Microsoft Unveils Xbox One, Ramps Up Restrictions
Microsoft's new console, the Xbox One, will function as a comprehensive entertainment center.
It's been almost a decade since the Xbox 360 debuted in 2005, marking the beginning of the current console generation. By the end of the year, the era of the 360 will be over: Microsoft has announced the Xbox One, its competitor in the next console war with Nintendo's Wii U and Sony's PlayStation 4.
In an event today (May 21) at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, a slew of Microsoft employees expounded on the various features that the Xbox One will possess. While the system will deliver a number of new games, the event focused primarily on the device's media possibilities for TV, movies and Internet browsing.
The Xbox One itself is a sleek-looking, angular black system with a Blu-ray disc drive, 8 gigs of RAM and USB 3 connectivity. It's not clear what else is under the hood just yet, but it will run on the same kernel as Windows, allowing developers to leverage its power with relative ease.
Yusuf Mehdi, a senior vice president at Microsoft, demonstrated a number of Xbox One's media capabilities. The system will automatically remember your place in whatever music, movies or TV shows you watch, and will also allow you to switch between them at will.
Each device comes with an updated Kinect motion-control peripheral which allows simple voice commands (such as "Xbox, go home" to return to the home screen, or "Xbox, 'Star Trek'" to resume watching Mehdi's movie of choice).
In addition to accessing Netflix, Hulu and Microsoft's own streaming video service, Xbox One also seeks to integrate regular television into its interface. By issuing a "watch TV" command, Mehdi showed the audience how the Xbox One could access a guide channel and tune into networks such as NBC and SyFy.
The Xbox One's "snap mode" also allowed Mehdi to watch movies, listen to music and browse the Web simultaneously (and he even managed to more or less keep up with all three at once).
The event earned the ire of many gamers on Twitter, however, since it spent very little time actually discussing video games. What little information there was held some promise, though: Phil Spencer, the head of game publisher Microsoft Studios, promised 15 exclusive Xbox One titles within the system's first year. Of these, eight would kick off brand-new franchises.
Perhaps the most substantive game announcement was developer Remedy's "Quantum Break." Remedy earned its fame and fortune with innovative games like "Max Payne" and "Alan Wake." "Quantum Break" looks to continue its dedication to both storytelling and stylish action gameplay, portraying characters who are able to manipulate time and witness enormous catastrophes, including a ship crashing into a bridge. [See also: 10 Hottest Games for 2013]
The biggest news from the event concerned Microsoft's flagship "Halo" series, although it had nothing to do with a new game announcement. Nancy Tellem from Xbox Entertainment Studios is one of the minds behind expanding Microsoft's presence in television. "Xbox is about to become the next watercooler," she said, then brought out the evidence for her case.
A new live-action "Halo" TV show will debut on Xbox One, with none other than acclaimed director Steven Spielberg acting as executive producer. Spielberg appeared remotely to affirm his love for video games and his hope that "Halo" would prove a rich world for stories beyond the existing games and novels.
The event closed with a trailer from the newest "Call of Duty" game, entitled "Ghosts." Rather than relive World War II or focus on the conflict in the Middle East, "Call of Duty: Ghosts" imagines a scenario 10 years after the fall of the United States where its last surviving special forces must band together.
In addition to sophisticated character models for the soldiers, "Ghosts" sparked a spirited discussion all across Twitter about its motion-captured German shepherd (one of the first-ever female characters in the series, to boot). The loveable pup already has her own parody account: @collarduty.
Although the system possesses ambitious specs and some tantalizing game tidbits, the Xbox One also introduces some very restrictive digital rights management (DRM) measures. Wired reports that the system will require users to install games to the system's hard drive, effectively linking one game with one account. Each additional account will require users to pay a fee.
This practice will make renting games, borrowing games from friends, buying used games or even sharing a game between family members much more expensive than it used to be, if not impossible. Microsoft has also confirmed that the Xbox One will not be compatible with original Xbox or Xbox 360 titles.
The system will be out before the end of the year, although a specific price and release date are not available yet. For those still hoping to hear more about games, Microsoft will share more information at next month's E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles. Then, the next console war can begin in earnest.
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