Thing of beauty: The Xbox One

Centre of attention: The launch of Microsoft’s new Xbox One 
in Washington. (Nick Adams, Reuters)

Centre of attention: The launch of Microsoft’s new Xbox One in Washington. (Nick Adams, Reuters)

It does everything. But is everything what we want?

It will, we learned: read your heartbeat; recognise and respond to your face and voice; play games, music, films, TV and Blu-ray discs; browse the internet; make Skype calls and conference calls; and, in its split-screen snap mode, do two of the above at once. Well, so what?

The Xbox One is not the first games console to claim the role of universal entertainment system.
Consoles have doubled as DVD players since the PS2 in 2000 and, in 2009, Microsoft’s rival Sony advertised its successor, the PS3, with the tagline: “It only does everything.”

So what does the Xbox One do that we haven’t seen before?

Well, a few things, but of debatable value. It uses face recognition in place of a password login, for example, which is a time saving of a few seconds at most and has the potential to be a serious faff on shared consoles. Then there’s snap mode, for doing two things at once, such as Skype calls and gaming, or watching a film and looking up the cast on IMDb.

But we can do both already with a smartphone, without interrupting the film for others. We can also pause a game when we get a phone call, because if we don’t, we’re unlikely to be at our best in either. Plus, who wants their cousins ringing in the middle of a Halo marathon or a film night? And who has ever wished their games console had a heartbeat monitor?

Five key points you need to know

1. What exactly is the Xbox One?
It’s the latest games console from Microsoft, announced at an elaborate event co-hosted in Seattle and ­London this week, and the first Xbox console to be launched by Microsoft since the Xbox 360 launched in 2005.

2. Why is this new Xbox so special?
It has tried to broaden the appeal of Xbox beyond gaming and into the living room — a kind of one-size-fits-all, web-connected device that will record live TV, play films and TV shows, play Blu-ray HD discs and even allow Skype calls. The jury’s out on whether Xbox One would be the best device to do that, or whether you should simply stick to your laptop.

3. Can you still play games?
Gamers would be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed by Xbox One, which seems so focused on being the hub for the living room that there has been little apparent innovation in the games themselves, though no doubt Microsoft is saving the juiciest games updates for E3 next month.

Added to that, Xbox 360 games aren’t compatible with the Xbox One, so dedicated gamers will have to restock — and repay for — their games library, though their gamer score will transfer. Microsoft says this is because Xbox One is designed for next-generation games that use Kinect’s facial recognition and heart-rate sensor features, for example.

4. Does Xbox One have to be connected to the internet?
Xbox One’s internet-based services mean that the console does need to get online at least once a day, but doesn’t have to be permanently connected. Microsoft says Blu-ray films and TV shows will still play if the connection drops, though Skype will not work. Games and media are stored in the cloud, so you’d need to connect to access them. Plus, Microsoft wants users to be able to synchronise games between different devices as well as share real-time activity, which will work only if those products are online.

5. When can I buy one?
No price has been announced, though it is expected to be up to £399 or $600 and it is due to launch before the end of the year. As Nintendo’s Wii U is already on the market, that just leaves Sony’s PlayStation 4 to join the party and that might also happen by the end of the year, putting Microsoft and Sony head to head for the Christmas market. — © Guardian News & Media 2013


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