Xbox One Review - A Look Into The Future

After a weekend with the Xbox One I feel I've had adequate time to review most of the systems features. To start, when you pull the Xbox One out of the box you notice one thing, it is big. Yet, despite this, it fits nicely underneath the TV stand and almost disappears in the shadows. 

When you first turn on the Xbox One, you are greeted with the Day One update. This downloaded within minutes for me and restarted the console a few times. When I finally got to the initial setup screen, I realized that the Xbox One didn't just want to be a gaming machine. It asks you to set up TV integration.

This will be a theme of the review. The Xbox, unlike the Playstation 4, does not just focus on being a portal to play games. It aspires to something greater than just being a game console. It wants to be the future of how entertainment is served.

Over the past several months, Microsoft has touted their consoles entertainment capabilities, of which there are several. It has an HDMI passthrough, which is there to take in your cable box's input. While many may think this is a small thing, this actually gives clues to where Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be positioned in consumers minds.

I've always wanted a unified interface for all my content and the Xbox One is the solution. Switching between various inputs for Blu-ray, TV, and games feels like a dated experience after using an Xbox One. With it you can switch to your television by either pulling up the Smart Guide or simply telling your Xbox to "Go to TV". This brings you straight to what you were previously watching.

On top of that, the new Smart Guide allows you to select favorite channels and easily switch to them. Some thought that the methods that Microsoft went to to allow this were clunky. Kinect blasts IR signals off of the walls to change the channels. This actually works flawlessly from what I've experienced. The channels switch almost instantly. 

Going into more of the interface, the Xbox One dashboard is redesigned with less clutter and ads. You can pin your favorite applications and games to a pin section. Also, it keeps the recently used apps and games along the bottom row of dashboard tiles. A large tile to the left is your profile and friends. This has a very twitter-like feed of information. Anything your friends do is listed in this app. If they gain an achievement or record an awesome video it will appear here.

This social aspect is great, but sadly is not integrated with the ability to post things to Twitter or Facebook, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Some may want it, but I don't mind keeping my gaming habits to my gaming friends. Overall, the social aspect of the system is optimal.

Another feature of the new interface is the ability to snap apps to the side of your screen as you do various things. You can snap Internet Explorer and view Twitter as you game, if you want. You can watch TV while playing a game or my favorite: watch TV while watching Netflix. While watching TV with TV snapped is ridiculous, it shows how this feature can be used.

Before I get to games, I want to talk about Kinect. It is leaps and bounds better than the original. The field of view is wide enough to see you within a few feet. No longer do you need to move furniture to gain at least ten feet of free space like you did for the last one. The tracking is more accurate than ever.

I used Xbox Fitness to do Insanity and not once did it lose track of how I was doing the exercises. I remember with the old Kinect, I would get frustrated as it would say, "get in sync with the instructor", even when I was in sync. Not once did I have those sorts of frustrations. This was the Kinect that the original dreamt of being.

Not only is it better visually, but the voice features are heavily improved. At first, it would not listen to my commands. Then I found out, that I wasn't giving the right commands. It doesn't give you any leeway with variations on commands, so you have to learn them. Once I did, it hardly ever missed anything I told it to. Some of my most used commands are:

  • Xbox, volume up
  • Xbox, volume down
  • Xbox Pause
  • Xbox Play

I used these commands all the time and very rarely did Kinect not understand me. A few times I had to repeat myself, but 80% of the time it did as I said. I expect it will only get better after being in the wild for a while. Microsoft is sure to be updating it to improve accuracy over the next few months. Even so, I don't have many issues with it at this time.

Now, if you've noticed, I still haven't talked about games and there is a reason for that. The Xbox One is not a game console. There I said it. It doesn't want to be restricted to that single function. The Xbox One is really what the name suggests -- the one box you need.

Now, to delve into gaming, I played Ryse: Son of Rome, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Battlefield 4. The first game I put in was Ryse. This game is a visual treat.

I remember back during the Xbox 360 launch, we would see pre-rendered scenes that awed us. But back then we could only dream of a day in which games looked that realistic. Well, that day has come with Ryse. In the beginning cinematic, I expected it to be pre-rendered as I watched it. As it transitioned into gameplay, I was stunned. The cinematic was actually rendered in-game. It was the real quality of visuals.

While many people will state that the Xbox One is not as powerful as modern gaming machines, it will surely have the developer support to push visuals forward. I do have a powerful gaming machine and the Xbox One seemed to be on par with at least the Battlefield 4 PC visuals on max settings. 

Speaking of Battlefield 4, it is honestly what took up most of my time this weekend. 64 players on a map is chaotic and beautiful. There is a close quarters level called Operation Locker in which everyone starts inside of these tight corridors. Seeing 32 players running with me as we approached the enemy forces was awe-inspiring. 

As we collided in the central area of the level with 32 vs 32, it was just plain awesome. Bodies flew across the room as grenades exploded. Holes blew through walls as enemies made new pathways into the central chamber. All this mayhem was something that wasn't possible on the 360.

I am just going to go out and say that compared to Call of Duty Ghosts, Battlefield 4 is far superior, but this is a conversation for another review. I did love playing it. The levels are so dynamic as players blow down buildings, collapse roadways, and even flood a level with ten feet of water. 

The Xbox One controller is a nice evolution from the previous one. It now has rumble motors in the triggers which give an added sense of immersion. The guide button has moved up and the select and start buttons have been renamed and redesigned. The overall feel of the control is nice, just as the older one was. My favorite tweak is the trigger redesign. It is much more rounded and easier to pull. All around these small improvements make the experience more enjoyable.

To me, the Xbox One is just as good as the Playstation 4 when it comes to gaming potential. The PS4 may have a little more power, but overall it's negligible. The qualities of games are going to be pretty much equivalent throughout this generation. The big difference; however, is that the Xbox One is so much more.

The PlayStation 4 does have media features. It has Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, etc, but you can tell that that is not its focus. It will be a great gaming box, but for those of you who want something more, I feel the Xbox One will deliver. At this time, there are some small kinks in the software, which is common for new launches, but in a years time I don't think the PlayStation 4 will be easy to compare to the Xbox One. They will part ways as the PlayStation remains a game console and the Xbox One turns into a hub of all your entertainment and content consumption in the living room. It really does feel like a glimpse into the future.

Xbox One score: 9/10