Microsoft Xbox One Game Console

PRICE $499

Involving gameplay and graphics
Powerful Smart TV features
Wide range of remote control options
Features may be overkill for some
No DVR control

Microsoft’s next-gen console is a home entertainment powerhouse. Games, movies, music—it’s got it all.

Microsoft wants to take over the living room. OK, maybe that premise isn’t exactly new. About 10 years ago, tech pundits used the same words when discussing the Windows Media Center PC, an all-in-one solution that combined computing and home entertainment in a big, ungainly box. You don’t hear much about Microsoft’s Media Center PC ambitions anymore. What you do hear about is the Xbox One, the latest version of the company’s successful game console. And yes, Microsoft still wants to take over the living room, except now they plan to do so through the Xbox One.

What does the new console have going on besides gaming? Quite a lot. Unlike its predecessor, the Xbox 360, it can play Blu-rays along with DVDs and CDs. And its streaming apps selection includes Xbox Video and Xbox Music, two services packed with enough content to easily rival other online portals such as iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Spotify.

The Xbox One’s most transparent play for your living room, however, is its cable box integration. Many of the old Media Center PCs had a slot to insert a CableCARD to get programming from your cable provider. But the new Xbox keeps things simple by providing an HDMI input to pass through the HDMI output of a cable/satellite box or DVR. When connected, the console can download your program provider’s data to fill its OneGuide EPG, letting you browse and select channels using a range of different remote control options (more on those in a bit). And with an 8-core processor powering that and other functions, guide-browsing on the Xbox One is lightning-fast: It clocked in at twice the speed of my TiVo DVR.

I bought an Xbox 360 with Kinect a few years back so my, ahem, kids could play games. Compared with the 360, the One is bigger, boxier, and horizontally oriented—more like a Media Center PC than a game console. As with the 360, the One has a large external power supply. Its case is spiffier-looking, though, with ridged surfaces and a front panel that’s completely featureless except for a slot-loading disc drive and a capacitive-touch power button. All considered, the One’s appearance is understated enough that it wouldn’t look out of place in an AV rack (as the 360 does).

The console has a single USB 3.0 port located on the left side and two more around back. Note that these don’t support USB drives for storage or media playback; they’re meant for plugging in a gaming accessory like a Mad Catz Arcade FightStick—rowrr! (Support for USB storage/playback was a feature of the 360.) Other connections on the back panel include an HDMI 1.4a input and output, an optical digital audio output, an IR output, and a proprietary jack to plug in the included Kinect Sensor for motion tracking and voice control. Gamers have complained that Kinect should be an optional accessory for the One as opposed to a feature—perhaps in hope that Microsoft will lower the system’s $499 price to match Sony’s $399 PlayStation 4. But the company has stated that Kinect is integral to the Xbox One experience, and after playing around with the new console for some time, I agree.

Xtra Smart Hub
How do I begin to describe the multifaceted media hub that confronts you when you power up the Xbox One? Let’s start with a general description of its Windows 8-influenced UI. This consists of a horizontally scrolling interface with three main clusters: Home, Pins, and Store. Home has a large window that displays the currently active source (game, cable TV channel, Netflix stream, etc.) surrounded by panels with your Gamertag/avatar and related info, recently opened apps and games, and links to the Snap window—a sort of picture-in-picture feature that lets you display two sources like a TV show and a Website onscreen simultaneously.

Pins is a board where you can keep items such as frequently used games or apps, or a link to a favorite artist page on Xbox Music for quick access. Store, as you might expect, is an online portal to download Xbox games, movies/TV, and music, along with third-party apps. The console’s app selection is limited compared with what you can access on some Smart TVs, but key ones like Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus are available. There’s also Skype, which taps the abilities of Kinect’s 1080p-res camera and high-quality microphone. (Microsoft now owns Skype, so integration of that app here was obviously a big priority.)

Total Control
There are many points of entry for operating the Xbox One, starting with the included wireless controller. (Microsoft gives you only one; extras cost $60.) It’s battery-powered (an optional USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery kit is available for $25), and the controller fits snugly in both hands, works great for gaming, and has vibration feedback, though it isn’t so hot for things like handling disc playback.

Microsoft makes much of the console’s Kinect-enabled voice control, and for good reason: It works better than any other voice-activated control system I’ve tried. To do things like browse and select listings in the OneGuide TV EPG (whose three browse modes are TV Listings, Favorites, and App Channels), you speak commands like “Xbox page down” and “Xbox watch ESPN.” Of course, making this happen involves having the console operate external gear in your system, and once you go through a setup process where you enter brand names and model numbers for your components, it effectively does this by tapping Kinect to beam IR commands to your cable box, TV, and A/V receiver. I must say, I got a kick out of being able to walk into the room, say “Xbox on,” and have my entire system automatically power up. Then, when I was finished, all I had to do was say “Xbox turn off,” and everything powered down.

Did the universal control features all work perfectly? No. There’s no DVR control via OneConnect, so I had to keep my TiVo’s remote handy. Also, it became tiresome having to repeatedly say “Xbox volume up” to boost system volume in half-decibel increments. (Samsung’s Smart TVs give you the option to jump to a specific volume level—say, +14—using voice control.) You have to memorize a ton of commands; it’s kind of like learning to speak in code (although saying “Xbox Select” at any point calls up an onscreen list of voice commands for a specific activity). Otherwise, voice control worked well enough that I found myself regularly using it for most actions.

Given that motion control is the main reason for Kinect, you’d think gestures would figure more prominently in the Xbox One. You can do a few things like select items with your hand and use a grip motion to scroll horizontally or zoom in/out on certain areas of the screen. But I found that a voice command, or simply reaching for a physical controller to accomplish the same task, always seemed the better option.


jnemesh's picture

I apologize in advance to fans of MS or their consoles...but this is a TERRIBLE purchase with DEEPLY flawed design.

First, Kinect DOES NOT WORK 100% of the time! If you really want to repeat yourself over and over again, sure try the voice control. Users of Samsung's recent sets can also attest to how USELESS the voice control really is. Not to mention how much "fun" you will have when someone sees you watching TV or playing a game and randomly shouts "XBox Off!" just to annoy you. Good times!

Second. HDMI pass-through? Really? Not only does it degrade your picture and sound quality, but you STILL have to have a separate cable box! Where is the "Media Center Extender" functionality? Not here. (but present in the older Xbox 360) Why couldn't they actually make the Xbox One have a cablecard and work as a DVR? This is half baked technology here.

Third, IR control functionality is limited. No learning capability, not a complete IR set. Have an older or more obscure TV or surround sound processor? Forget about having it controlled by the XB1! No support either for adjusting delay times or other adjustments to macros...and most damning of all, no discrete codes for power on and power off! Say "Xbox On" when your TV is already on? TV turns OFF! FAIL!

Also, how do you award 5 stars to "Performance" when the less expensive Playstation 4 has BETTER PERFORMANCE!?!? The most damning thing about the Xbox One it is not as good as it's competition when performing what SHOULD be it's CORE FUNCTION...PLAYING GAMES! Argue about it all you want, but EVERY SINGLE GAME that has come out both for the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 has looked SIGNIFICANTLY better on the PS4!

I would avoid this box at all costs. It is not selling very well, and outside of exclusive titles that MS has to BUY, most developers are focusing on the PS4 this generation. "Multimedia" functionality can be replicated with a $35 Chromecast or a $99 Apple TV. STAY FAR AWAY.

notabadname's picture

So PS4 has no cable card either, where the XBox One has an HDMI pass thru and IR blaster that allows it to control your cable box by voice, and that makes the XBox worse? The system works, quite well actually, I own and use it, do you? And why is HDMI pass thru so bad? It is used in plenty of high-end receivers as well without issue. It isn't an analog signal that is going to suffer signal loss. Digital pass-thru either works or it doesn't generally. I see or hear zero defects by passing my HDMI thru my One.

The other internal components of the systems are really matched up perfectly, with only a negligible difference in RAM that is likely not noticeable between consoles due to how developers create multi-platform games such as "Call of Duty". (They are putting the same graphics resources and code into either version to simplify game development and ports to various platforms) - so if you think you are going to see some difference in a side-by-side comparison of the two consoles playing the same title, you are likely to be disappointed.

XBox currently has more streaming sources lined up, such as HBOGo, as well as their own material coming (much like Netflix and "House of Cards". The amazing Kinect (that can even monitor pulse as well as recognize all the users in the household for auto signin or tracking fitness in compatible games) is now optional if people hate it or want to pay the identical price as on a PS4 for the console minus the Kinect. And as a user posted below, the 3rd party hard drive compatibility is awesome - if you want to add a 4TB harddrive, you can next month on the One. Not with PS4, only their pricy proprietary drive is compatible to expand the console storage with.

So virtually identical core hardware, same price if you don't want a Kinect, more steaming options on the XBox, both pay-to-play live multiplayer now. They frankly sound quite equal at worst. Certainly no runaway lead by either, as you clearly seem to think. I really do wonder if you own an Xbox One? Seems unlikely based on your post. I do, since launch day, and I love it. All the features work, including voice commands. Oh and by the way, if you live in a household or environment were people would some in and say "Xbox Off" as a regular joke, you need to find a new residence. I have yet to have that happen in my home. The same pranksters could also throw the breaker that powers your entertainment, hit the "system off" button on your smart remote or randomly push power buttons as they walk by your equipment. Certainly having an home full of immature jerks is not best resolved by buying a PS4 instead of an XBox One.

Cos's picture

Really? Can you please submit this to the Video Games Forums where Fan Boy Bashing garbage posts like this belong.

notabadname's picture

I think I was pretty balanced about capabilities being well matched of the 2 consoles. I was not bashing, only countering some very slanted opinions by the OP.

Cos's picture

My apologies, it was for the first poster, and as can be seen below he continues his rant. It's unfortunate that people like that are on these review forums.

xgrifter's picture

Its $399 with out the kinect
The June update will allow the use of external Hard drives
There is a Plex app in the works

To the other commenter do you even own a xbox one

jnemesh's picture

Fanboy? No, NOTHING I said was inaccurate.

re HDMI pass through..You may not notice the degradation of picture and sound through the HDMI pass through, but it IS measurable.

Kinect? First of all, I would NEVER install a camera that is always on (it IS always on, unless you unplug it...things that are turned off in SOFTWARE can be turned ON in software!)...I would never install a camera that is always on in my bedroom or living room! Yes, I have a cell phone and tablet, neither of which have the camera facing me at all times. The NSA has ADMITTED that they were "looking into" tapping the Kinect, and it's been also confirmed that they monitor Skype. I don't invite the NSA into my home...they can pry, but I am not just going to give them the keys to my home!

Additionally, I don't have my equipment located near my TV. Even if I WANTED to use the (flawed, broken) Kinect, there is no possible way to locate my Xbox in the equipment rack and extend the PROPRIETARY connection to my TV location! So, I would either have to use TWO HDMI over cat5 extenders (expensive) or live without Kinect completely. If I am doing without Kinect, what advantage does the Xbox have over the PS4? None whatsoever. What advantage does a PS4 have over the Kinectless Xbox One? Better graphics, more powerful hardware, more games (google it if you don't believe me), and a better interface.

re PS4 not having cablecard. Unlike the Xbox One, the PS4 isn't attempting to take over your system, it's just a game has video apps, sure, but it has no pretentions of being the "One box" for everything.

Xbox vs. PS4 in GAMES...PS4 has a better GPU and faster RAM, end of story. REAL WORLD performance has the PS4 able to display most of it's games at 1080p and at high frame rates...almost all Xbox games are 720p (or 782p). If there is no difference, why do we all have 1080p sets instead of 720p sets? Sure, 720p looks good, but 1080p looks better! PS4 wins on hardware power HANDS DOWN, it's not a "subtle" difference in performance, it's something like 33% overall more powerful!

To xgrifter...why do I have to own the inferior product to know that it is indeed inferior? There are plenty of honest reviews and comparisons available online that tell me everything I need to know.