May 21, 2013 — -- Eight years after releasing the Xbox 360, Microsoft has unveiled the next generation of its gaming console, and the company seems to be making up for lost time.
The new gaming system, which it plans to release before the end of the year, is chock full of new features that go way beyond new hardware, including Skype connectivity, television integration and new ways of controlling the system with your voice and body.
"We have an ambitious vision to become the all-in-one system for every living room," Microsoft president of Interactive Entertainment Business Don Mattrick said at the Xbox event in Redmond, Wash., this afternoon. Highlighting that the Xbox is not just a gaming system anymore, Mattrick added: "We're thrilled to unveil the ultimate all-in-one entertainment system: the Xbox One."
New Powerful Console with a New Kinect
Like the PlayStation 4, which will be coming later this year as well, the Xbox One has a completely new set of hardware specifications. The console is powered by an eight-core processor, 8GB of memory, has a 500GB hard drive and a Blu-ray player, all in a freshly designed sleek new black box.
Along with that box, though, will come a new Kinect camera and sensor, which allows you to become the controller. Unlike the current Xbox 360, the Kinect will be included with every Xbox One, though Microsoft has not revealed pricing. The new Kinect has a 1080p wide-angle camera and an improved sensor that can detect slight rotations of your wrist or shoulder. It can even read your heartbeat, Microsoft says.
A Selection of Controllers
The Kinect will also allow you to control the main interface of the system with gestures; you can wave your hand to move through menus Microsoft demonstrated during the hour-long event. But the Kinect is only one of the advanced controllers for the One.
One of the standout hardware features might be the microphone on the box. Yes, a microphone. Microsoft has included new advanced voice control and commands. Say "Xbox, Go Home" aloud and it will return to the homescreen of the system. You can also say "Snap Internet Explorer" and you can bring up the browser and place it next to a game, similar to how you can snap windows next to each other in Windows 8.
Xbox's popular handheld controller is not undergoing a major design overhaul, but there are several tweaks that will help it interact with Kinect via Wi-Fi Direct, keeping track of where you are playing in the room and how you are moving your controller around. One example cited Kinect connectivity being used to create a "shield" around the player. The controller also features a redesigned d-pad for more precision and rumbling "dynamic impulse triggers."
There is one last way to control the system -- with your tablet or phone. Using Microsoft's Smartglass technology, which is enabled now on the current Xbox 360, you can swipe through the interface on the TV right from your personal device.
Skype and TV Content
Beyond using a tablet to navigate, the Xbox One is an extension of the tablet. In addition to bringing over some Windows 8-like functionality, it has integrated Skype right into Xbox, complete with video calling. There is also new app functionality. For instance, an ESPN app will alert you to your fantasy player stats while playing a game.
But beyond all that, the Xbox is very much trying to be the new TV platform.
"Until now, the TV viewing experience has been a one-way viewing experience for the viewer," Nancy Tellem, Microsoft's president of Entertainment & Digital Media, said on stage. "Now that is about to change."
The One will connect to your cable box, bring in your TV listings, and provide personalized suggestions. Microsoft says it will also overlay a social experience with that TV content as well, allowing the Xbox to become the "next watercooler."
In addition to that network or cable TV content, Microsoft is also making a big play into its own content. The company announced that it is working with the NFL on video content and a live-action Halo TV series created directed by Steven Spielberg, which will be available only through the Xbox platform.
"I've been playing games for decades," Spielberg said via a video broadcast at the event. "I'm incredibly excited about the journey we are all on and the wonderful adventures Halo will take us on."
Games and the Coming Competition
And yes, there are games too. Andrew Wilson of EA Sports took the stage to announce that the Xbox One will be ushered in with new titles from FIFA, Madden, MMA and NBA franchises under a new game engine: EA Sports Ignite. EA boasted an "animation fidelity" 10 times greater than its previous engines allowed.
Phil Spencer of Microsoft Game studios showcased sharp footage from "Forza Motorsport 5," to be available at launch, and introduced "Quantum Break," an original IP that featured a mix of live-action and in-game footage. "Quantum Break" was just the tip of the Microsoft studio's original-IP-iceberg, as Spencer revealed that Xbox Studios is investing in original franchises to the tune of delivering 15 new games and eight new properties via the Xbox One.
So what will be ready later this year for the true start of the next great console war? Gadget website T3 reports that there will be "10 to 15 gaming titles at launch." Nintendo's Wii U launched with 23 games last year, but has hit a dry spell since while Sony claims that its PlayStation 4 line-up later this year will be "stronger than any prior PlayStation hardware."
But that competition might not matter, some analysts say.
"This might be the first game console consumers buy not for games, but as a way to control many forms of entertainment," Avi Greengart, Research Director of Consumer Devices, told ABC News. "It looks like Microsoft is aiming for a converged and integrated usable television experience. That said, we don't know how much this costs and there are also big questions about how it will integrate with cable and TVs."