Just ahead of the Australian launch of the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One arrives with equal fanfare.
Similar to the PS4 review, this is the hardware component from our US colleagues. We will update this with an Australian perspective on the user interface, entertainment app offering and Kinect voice control in the very near future.
We may also adjust this review and the score as more games and software updates appear on the system. Note that this review was conducted using an Xbox One running on a beta environment. Microsoft has told us this was fit for review, but if there are significant changes after public release, again, we'll update this review where appropriate.
What's in the box
Inside the Xbox One box is the console, its power brick, the Kinect sensor, a 6-foot HDMI cable, one controller and one chat headset. Like the AU$549 PS4, there's only one version of the Xbox One: a 500GB system for AU$599.
Even though Kinect isn't vital to the Xbox One's functionality, you're still left paying the premium for the Kinect, which comes in the box.
Under the Xbox One's hood is an eight-core AMD CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a GPU clocked at 853 MHz. The Xbox One's specs trail the PS4's only slightly, but it's important to keep in mind this was the case with the last generation as well. Both consoles' architectures are more closely constructed this generation, so for the most part, we'll likely see similar graphical performance.
The Xbox One is significantly bulkier and notably less sleek than the PlayStation 4; some have described it as a retrofitted VCR. Quite frankly, it's not really anything special to look at, though the glowing white Xbox logo on the right panel is oddly soothing.
One ugly carry-over from the 360 is the Xbox One's external power brick. That's in contrast to the trim PS4, which manages to keep its power supply tucked inside.
Unlike the PS4, the Xbox One's internal 500GB hard disk is not user-replaceable. Wireless Xbox One features include 802.11n and Wi-Fi Direct, but there's no built-in Bluetooth support.
The Xbox One with the PS4.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The box is littered with vents on top and around the sides. Xbox One is designed to be on nearly 24/7 — if only because it sits in line between your set-top box and TV. Impressively enough, the machine barely makes any noise, which is a far cry from the jet-engine din of the original Xbox 360 consoles.
Kinect 2.0 is bundled into the Xbox One system and is meshed into the console's operating system, more so than the PS4's PlayStation Camera. Kinect is not required for operation, but Microsoft is never shy to heavily recommend attaching the device during the initial set-up.
Be warned, though, unlike the PS4 camera, you can't put the Kinect on top of your TV; that could be especially problematic if you have a sound bar at the base of your screen.
When it's powered on, you'll notice three infra-red (IR) blasting beacons emanating from the front of the Kinect. In fact, the Xbox One can send and receive IR commands, which means it can both control your TV and audio receiver or sound bar (to a degree), as well as accept commands from a standard universal remote. (The PS4 can do neither, even with its camera connected.) Note, however, that the Xbox's database of control codes isn't comprehensive; we already found some mainstream TVs that it wasn't able to control.
Around back is a collection of ports: an HDMI in and out (for live TV integration), an optical audio port, two USB 3.0 slots (plus one on the left side for a total of three), the Kinect attachment interface, a slot for an IR blaster and an Ethernet port. The IR slot is for those owners who don't have line of sight (if their devices are behind a closed cabinet, for example) between their Kinect and A/V devices. For these set-ups, a wire (not included) must manually run from the console to these devices so they can receive IR commands.
Xbox One must lie horizontally, unlike the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 and 4. Finally, standard-definition TV owners are out of luck; the Xbox One only connects digitally via HDMI.
Most of the Xbox One games we tried out look great and perform mostly well. Dead Rising 3 is capable of displaying a dizzying amount of zombies on screen at once — way more than its hardware predecessor was physically able to do. Ryse: Son of Rome and Forza Motorsport 5 are the best-looking eye candy among the initial crop of exclusive titles.
As with the PS4, most multiplatform Xbox One games, especially those already available on current-generation systems, only look marginally better than the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions. In certain cases — EA's sports titles, for instance — new next-gen engines have been put in place to take better advantage of improved hardware. That said, the majority of games won't truly hit their stride until developers learn to master the system.
During any gameplay session, players can suspend the action and back out into the console's operating system, watch live TV, open other apps or enter settings. The suspended game is only lost when a new game is started or the console is powered off.
Achievements are back with the Xbox One and presented within their own app in the operating system. Each achievement can be viewed in full-screen mode and, depending on the game, some achievements will actually record gameplay the moment they are unlocked.
All games, disc-based or digital, completely install on to the system. You'll only need the disc to play if that's how you purchased the game.
Just like the PS4, the Xbox One has no backward compatibility at all with Xbox 360 discs. The ability to buy and download classic games from Xbox 360 wouldn't be surprising down the road, but that's strictly wishful thinking for now — no official announcements have been made.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
It's tough for the Xbox team to have improved upon the Xbox 360 controller. Save for its subpar D-pad, the controller was easily the most comfortable one ever made. For Xbox One, the controller's shape and feel have undergone tweaks, and we can't say it's all for the better.
The new controller isn't necessarily uncomfortable, but it's gripped in a slightly different way and has more angles as opposed the curves of the 360's controller. The Xbox guide button (now the Home button) is placed well away from where the Back and Start buttons used to flank it — likely to avoid accidentally hitting it. The Back and Start buttons are now the View and Menu buttons, respectively.
The Xbox One's controller still has the same layout for face buttons, and the analog sticks are laid out in the same format as well. The sticks have smaller circular tops on the joysticks, and they can be clicked in. The D-pad is the most different looking compared with the 360's controller; it no longer sits on a disc. The plus-shaped directional pad now clicks in four directions, totally eliminating the accidental inputs its predecessor suffered from.
The LB and RB buttons now have much more space atop the controller, and the L and R triggers have a really solid squeeze and feel to them. There are even independent rumble motors tethered to each trigger, so, for example, stepping on the gas will shake the right trigger but not the left.
On top of the controller is a micro-USB port that can be used if there's a rechargeable battery pack installed. It takes two AAs otherwise. There's also a sync button and two IR blasters that send information to Kinect.
Underneath the controller is a port for connecting a chat headset. Unfortunately, this interface isn't compatible with any 360 headset.
Additional Xbox One controllers can be purchased, and the console can support up to eight connected at once.
Xbox One gets points for its forward-thinking mentality and ambition to integrate into a home theatre set-up, even if that vision is far from being realised at launch. Of course, no console is perfect out of the box, but it will be a difficult road ahead on that specific front.
In terms of the rest of the Xbox One experience, time will tell if the system is able to garner a compelling collection of software that makes owning one worth it. Just like the PS4, the Xbox One has a great amount of titles that are already playable on a system you might currently own. For those games, an upgrade isn't necessary.
Because the Xbox One and the PS4 are now on the same cycle, they'll both take some time to mature as platforms. That means it'll be a while until there is a reliable stream of software for each system. If none of the exclusive launch games intrigue you, there's no shame in waiting for something that does.
Where Sony positioned the PS4 as the "gamer's console", Microsoft felt customers would be better served with a console that wears many hats. Thankfully, it can still play games with brilliant visuals, but only time will tell if it can achieve its ambitious all-in-one plans.