After months of speculation about what the successor to the Xbox 360 might be, the curtain has finally been pulled back on Microsoft’s new “all-in-one” entertainment system, the Xbox One.
During a one-hour press conference recently that live-streamed from Redmond, Wash., Microsoft introduced the world to its latest technological wonder.
Here are some of the highlights from the Xbox press conference.
Unlike Sony, which has so far kept the PS4 hardware tightly under wraps, Microsoft seemed eager to show off its retro-futuristic black box.
The new casing completely ditches the hourglass shape of the Xbox 360 in favor of a very rectangular, two-toned design with a deep front panel chamfer.
Marc Whitten, chief product officer at Microsoft, ran through some of the hardware specs, saying that the Xbox One will have a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, HDMI in and out, USB 3.0 ports and about 5 billion transistors in total.
It will also feature 8 GB of Ram (identical to the PS4) and 500 GB of hard drive storage.
Along with the system itself, a new Xbox One controller was unveiled. According to Whitten, the new controller boasts “40 technical and design innovations,” including a complete ergonomic overhaul and “dynamic impulse triggers” that allow game developers to program feedback directly into the controller.
The Xbox One controller is designed to work in tandem with both Microsoft’s SmartGlass and the newly integrated Kinect motion sensor.
Voice and motion control
One of the most noticeable features of the Xbox One is the voice control. Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, took to the stage to demonstrate how the new system is able to instantly recognize a user’s voice and take the user to a personalized home screen just by saying the phrase “Xbox on.”
Mehdi went on to demonstrate an array of capabilities using the voice control, including “instant switching” between media. With simple voice commands like “Go to Internet Explorer” or “Go to music,” Mehdi was able to cycle through different content, including live TV, as quickly as someone changing channels with a remote.
Similarly, users will be able to control the Xbox using universal gestures such as swiping a hand to change screens.
Mehdi also demonstrated something called “snap mode.” Essentially, this new feature will allow users to run multiple programs simultaneously and arrange them in windows on the TV screen, such as Skyping while watching a movie or checking out a favorite sports team’s stats without missing part of a live game.
Interactive TV and a live-action “Halo” series
“For the first time,” said Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, “you and your TV are going to have a relationship.”
Part of that promise involves interactive TV watching experiences — something that, according to Nancy Tellem, head of Microsoft Studios, will radically change the way stories are told.
"Until now the TV viewing experience has been a one-way street for the viewer," Tellem said. "Now, that's about to change. TV on the Xbox will immerse you, enable you to virtually jump into the action."
Details regarding exactly what kinds of interactivity the Xbox One will allow were not given, but Microsoft already has one big property lined up to make use of the new features: a live-action “Halo” series executive produced by Steven Spielberg. (Halo video games carry an "M" rating for mature.)
Speaking by way of video feed, the acclaimed director commented on the evolution of gaming over the last four decades since he first played “Pong” in 1974, adding that, "For me, the 'Halo' universe is an amazing opportunity to be at the intersection where technology and storytelling meet.”
The “Halo” series will be a joint production between Spielberg and Microsoft’s 343 Industries, which previously produced the 90-minute Web series “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.”
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.