The next generation of console gaming has finally come and gone with the launch of the Xbox one here in Europe. Whilst our American brethren have their PS4 a week early, we get to check out what the next generation from Microsoft holds for us. Anyone who’s been following the next generation news from Microsoft’s announcement event to E3 knows that the Xbox One has been surrounded by controversy along the way, limited to but including the increased price difference over the PS4. Is it worth it? Well hopefully I’ll help you find out right now.
The Xbox One is huge. As short as that sentence may be, it is entirely to the point. Anyone from the 90’s will easily be able to associate it with very early VCRs (or videocassette recorders for all the young readers) not only in shape but also weight. These things don’t essentially matter until you start to look inside the console and wonder why it’s so heavy, especially considering that the power brick is housed outside the console, similar to how it was with the Xbox 360.
Microsoft have gone above and beyond to try avoid any overheating issues with the inclusion of a massive heat sink on the CPU along with a 120mm Fan on top making sure that the system disperses heat much better than the previous generation. Additionally thanks to some thermal images (courtesy of planetextech.com) we can see that the Xbox one runs about 10-15 degrees cooler than the PS4, but this is probably because the power supply brick is housed outside of the console.
At the back you have the usual array of connections including an optical out, the HDMI in and out port for those of you who are interested in the TV features, the Kinect connection and Ethernet and USB connectors.
The console while on and playing games is amazingly quiet, much quieter than the Xbox 360 Slim was which is impressive. In the amount of time that I’ve had the Xbox One, I’ve not heard the fan being overly noisy, certainly never heard it over game sounds.
The Xbox One controller has taken the successful design of the Xbox 360 controller and made many adjustments to it that while many are subtle, ultimately improve the experience with the controller. The joysticks have now have a concave design to them, allowing for greater grip on the tips of your thumbs. The back of the controller is flatter allowing your hand to rest easier on the device. The dashboard button has been moved to the top of the controller to avoid gamers accidently pressing it mid game. The controller also has replaced the old back and start buttons in favour of two new buttons, view and menu. We’ll talk a bit more about those later in the software section.
The headset comes with a new proprietary connector, which to some is a nuisance as it means that at this point in time all 360 third party headsets are incompatible with the Xbox One however Microsoft have stated that a connector will be available in 2014 to allow you to use your old headset. One would assume that this connector won’t cover all third party headsets such as ones with extended setups but time will tell on this.
Perhaps the best feature of the new controller is the use of haptic feedback to deliver a more immersive experience. Whilst I’ve only tested it on a handful of games, I can say that it is a huge improvement over the 360 feedback as it now allows you to feed the vibrations in your fingers from the triggers. This was prevalent in Forza 5 but it added to the experience, especially if you were skidding around the road like a mad man.
The Kinect 2.0
Now the Kinect had caused quite a stir around the Xbox One, much due to the fact that it came bundled with the Xbox One and therefor you weren’t given an option as to whether or not you wished to own this peripheral. Many users also feared that the Kinect wouldn’t be as great as Microsoft had imagined, especially considering how the original Kinect failed to deliver on many of its ideas with regard to accuracy and body detection.
The Kinect 2.0 is in a different league however. Microsoft done its homework based on feedback and has delivered a product which is rather impressive. During the initial setup you can decide whether or not to use the Kinect to sign in based off of facial recognition along with who is holding the controller. Now whether or not you use this feature is entirely down to you, but it is a brief glimpse of how much more accurate the Xbox knows the Kinect is right out of the box.
To test out its capabilities we decided to try out the Kinect with Zoo Tycoon as it has very certain motions that need to be done in order to complete various tasks within the game. I was very pleasantly surprised to not only see that the Kinect could see these motions quite easily, but also that it responded very quickly with very minimal amounts of lag between the hand gesture and the appropriate action occurring. Additionally while doing a task that required you to use faces, the Kinect could easily identify the difference between a wink and a blink along with the various other facial prompts it gave.
We also tried out the Kinect with Skype and was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was the camera extremely clear and responsive, but the microphone, even from a distance of around 1 and a half meters away, was able to clearly hear us speak and along with the receiver hearing us clearly.
The Xbox One uses a metro UI like layout that has been the bain of many PC users, and the joy of many Windows Phone users. This UI can take its time to get used to, especially if you’ve not previously experience a metro UI. On the dashboard are your Home, Pins and the Store. Your home is where you can access your profile, your games and apps along with a series of tiles based off your recently launched applications and games. Pins are a selection of apps that you wish to have access to at any time, think of them as bookmarks to your favourite apps. The store is self-explanatory, with a Bing bar down the bottom for good measure.
Once you get past the UI, there are some pretty neat features below for you to get used to. However, perhaps the biggest flaw with the UI at this point in time is that there is literally no indication to half the options you have at your disposal. Back in the controller section I said we’d be talking about the view and menu buttons and now is that time as these two buttons actually hold a whole host of different options based on what tile you are on. An example of this is how they’ve integrated how to exit or quit a game. On the 360 it was as easy as press dashboard button, select quit “Enter Game title”. On the Xbox One when you press the dashboard button, you are brought back to your home whilst your game remains in suspense. You then have to press the menu button on the suspended game tile and then select quit to be able to exit a game. I had to look that up on reddit there is that much lack of a visual prompt to allow you to know that these basic features are hidden on the controller.
Another big feature of the new software is the ability to suspend your game. The best way to describe this is pausing your game and going off into the dashboard to do something, whether it be snapping an app or starting a Skype call, then returning to the game exactly where it had left off. It is an interesting feature that I’ve found myself using quite a bit, especially when you want a sneaky game but then you have to switch to Netflix. Allowing you to suspend your game and pick up later on is fantastic and makes you wonder why it hadn’t been done before now.
Snapping is also available on the Xbox, further resembling the parallels between the Xbox Metro like UI and the Windows 8 UI as you are able to snap apps to the side whilst playing games in the main window. This is both a great and poor for its own reasons. The obvious pro to this is the ability to put an app on the side whilst you play games, so Netflix, Skype, Internet Explorer, SkyDrive etc. and being able to access them easily. Additionally the Game DVR feature is only snappable so if you want to record any footage on your Xbox One, you’ll have to get used to it. The only cons I could find so far is the implication of how it shrinks your game screen to accommodate the snapped app. You can work around this by unsnapping the app once you’ve finished with it, but it’s a nuisance in my opinion, especially with regard to the Game DVR app. If there were an option to be able to hide this docked panel then that would be great but at this time, there doesn’t seem to be. Additionally there are not independent volume controls between snapped apps and games so if you planned on putting on Netflix while playing games, you will have to put up with listening to both streams of audio.
The Game DVR application allows you to record footage either in periods of 5 minutes through a snapped version of the application, or the last 30 seconds through the phrase “Xbox Record That”. It is a nice feature to have, especially if you want to capture a moment that occurred suddenly. Unfortunately that 5 minute limit is a real kicker as in the case of longer games it is not suitable whatsoever. There is also no way of getting the raw file from your Xbox One to your PC for post processing at this time either, but instead you have to use the Upload Studio first to enable you to edit the clip, render, and upload it to your SkyDrive.
The Upload Studio allows you to do basic processing and editing of clips including picture in picture, trim, and being able to sow multiple clips together to create more of a montage. Additionally through either the Kinect Camera or the headset that is packed with the console, you can record some commentary over your clips before selecting them to be rendered and uploaded. The quality of the rendered video is lacking unfortunately with the only output resolution being 720p which is disappointing as seeing Forza 5 being compressed to 720p when it is natively 1080p does not do the game justice. Furthermore when used on a sample of Killer instinct on a dark background, you could see the compression used really effected the quality of the video. For what it’s worth, it’s a great feature to have, especially for those magical moments when you wouldn’t have any recording equipment prepared or actively recording, but for the most part if you do have access to the additional hardware and software, especially if you plan on wanting to record longer sessions without having to clip them all together, the Game DVR is probably not for you. For the amateur recorder, it’s a dream come through with a haven of features that are quite expensive to acquire.
One more additional little annoyance is how notifications come up now, as its in the bottom middle of your screen as opposed to the top right hand corner. I know that more often than not I was distracted by this popup midgame. It’s a minor thing but it is something that a lot of people would find annoying.
Microsoft weren’t wrong when they announced it as an entertainment system. It gives you more access and availability to various forms of entertainment whether it be music from Xbox Music, film from the likes of Netflix and the built in TV features (which we are unable to test at this time due to it being only available in the US and Asia on Launch) and games, the Xbox One provides an experience which makes it stand above its predecessor and feel truly next gen. I was once firmly against the inclusion of the Kinect with the Xbox One, however now that I’ve used it and experienced what it has to offer the system overall, I think it would detract from the overall experience if the Kinect had not been bundled. It’s no question that they built the Xbox One to be used with the Kinect from the start but how it is implemented is excellent, including the use of the various voice commands. The Xbox One UI will certainly take time to get used to, especially if you’re transitioning from an Xbox 360 as certain features that were easily used on the 360 seem to be harder to get to at first on the Xbox One (a prime example of this being activating the party chat). However the Xbox One has only been out a few days now and is at the start of its lifetime so it’s too early to tell whether or not this will cause future problems.
A much discussed point about the Xbox has been the fact that almost all third party games for the Xbox One at launch have been 720p with the only notable exception being Ryse Son of Rome at 900p. However, Forza 5 shows that the system is capable of 1080p like how the PS4 is at the moment so I assume over the course of the next year as developers get more used to the system, we will see greater success with higher resolutions on games.
The Xbox One has been built not for the gamer, but for the entire family with the inclusion and emphasis on so many entertainment applications and whilst this may have annoyed the most hard-core of gamers, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of pushing the console away into the bedrooms of most gamers of their target demography, Microsoft are hoping to introduce the whole family to the Xbox One and integrate it into the living room.
At this point in time, the Xbox One in my opinion feels more like a next generation console than the PS4, which in my opinion does everything the PS3 done but better both in terms of graphics and power. Ultimately however, it will come down to the quality of games on both consoles and of course the price of both consoles. In my opinion, the Xbox has been money well spent as I look forward to the next generation of console gaming.