a necessary add-on.
The Xbox One controller represents a steady evolution of ideas from the original Xbox controller. What you get at the most basic level is an improved version of the Xbox 360 controller, which is great considering that controller worked so well. There's now rumble feedback in the triggers and a new D-Pad which is shaped like a plus sign. The new controller can be charged via micro-USB and will take standard or rechargeable batteries.
There are also new ‘menu' and ‘view' buttons, which enable you to bring up your menu, or change views and give more information during games and apps.
The new Xbox One supports eight of these controllers.
The games lineup
Xbox One has a few exclusives which have been released and which we know are good titles and others which are on the horizon.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza 5 is one launch-day success story. The latest update to the racing series stalwart has a memorable car selection, even if there are less cars and tracks than Forza 4, beautiful visuals and the ability to race on famous tracks such as Mount Panorama.
IGN scored this game 8.8, while Gamespot gave it a 9.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Many had high hopes for Ryse: Son of Rome. Stepping into the combat sandals of Marius, a Roman centurion, was an idea which had a huge amount of potential. Unfortunately the reality is that the combat in Ryse is repetitive and the game is too linear. It does do a good job of highlighting the visuals we can expect to see from games in the future.
IGN gave Ryse a 6.8, while Gamepost laid the smackdown with a 4.
There are many upcoming exclusive titles for Xbox One, but two of the most anticipated are Quantum Break and TitanFall.
Remedy Games, of Max Payne and Alan Wake fame, are on board for this unique title, which blends television and game. Time and the bending thereof, is a central element.
A first person shooter set in the near future, TitanFall puts you in the shoes of mechwarrior-esque ‘Titans' and their pilots. The game puts a large emphasis on verticality and has won a huge number of awards at E3 2012, as well as Gamescom and the Tokyo Game Show.
The Xbox One will set you back $599. This is roughly $50 more than the PS4 is going for and $250 more than the basic Wii U. The Xbox One comes with Kinect 2.0 out of the box, so you're getting something for this price premium if you're comparing it to the PS4.
As mentioned above Xbox Live Gold membership will set you back $79.95, which is $10 more than the Playstation Plus service.
- Excellent Kinect 2.0 integration and features
- Improved media and entertainment capabilities
- Snap features make it easy to swap between games, movies and apps
- As usual Australian audiences lose out on some features and apps, including the ability to use the ‘Xbox on' command
- Highest price of any console currently available
- Graphically slower (on paper) than the PS4
There are many reasons why Xbox One deserves a place in your home. It's the culmination of years of development and some serious dollars and Microsoft has aimed it both at gamers and media users.
But if you're all about your aesthetics you may not want the Xbox One. It's not the prettiest box you can add to your home entertainment setup and the hardware it packs might put it at a slight disadvantage to the PS4 when it comes to gaming.