SOFTWARE COBBLER Microsoft cut the suspence last night when it pulled the drapery from its next generation games console, the Xbox One.
Initially, we couldn't quite decide what we were more surprised about - the fact that it isn't called the Xbox 720 as we have believed for years now and instead shares its name with HTC's latest flagship smartphone, or that it looks like a VCR from the '90s.
It's been almost eight years since Microsoft last gave us something to blather, tweet, blog, and rant about when it announced the Xbox 360 in 2005, and this time the Xbox One launch didn't fail to do the same. Twitter was swamped with both praises and critiques from people around the world thrusting their opinions about the console into cyberspace until the early hours. Initial reactions on the social networks seem to be that most are underwhelmed by the Xbox One, though of course there are still a good number who can't wait to get their hands on it, mainly because, well, it's "the next big thing" in gaming technology.
Though it has been given its fair share of hype, we're not quite sure if it deserves it.
The Xbox One features an eight-core x86 CPU, 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0, WiFi and Blu-ray compatibility. Though these specifications are decent, there's nothing much to 'ooh' and 'ahh' about really, and as a result we ask, will it really be worth an upgrade from the Xbox 360 when it is released on the market come the end of the year?
In our initial opinion, we have to say no. Not yet, anyway - especially considering that the Xbox One won't support Xbox 360 games due to lack of backward compatibility. That's right, Microsoft announced shortly after the launch that the architecture differences between the two machines are just too great for the new Xbox to play any previously purchased Xbox 360 games. Just imagine if Apple announced a new iPad and then revealed that all of your apps won't work on it? We can't imagine that would go down well.
Nevertheless, the Redmond firm has sold 76 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide since its release, outselling the original Xbox three times over, so Microsoft's existing games console is certainly still a very popular device and will most probably remain so for a long time to come. That should ensure that games developers will be creating more new game titles for Microsoft's second Xbox games console for a while yet before the transition to the Xbox One truly begins.
It wasn't just the lack of backwards compatibility for the Xbox 360 games format that we found disappointing when Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One console. We were also underwhelmed by the Xbox One's design.
Bulky, black, and pretty boring in appearance; the Xbox One has more in common with Microsoft's first generation console than what we had expected. That is, we expected an innovative and futuristic next generation machine. As with its name, the Xbox One's rectangular chassis is certainly not the most rousing console design we've seen and, joining most Xbox fans on Twitter, we found ourselves largely unimpressed by the machine and Microsoft's choice of colour and boxy design.
The Xbox One controller also gave us nothing to shout about, and appears to be the same design as the Xbox 360 button-basher. That said, games console customers, as with the market in general, are reluctant to embrace change and probably would despair at the thought of Microsoft changing its controller ergonomics from what they have grown to love on the Xbox 360.
We'd have to say the most exciting aspect of the Xbox One launch is the updated 'close the curtains and wave your arms around console add-on', the Kinect. Redesigned to offer HD 1080p video resolution, the Xbox One Kinect has some pretty impressive, albeit rather creepy, new features.
For starters, it no longer requires manual log on, so the user can just bark "Xbox on" at the console and the machine boots up instantly. SVP of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment business Yusef Mehdi showed off the device on stage at the launch last night, demonstrating how it can recognise a gamer and launch them directly into their last game saved.
Along with these features though comes one slightly unnerving feature, in that the Kinect is always on and listening to what's happening in the room around it. Microsoft persistently touts privacy as its "top priority", so we see this as a rather odd decision and quite worrying that our personal conversations might be recorded by a device that's linked to the world wide web.
However, Xbox One Live update is another exciting aspect. Microsoft has updated its servers from 15,000 on the Xbox 360 to 300,000, meaning the Xbox One will enable bigger in-game matches for more players. Also new to Xbox Live is an in-game DVR for capturing moments and editing and uploading them. We can imagine that this will enabl much more creativity in the gaming community and we're really looking forward to seeing how users take advantage of this tool.
Despite its rather dull design, the Xbox One does promise some exciting new features. Our problem is that there is nothing really groundbreaking about it. An updated Kinect camera, new entertainment features such as a built-in TV guide, all packaged in a bulky box, are these additions things that the Xbox 360 could not have been updated to add? Yes, the internal processing capabilities have seen a major boost, but we were left feeling the Xbox One lacks any truly revolutionary features, something new we've never seen before.
As for the Xbox One's video gaming and rendering abilities, this is something we'll have to wait and try out for ourselves. Though video comparison between Call of Duty: Ghosts, which Microsoft demoed at the launch event last night, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for the Xbox 360 showed marked differences, we're left wondering whether that alone will really be enough to warrant spending the £399 asking price of the Xbox One when Microsoft releases it in the UK later this year. µ