Earlier this morning Microsoft lifted the embargo on press reviews of the Xbox One. I’ve been playing with final hardware and near final software for a few days now and I wanted to share some thoughts. This is by no means one of our usual thorough review jobs, just a side quest I found myself on over the past few days.

I like the look of the Xbox One. I wish it felt a little more durable, but perhaps that’s the mobile side of me speaking where materials are a bigger deal. Sitting on a stand, desk or rack from across the room the One looks clean, simple and honestly, it looks like an Xbox. The Xbox 360 was a journey into a weird sort of industrial design that was a significant departure from the original. The past couple of revisions of the 360 have moved towards sharper angles and away from the curves of the original 360. The One completes the journey back to its roots. Dare I say it almost looks like a PC, and if you crack open the chassis you’ll be reminded of the same.

I’ll start with IO on the sides and back. There’s a single USB 3.0 port on the left side of the chassis, with two more on the rear of the machine. Support for external storage is apparently on its way, as the Xbox One doesn’t allow end user upgrades of the internal 500GB hard drive. I have to say that I prefer Sony’s stance on this one.

Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band 802.11n WiFi handle Internet connectivity. I’m still shocked that the PS4 shipped with 2.4GHz only WiFi in 2013. On the AV front there’s an optical output and HDMI in/out. Kinect has its own port on the rear of the chassis and there’s an IR port as well. There’s a Kensington security slot to the right of all of the IO on the Xbox One.

The ring of light from the Xbox 360 is gone and replaced with a single, white, backlit Xbox logo on the front of the console. You’ll notice the controller position indicators are gone as well (not only from the One, but from the controllers themselves). A combination of the Kinect camera that comes with every Xbox One and IR transceivers in every controller is all you need to figure out player/controller mapping. Indeed, the Xbox One can actually log you into your appropriate Xbox Live account based on recognizing your face alone. I set the One up at my work area, so I had to awkwardly position my face in front of the Kinect camera to make the auto login work but if you’ve got a more normal setup I can see this being supremely convenient. If you live in a household with multiple Xbox users, the facial login will be one of the standout features of the new console. There’s a quick training process that you have to go through to have the console recognize your face, but after that I never had any issues with using my face to log me in. As long as I was sitting in front of the Kinect camera, I sort of forgot about needing to log in, it always just happened for me.

It’s very obvious to me that proper cooling and quiet operation were top priorities for the Xbox One. Big portions of the One’s top are covered in vents to provide air for the large fan inside. Plastic grills adorn the sides as well. The One is larger than the PlayStation 4, despite having a lower system TDP, but the chassis size is designed to keep the internals cooler and the system quieter. It’s a tradeoff we’ve seen time and time again. While I do appreciate the PS4’s size and fully expected the Xbox One to seem huge, it absolutely doesn’t in practice.

I won’t talk too much about the Xbox One’s HDMI input. I cut the cord a few years ago, so I’m not really in the best position to comment on cable TV set-top box integration with the Xbox One. What I will say is the One’s HDMI input can really be used for anything. In testing the One, I actually had my PS4 plugged in to the HDMI input and could quickly switch between consoles simply by saying “Xbox Watch TV”. The HDMI input properly (read: legally) handles HDCP content, so by default you can’t use it to circumvent the HDCP protection that’s enabled on the PS4 at launch unfortunately. The One’s HDMI output only applies HDCP to content that needs it. The dashboard, most apps and games stream through unencrypted. Unlike the PS4, the Xbox One does not support HDMI-CEC, relying instead exclusively on IR blasting to turn on your TV and cable box (if applicable).

Kinect and voice control are big parts of the Xbox One experience. Since every Xbox One comes with a Kinect in the box, developers can count on a 3D camera and always-on mic whenever they sell to an Xbox One customer. The early titles that I’ve played don’t really do a great job leveraging either of these things, but I suspect we’ll see some clever use cases in the future. I’ve never been a big Kinect user, but I did use the Xbox One’s voice control quite a bit. Just to set expectations, voice interaction with the Xbox isn’t as natural as what you’d see on an episode of Star Trek: TNG, but it’s not bad either. I found myself using voice as an augmentative interface rather than something I replaced the controller with. In fact, I typically used voice control as another pair of hands to deal with the Xbox One’s UI while I’m off doing something else. For me it was always quicker to hit the Xbox button to go home rather than telling the Xbox to go home, but for things like recording a clip of the last 30 seconds of gameplay the voice integration is irreplaceable. More than a few times I’d be particularly proud of something I did in Killer Instinct or Call of Duty, call out Xbox, record that, and it would immediately dump the last 30 seconds of gameplay into a temporary buffer. All of this would happen with no impact to game frame rate or performance. I’d just have to remember to go back into the Game DVR and actually save/commit these recordings otherwise they’d eventually be overwritten if I kept going. Unfortunately Microsoft’s Upload studio, the application needed to share these recordings, won’t be available until the official launch of the console so we’ll have to wait and see how all of that turns out.

I feel like we’re heading in the right direction as far as voice recognition goes, but we’re not quite there yet. The voice integration on the One still feels awkward and doesn’t make good use of natural, conversational language. I don’t want to feel like I’m issuing commands to my console, I want to sort of ask it to do things for me in whatever way I want and to have it respond accordingly. Hey Xbox, start downloading Dead Rising 3 and I want to play Battlefield 4 in the meantime - get me there and we’re in business.

One feature I absolutely loved using the Kinect camera for was to read QR codes to activate downloads in the Xbox Store. Recognition is extremely quick and it keeps me from having to type on the miserable on-screen keyboard (with no word suggestions like the PS4 nonetheless).

Those concerned about their privacy will be happy to know that Kinect isn’t required for use. You can boot the console and use it just fine even if you never connect Kinect. While at the dashboard you will get a little message telling you that Kinect is unplugged however.

The UI and Multitasking

The Xbox UI is much improved over its predecessor. Multitasking is no longer a painful endeavor. You can quickly move between playing a game, changing settings or even messing around with other applications. If anything, the most visible feature of the next-generation of game consoles is just how much better multitasking is. On the Xbox 360 if you wanted to mess around with any console settings while in a game you’d have to physically quit the game, and in some cases even log out of Xbox Live. With the One it’s all a matter of suspend and resume. It’s quick, unobtrusive and tremendously less frustrating.

Multitasking is also far less of a performance hog than on the 360. For starters the One has a ton of x86 cores to handle multitasking (8 total, I believe 2 of which are dedicated to OS work), and it’s now running two independent OSes with a hypervisor managing both. The results are quite evident. If you’re coming from a 360, you’ll appreciate better graphics in games today, but you’ll probably love the fact that you no longer have to fight the UI as much.

It’s not all roses though. I can definitely get the UI to drop frames, particularly when using the One’s new snap feature that lets you display two things on the screen at once. GPU power is time sliced between the the Windows kernel and Xbox OS (10% allocated to the Windows kernel). Microsoft hopes to eventually offer that remaining 10% up to game developers as well, but we’re not there yet. The time slice is quite obvious when you’re playing a game and Xbox notifications slowly animate at the bottom of the screen. When things do get sluggish however, the One mostly seems to drop UI frames and avoids increasing response time. I always dreaded doing anything while playing a game on the 360, the same is no longer true on the One.

The Xbox One’s UI isn’t always incredibly straightforward either. It’s good that Microsoft has been able to so quickly embrace and deploy a common UI across all platforms, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily the best UI out there. There’s a large horizontal list of tiles, reminiscent of Windows 8. You can pin individual tiles to the left side of the dashboard, and depending on what screen you’re in the order of the tiles may vary depending on what you’ve done most recently. Transitions between tiles are also a bit odd. I expect to go into a tile when I select it, but in most cases the display will scroll up, transitioning to a new “window” when I activate a tile. The other thing I’d say is the tiled interface isn’t particularly pretty. Go into the movie, music or game stores and you get these beautifully integrated photos and artwork, but the bulk of what you stare at in the Xbox One UI are big blocks of color. I would’ve loved to have seen a more dramatic reimagining of what this could be (although it’s still worlds better than the Xbox 360’s UI).

The Controller

The Xbox One supports up to 8 wireless controllers, one of which is included in the box. By default the controllers take two AA batteries, although Microsoft will offer optional first party rechargeable batteries at launch. I didn’t get time to build a good battery life test for the One’s controllers, but Microsoft tells me you should expect somewhere around 30 hours of use on a single set of AAs.

The new controller is a clear evolution of the 360’s controller. There are three features that stood out to me in using the controller. For starters, the amount of initial resistance in each thumbstick has been dialed back considerably. The new thumbsticks are easier to use and less fatiguing as a result. Secondly, the new d-pad ditches the silly old platform that the old d-pad rested on. Instead you get a standard plus-arrangement. Each direction is accompanied by a shallow but pronounced click. It’s great for using the d-pad for issuing commands, but for fighting games I’d prefer something a little softer rather than discrete clicks. I feel like Microsoft likely picked the right tradeoff here as the days of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct are long behind us, despite the latter making another appearance on the One.

The final improvement to the controller is the inclusion of what Microsoft is calling impulse triggers. The One’s controller features a total of four vibrating motors, one in each grip and one in each of the two big triggers (LT/RT). For games that choose to implement it, impulse trigger support is awesome. You get a subtle rumble that’s very focused on the triggers rather than your whole controller vibrating like crazy. I feel like force feedback in controllers is obviously here to stay, but it’s rarely used in a particularly subtle fashion. Instead what you normally run into is short bursts of feedback or long, agonizing vibration. NBA 2K14 appears to use the impulse triggers and the result is something in between, and something I really did appreciate.

For the first time since the introduction of the Xbox, Microsoft has done away with the back/start buttons and instead replaced them with view and menu buttons. They more or less serve the same functions, it’s just interesting to me how every major generation we come across an obvious desire to ditch select/start.

 

Performance - An Update
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  • PhatTran - Friday, November 22, 2013 - link

    My sincere advice is you should buy a PS4 now. Why? You can see here: http://lovingtheclassicsreviewsite.net/trend/6-rea... Reply
  • lilkwarrior - Friday, November 22, 2013 - link

    It is a shame hearing about the reported use of SATAII and the lack of 802.11ac from both consoles.

    Given some of the title of the game are over 40GB in size, something tells me that'll need to be addressed with the inevitable XboxOne Slim and PS4 slim models that'll come out about 2-3 years from now.

    Especially Microsoft odd stance on not allowing the hard drive to be removed. PS4 wireless limitations are sort of an odd decision given the stigma of their PSN network being slower and unresponsive; any help from the hardware to be at current standards and future-proof.

    Excluding China obviously, some of the fastest broadband infrastructures in the world (i.e. South Korea) are based in Asia. I would think that they would have at least took Microsoft's route to have a dual-band 802.11n connections being available to them.

    It's weird that even Sony's standard phones connect and download to the internet using WiFi faster than their flagship console. It makes little sense.

    Disappointed I'll have to wait this gen out for 2-3 years. By then, hopefully the ripple effect of SteamOS, Steam Controller, G-Sync, Mantle, Oculus Rift, 4K gaming, and so on will be evident enough to even consider buying either console outside of exclusives.
    Reply
  • lilkwarrior - Friday, November 22, 2013 - link

    *any help from the hardware to be at least accommodate common American wireless speeds and be a bit more future-proof would have been helpful to improve the perception of PSN for Sony. Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, November 22, 2013 - link

    In the Gravity demo, 0:02s in. It was interesting to see the difference in the astronaut falling.

    To me, it appeared that the 360 had higher contrast, but there were also other inconsistencies. A black bar ran across the leg of another astronaut in the scene -- I suspect this was debris -- but more notably the 360's face shield was blacked out, whereas the XB1 showed the astronaut's full face.

    In terms of quality, due to the higher contrast, it actually seemed like the 360 won out there. However, as expressed, in all the other scenes despite brighter lighting, the XB1 had much better detail and noticeable edges -- the 360 was much softer and less defined.

    What I don't understand is the naming convention. Why XB1? It's not the first XBox,
    Reply
  • Blaster1618 - Friday, November 22, 2013 - link

    No Minecraft yet on PS4, thats a deal breaker for our family. I want to drive a Mclaren P1. Reply
  • blitzninja - Saturday, November 23, 2013 - link

    All this talk about specs and even the "higher spec console loses the war" non-sense is so stupid, just stop.

    You guys here on AnandTech need to realize that you live in your own little bubble and while you may know a lot about the consoles, the casual consumer market (which makes up most people) have different priorities. So why did Nintendo products beat it's competitors with the Wii while having horrible specs? The experience.

    Yes, there is a performance difference between the PS4 and the XO but what really matters is how the console feels and does what people want it to do. This is where the Wii comes in (the Wii U was a flop because they actually went backwards in this regard). Most of the console market is made up of casual gamers. Casual gamers like to invite their friends over and have a LAN party or party game, play with their family (this includes younger audiences), watch movies together and play music at times. The Wii dominated the market because of it's new control interface(s) that added the missing point to this market, it was extremely versatile and made playing it all that more fun than the other consoles.

    This is why Nintendo didn't really beef up the Wii U, they just added the extra power to allow for more advanced and precise gesture computation.

    So why isn't the Wii U dominating again? Well for starters, most people who have a Wii are satisfied with it and are not out to buy a new one, the Wii U doesn't add anything spectacular that would make the majority of it's target market want to upgrade.

    The reason the higher spec console ended up losing is because when the company developed the console, they focused their resources on the performance and as a result cut back on the usability and experience aspect. But that isn't necessarily the case, it all depends on what the focus experience of the console is (the market) and how well polished that experience is.

    If Microsoft want's to win the war it needs to pander to the needs of the casual market, not to say it should copy Nintendo but it has another market. The all-in-one market, that is to say make the XO a future PVR, set-top-box, media/streaming centre. Replace the HTPC with a low cost alternative. Most descent HTPCs fall into the $500-$700 market for those who want some light gaming too. The XO would absolutely destroy this market with the proper hardware and software support. Being a console for mid-high end gaming while still being a multimedia powerhouse that does a multitude of things. This includes the voice recognition, a killer feature, if done right.

    If I could say "latest episode of the walking dead" or some other show and it worked, then gg Sony, you just got rolled.

    @AnandTech: Fix your forum/comment software, not having an edit button is really annoying
    Reply
  • Hixbot - Sunday, November 24, 2013 - link

    The Wii dominated sales at first, they captured a market of casual gamers that otherwise wouldn't have a bought a console. That market didn't buy many games, attach rate and they grew tired of the Wii, with all the smartphone and Facebook games etc.
    The Wii sales slumped, and in the end, x360 and PS3 each surpassed it in total by 2012.
    For us hardcore gamers who also are Nintendo fans, the Wii was bought but it then left a bad taste in our mouths. The outstanding titles were few and far between, and the rest was shovelware. True motion control never really materialized in many games, most just made use of a "waggle" gimmick.
    Wii-u comes out, casual gamers have already moved on, and the hardcores are reluctant to jump into another gimmick "tablet" just for the Nintendo software.

    Disclosure: As a big N fan, I bought a wii-u for the Nintendo 1st party titles. Others like me are the only people buying this thing.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Saturday, November 23, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the mini-review, much appreciated! Some interesting technical information no doubt.

    Personally I'm more keen on the PS4, primarily due to having good experiences with Sony equipment in general as well as the price. We currently have a Sony BluRay player (the BDP-470S) and I'd have loved to replace it with a gaming-capable alternative (that also does Netflix) but alas that's unlikely unless Sony can squeeze in CD, MP3 and most importantly DLNA support in the machine.

    Anyway, I'm also concerned about the sound levels of the machines as I have quite sensitive ears and I find even my current BluRay player to be something of a hair dryer when playing back discs. BD discs in particular.
    Reply
  • ol1bit - Saturday, November 23, 2013 - link

    That was an awesome mini review! One of the best review's I've read about these new titans.

    'm really surprised that 8 year old 360 hardware is as close as it is! A tad old now, but a great book to read on the old hardware is "The Race for a New Game Machine". This book really shows how MS pulled some fast ones on Sony and ended up with the better plan.

    This time looks like Sony really kept everything under wraps better and has at least a slight upper hand. There is no way MS can make it's hardware better/faster at this point. Good Enough? Maybe...Time will tell.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Saturday, November 23, 2013 - link

    It's funny that those 'next gen' consoles are actually on par with some gaming laptops and nothing better. PC is the best gaming console again. Reply

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