But in many ways, the Xbox One's bold direction for the future is well in place. The integration of voice controls and its media strategy are a boon to everyone, and the ability to run apps while playing games is something we now want on every gaming console we have. That it has a handful of strong, exclusive games at launch only supports its legitimacy as a gaming console and not just an entertainment hub.
The Xbox One is an impressive marriage of software and hardware that raises the bar in terms of what we expect from a living-room machine. Looking forward more than it looks back, the Xbox One feels like it's from the future.
Microsoft has taken its share of criticism regarding Xbox One, including many of its policies regarding used game sales and privacy concerns. Most of those decisions have been reversed, thankfully, and what we're left with is a solid next-generation console that unifies your gaming, movie and television watching under one voice-controlled roof. Now, let's see which platform gets the best games.
The Xbox One may not be exactly what Microsoft thinks it is, but it's still a strong start for a powerful game console. Its sheer speed, versatility, horsepower and its ability to turn on and off with words make it a relatively seamless entry into our already crowded media center. What determines whether it stays there is the next 12 months: Exclusives like Titanfall and Quantum Break will help, as will gaining feature parity with the competition (we're looking at you, game broadcasting!). For broader success beyond just the early adopter's living room, the NFL crowd must buy in to Microsoft's $500 box. But will they? That remains to be seen. What's there so far is a very competent game box with an expensive camera and only a few exclusive games differentiating it from the competition.
"Ryse" tries to incorporate voice commands as well. At times, you're expected to orally order your legions to charge the enemy or block incoming attacks. But you can accomplish the same things by pressing buttons, which I resorted to after the troops ignored my shouts a few times.
And therein lies the test for Microsoft's Kinect-centric strategy. I've been using the Kinect to explore the Xbox One's menus — but when I'm immersed in a game, it feels more like a gimmick.
However you decide to control it, though, the Xbox One is a versatile, powerful machine that should be able to deliver inventive high-definition games for a long time. Between it and the PlayStation 4, the new generation of gaming is off to a roaring start.
For now, the Xbox One is one impressive living room box machine—and it more than justifies its $500 dollar price with the inclusion of at least $100-worth of set-top boxitude—but you're going to be better off waiting for a little while to see how things shake out.
But—and this is admittedly a sizable but—if the Xbox One can straighten the few little quirks it has with some software tweaks, this thing is going to be unstoppable in a way the PS4 could never touch. It's too versatile, too feature-ridden, too future. So wait, yes. But while you do, go ahead and start clearing out plenty of space underneath your television.
Based on our early impressions, however, keeping the console on when watching TV is a double-edged sword — while it's incredibly convenient to have everything come through a single interface, you need to get the entire family on board for it to make sense. I'm guessing that gamers who are already waving their hands around to feed virtual giraffes and screaming "FIRE VOLLEY" at imaginary Roman soldiers are earlier adopters than some of their loved ones.
That said, Microsoft is bringing enough to the living room experience — Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, a great-looking new version of Skype, a full Web browser, and many of Microsoft's other services — that centralizing the entire living room ecosystem makes sense.
How does it all add up? Like the legions of gamers that flocked to pick up the PlayStation 4 last week, I admired Sony's new console because of its incredible promise. Microsoft, on the other hand, has already begun to deliver on the promises it made with the Xbox One.
Our pre-release Xbox One won’t be exactly the same as the box you’ll get on 22 November, but it’s damn close, we’ve been told. If your Xbox One is anything like ours, that launch day patch is of paramount importance; we weren’t able to use our console for anything until an update was accessed, downloaded and installed.
On the whole the Xbox One is a powerful machine with a gorgeous, easy to use interface. Microsoft marketed it as an all-in-one type device, and they weren’t wrong; we’ve got our Foxtel plugged into the unit for TV, and also managed to do away with our Blu-ray player so it wasn’t taking up additional (and valuable) inputs on our display. It handles movies, music and apps with ease, and also does video games damn well too, as you can see in our Xbox One launch game reviews.
Granted, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s hard not to fall in love with the Xbox One once it’s in your home. Say hi to Kinect for us.
I admire what Microsoft is trying to do with the Xbox One, and I'm rooting for them to give their console that final push to get it to where it needs to be. The whole thing is almost there. The Kinect almost works well enough to get me to use it all the time. The TV integration is almost smooth enough to make me plug it into the heart of my living-room setup. Multitasking almost works well enough to get me checking the internet while I play games.
The skeptic in me says that while many technology manufacturers seem hell-bent on making the next great convergence device, technology tends to diverge. New devices are more likely to take on a role we didn't know we wanted (e.g. people now own a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet) instead of pulling together multiple roles we didn't realize could be combined. Successful convergence devices like the iPhone will forever inspire others to swim upstream, attempting to replicate a one-in-a-million success. Will our living rooms ever be governed by a single device? And if so, will that device be the Xbox One
The verdict. A new console may live or die based on its initial games, and here is where the Xbox One trumps the PlayStation 4. Both Ryse and Forza Motorsportare the kind of graphical showcases that should move consoles throughout the holiday season.
Microsoft and Sony are positioning their consoles as multi-purpose entertainment hubs for the living room, and some consumers may make their decision simply based on price. (After all, the PlayStation 4 is $100 less.) But if Microsoft can iron out some performance quirks around voice recognition and Snap, the decision won't be too hard: it's far easier to glimpse the future potential in the Xbox One, starting with 10 seconds of time and the simple two-word voice command: "Xbox on."