Will the Xbox One Be the Center of Your Home Theater?
The Xbox One can seamlessly switch between playing a game or streaming a movie on Netflix and watching TV thanks to HDMI passthrough. Voice and gesture controls can be used to display the program guide or to tune into a specific show or TV channel. Ask the Xbox One "what's on HBO?" and the channel guide will highlight HBO. You can tune to a specific channel or show by saying its name ("watch NBC" or "watch Survivor") and use up/down hand gestures to scroll through channels while in the program guide. Gestures can also be used for scrolling on Web pages in Internet Explorer and for pinching and stretching pictures, windows, and pages in tablet-like fashion.
The brains behind gesture control is Microsoft's Kinect sensor, which "sees" your body and tracks movements during game play or when you're using gestures to scroll through TV channels. While the current Kinect sensor does a decent job of following gestures, Microsoft redesigned the new Kinect to do a better job of sensing detail, even in the dark.
At the press conference, Microsoft demonstrated Kinect's improved sensitivity to detail. The new sensor can see the hair on your chest or the stitches on your buttonholes and even detect what's going on under your skin. It knows when you are contracting your abs, standing off-balance, or jumping in the air. It can also determine the direction of a jab and how much force is behind it. Most remarkably, the Kinect can detect changes in your face that are imperceptible to the human eye and measure your heart rate for fitness games. While the improved sensitivity to detail will be most advantageous in games, it should also help with more accurate gesture control.
The original Kinect sensor had a VGA camera for facial recognition and was used in a few games for video capture. The new Kinect sensor has a high-definition camera that is used for recognition and to view the world pictorially, which means the camera can be used for apps like Skype video conferencing (new to Xbox). With the extreme wide-angle capabilities of the camera, everyone in the room can now have a conversation with friends and family that live far away.
If you want to control the Xbox One in a more traditional manner, you can use the Xbox game controller or SmartGlass on your smartphone or tablet to control your TV. However, don't throw away your remotes just yet. There was no mention of basic home theater controls such as volume, input selection, and so forth.
Another new feature is "Snap." Similar to the split screen in Windows 8 for computers, Snap displays a sidebar alongside the main screen so you can keep an eye on a baseball game while playing Halo, Google information about a TV show, or Skype with friends while watching the same show.
The Xbox One will be "always connected." Like a Roku box, it is never entirely switched off, which allows for constant updates of apps and faster startup. When you walk into the room, the console will recognize you ("Hello Dave"), sign into your Xbox accounts—including corresponding Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and other subscription accounts—and display a personalized home page so you can easily find your favorite apps and channels.
Along with the news about the Xbox One, Microsoft Studios announced plans to produce videos and a live-action TV series based on the popular video game Halo. To show that they're serious, they've recruited a producer you may have heard of: Steven Spielberg.
The improvements add much to the entertainment capabilities of Xbox. With increased power, constant updates, and the ability to track subtle body movements, we can imagine that gameplay will become even more real and exciting. Without listing all of the new features brought to the various games, I have to note one remarkable feature: Xbox One will be able to track live football games and update your Fantasy Football team stats in real time.
Sony will be releasing the PlayStation4 during the holidays with an emphasis on gaming. If the idea of a multifaceted entertainment hub appeals to you, the Xbox One might be worth a look...even if you don't play video games.