"Changing entertainment forever, again" was the motto of the event, as Microsoft revealed its third Xbox console, called the Xbox One.
The Xbox One.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
In what was almost a reversal of Sony's PlayStation 4 launch, the Xbox One event was high on concept, with an actual console present, but low on specs information and without a lot of detail on new games. Let's break down what we know.
According to Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, "the living room is too complex, too fragmented and too slow. We want an all in one system that's simple, instant and complete".
Microsoft's strategy for the Xbox One is to offer that complete system — a console, with Kinect and controller, that wants to become the centrepiece of your home entertainment system.
The design isn't a million miles away from the current Xbox 360, but blockier and more solid in appearance, looking more like a traditional piece of A/V equipment, such as a Blu-ray player.
Speaking of Blu-ray players, the Xbox One definitely has one built in. There's also 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0 ports, Wi-Fi direct, an 8-core processor, "native 64-bit architecture" and a 500GB drive. That's about all we know on that front.
Microsoft's Don Mattrick with the Xbox One system and peripherals.
The Kinect sensor has been improved, now seeing the world in a wider angle and in 1080p. It can recognise individual faces, see a greater range of movement and even notice changes in how you balance. According to one slightly throwaway line, it can "read your heartbeat when you exercise" but it wasn't clear on how it manages this.
Language commands have been improved, offering a more natural experience. The Kinect also has a new range of motions that it can recognise, including a two-handed grabbing motion that looked a little Minority Report.
Kinect's voice recognition had some hiccups in Australia — it wasn't available at initial launch, requiring a later update to enable the functionality.
Microsoft Australia's Jeremy Hinton told CNET Australia that the company isn't able to discuss "specific market features" of the Xbox One at this time, but did say that Microsoft wanted to "deliver conversational voice to every market where the Xbox One will be available".
The controller has undergone some ergonomic redesigns, and now has trigger buttons that can be programmed to offer different types of feedback.
The controller also works with the Kinect, allowing it to sense the position and angle of the controller, suggesting that Kinect will always need to be on during gameplay.
(Credit: James Marin/CNET)
The Xbox One works on a mix of three different operating systems: the new Xbox One architecture, the Windows kernel and a third that connects the two and seems to allow for greater multitasking on the console.
This was demonstrated via "snap mode" showing how, for example, Internet Explorer could be opened beside a movie without interrupting playback.
Xbox Glass, the companion app for smartphones and consoles, seems to have become an integral part for controlling many of the software features on the Xbox.
Home entertainment was a focus of the launch, with a great deal of the event being dedicated to showing how watching live TV has become part of the Xbox One's features, with the Kinect voice control used to navigate TV channels.
This included a built-in EPG, a social media-based Trending application for what shows people are watching and a personalised program guide based on your viewing habits called OneGuide.
At the event, it seemed that the live TV was integrated into the Xbox, but a subsequent press release noted that "at launch, Live TV will require a supported receiver device with HDMI output (sold separately)", indicating that it's not an integrated tuner in the Xbox hardware, but actually coming from your existing set-top or pay TV box.
The release also said that "Live TV with Kinect navigation, Live TV with OneGuide [and] Trending" would be US-only services at launch, but that Microsoft is "anticipating global scale over time".
Hinton confirmed that Microsoft would make the Live TV function available across as many markets as possible.
"We're dedicated to bringing Live TV to every market, no matter how that TV is delivered, be it over the air, IPTV or set-top boxes," he said. "We absolutely intend to have the TV functions as a global offering."
In terms of Xbox Live, the buzzword was cloud, with Microsoft promising cloud-based game saves, better matchmaking for multiplayer and a cloud-based PVR-style function for recording and editing gameplay videos (much like the PS4). The company is also offering some level of cloud gameplay processing for developers, adding more processing power to what the Xbox One has on-board.
Microsoft will have 300,000 servers live by the end of the year to support the new Xbox Live features.
Microsoft said that some of the content currently available on Xbox Live, including some apps and avatar content, would not be compatible with the Xbox Live service on the Xbox One.
Would cloud-based saves mean that the Xbox One requires an always-on net connection as previously feared?
Hinton said that the Xbox One is "certainly not an always-connected device", but did note that many features would require a net connection to be used to their fullest advantage.
In terms of the cloud-based processing, Hinton said that the decision on whether to use it is up to the developers.
In the end, it's up to the content creators — cloud-based processing for gameplay or enemy AI are available to the creators to use if they want. It's a powerful feature — for every Xbox One in a lounge room, you have the processing power of three more available in the cloud. The cloud processing absolutely future proofs the device. Whatever ships today is always improved by the additional processing of the cloud. Games can only get better.
It's not entirely clear, but this could mean that certain games will only be playable when connected to the internet, not just for saves, but for the raw game engine processing itself.
Unlike Sony, Microsoft was somewhat cagey about its gaming line-up for the Xbox One. Despite promising 15 exclusive games in the first year — eight of which would be new franchises — only seven were actually shown.
EA Sports had the lion's share of the game reveals, with FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA Live 15 and EA Sports UFC all shown off, along with the new EA Ignite game engine.
Forza 5 and Call of Duty: Ghosts were also present, with Activision stating that Ghosts DLC would be available on Xbox One before other platforms, as part of an exclusive deal.
Remedy, the creator of Max Payne and Alan Wake, also got a mention with its new title Quantum Break, which seemingly blends live-action acting with regular gameplay.
A Halo TV series was announced as a partnership between developer 343 Industries and Steven Spielberg. This promises to include "interactive" content for the Xbox One, although no further details on how this would work were given.
The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games, with Microsoft CMO Yusuf Mehdi telling CNET Australia that the company would "continue to support the Xbox 360".
The bottom line
In terms of arrival date, Microsoft promised "later this year" for a worldwide release. The event ended with a countdown to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), suggesting that Microsoft intends to reveal more details at the LA-based event next month.
In terms of an Australian release, there is no additional information, nor a hint of pricing.
"You can expect announcements on specific markets and timeframes for the Xbox One arriving at retail during E3," said Hinton. "This was the first view of the platform — we'll give more detail at E3."