The Xbox One is an upcoming video game console from Microsoft. Announced on May 21, 2013, it is the successor to the Xbox 360 and the third console in the Xbox family of consoles. The Xbox One is scheduled for release across North America, several European markets, Australia and New Zealand on November 22 2013, with later release in Japan and the remaining European markets in 2014. It will directly compete with Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo’s Wii U as part of the eighth generation of video game consoles. Microsoft and various publications have classified the device as an “all-in-one entertainment system,” making it a competitor to other home media devices such as the Apple TV and the Google TV platform.
Moving away from the PowerPC based architecture used in the Xbox 360, the console features an AMD processor built around the x86-64 instruction set. The console places an increasing emphasis on entertainment and integration with the Kinect peripheral, offering the ability to use an existing set-top box to watch live television programming (augmented by an enhanced program guide with support for voice commands), a built-in Skype client, and improved second screen support. The console also provides new functionality for use in games, such as an expanded Xbox Live service, improved Kinect functionality, cloud computing, the ability to automatically record and share video highlights from gameplay, and integrated support for live streaming gameplay online.
The console’s initial policies surrounding online connectivity requirements, mandatory integration with Kinect, and ambiguous restrictions on the resale and sharing of used games led to mixed reviews and concerns after the console’s reveal. In response to these criticisms, Microsoft announced they would be dropping all of the originally planned digital rights management and internet connection requirements, and the mandatory use of Kinect.
Xbox One at E3 2013
The Xbox One is a successor to Microsoft’s previous console, the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 was introduced in 2005 as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles, and as of June 2013, remains in production by Microsoft through after a number of small hardware revisions to reduce the unit’s size and improve its reliability. In 2010, Microsoft’s Chris Lewis stated that the 360 was about “halfway” through its lifecycle; this was aided by the introduction of the Kinect device that year which Lewis stated would extend the lifecycle by five years.
Initial hardware for the 360’s successor, commonly referred to by the industry as the “Xbox 720”, was reportedly in hands of developers as early as May 2011. The official developer kit was codenamed Durango, and appeared to be available to developers by mid-2012. Leaked documents suggested that the new console would include an improved Kinect device, cloud access to games and media, integration with phone and tablet devices, and technology to provide players heads-up displays on glasses worn by the player, codenamed “Fortaleza”; Microsoft did not comment on these reported features. Similar, leaked design documents also suggested that Microsoft was seeking to eliminate the ability to play used games, though Microsoft later clarified they were still reviewing the design and were “thinking about what is next and how we can push the boundaries of technology like we did with Kinect”, but did not comment on the validity of the information.
The console, now known as the Xbox One, was publicly unveiled on May 21, 2013 in a press conference designed to cover the unit’s broad multimedia and social capabilities. A second press event for the console was held during E3 on June 10, 2013, focusing on its video game-oriented functionality. At that time, Microsoft announced that the console would release in 21 different markets at launch, but this was later amended down to 13. The change, which pushed the release date for the other 8 markets to 2014, was attributed to unforeseen complexity in localizing the new Kinect peripheral.
The Xbox One’s exterior casing consists of a two-tone “liquid black” finish; with half finished in a matte grey, and the other in a glossier black. The Xbox One’s components were designed to evoke a more entertainment-oriented and simplified design than previous iterations of the console; among other changes, the LED rings used by the Xbox 360 are replaced by a glowing white Xbox logo used to communicate the system’s status to the user.
The Xbox One has an APU with eight x86-64 cores clocked at 1.75 GHz, based on the Jaguar architecture from AMD, and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM with a memory bandwidth of 68.3 GB/s. The memory subsystem also features an additional 32 MB of “embedded static” RAM, or ESRAM, with a memory bandwidth of 102 GB/s. Eurogamer has been told that for simultaneous read and write operations the ESRAM is capable of a theoretical memory bandwidth of 192 GB/s and that a memory bandwidth of 133 GB/s has been achieved with operations that involved alpha transparency blending. The system includes a 500 GB non-replaceable hard drive, and a Blu-ray Disc optical drive. Kotaku, Game Informer, and Gizmodo state that 3 GB of RAM will be reserved for the operating system and apps, leaving 5 GB for games. The graphics processing unit (GPU) is based on an AMD GCN architecture with 12 compute units, which have a total of 768 cores, running at 853 MHz providing an estimated peak theoretical power of 1.31 TFLOPS. For networking, the Xbox One supports Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless, and Wi-Fi Direct.
The Xbox One will support 4K resolution (3840×2160) (2160p) video output and 7.1 surround sound. Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of marketing and strategy for Microsoft, has stated that there is no hardware restriction that would prevent games from running at 4K resolution. The Xbox One will support HDMI 1.4 for both input and output, and does not support composite or component video.
Xbox General Manager of Console Development Leo del Castillo has said the Xbox One will be able to monitor internal temperatures and adjust accordingly. As the system generates more heat, the fan speed will be increased to compensate. Additional measures can be taken, including forcing the hardware to run in a lower power state – a new feature that wasn’t present on the Xbox 360. Restricting power consumption lowers maximum performance, but the setting would be intended as a last resort to avoid overheating that can lead to permanent hardware damage.
The Xbox One controller maintains the overall layout found in the Xbox 360 design. The directional pad has been changed to a four-way design, and the battery compartment is slimmer. Menu and View buttons have replaced the Start and Back buttons. Each trigger will also feature independent rumble motors called “Impulse Triggers”, which allows developers to program directional vibration. One trigger can be made to vibrate when firing a gun, or both can work together to create feedback that indicates the direction of an incoming hit. It remains to be seen exactly how developers will use the new feature. Pre-ordered Xbox One controllers have the words “Day One 2013” engraved in the center.
Further information: Kinect on the Xbox One
“We purposefully did not target the highest end graphics. We targeted it more as a broad entertainment play. And did it in an intelligent way.”
– Greg Williams, GM of Xbox silicon development
The Xbox One will ship with an updated version of the Kinect sensor; the new Kinect uses a 1080p wide-angle time-of-flight camera (in comparison to the VGA resolution of the previous version), and processes 2 gigabits of data per second to read its environment. The new Kinect has greater accuracy over its predecessor, can track up to 6 skeletons at once, perform heart rate tracking, track gestures performed with an Xbox One controller, and scan QR codes to redeem Xbox Live gift cards. The Kinect microphone will remain active at all times so it can receive voice commands from the user when needed, even when the console is in sleep mode (so it can be woken back up with a command).
The Xbox One will still function if the Kinect sensor is disconnected, and if the sensor is connected to the console, users retain the right to turn off all Kinect functions.
A Windows-compatible version of the new Kinect will be released in 2014.
Software and services
Similarly to Windows 8, the Xbox One will be able to snap applications (such as music, video, Skype, and Internet Explorer) to the side of the screen as a form of multitasking. The Xbox One will also be able to serve as a pass-through for an existing television set-top box over HDMI. This functionality allows users to watch live TV from their existing provider through the console, and access features such as show recommendations, an electronic program guide, and voice commands. The set-top box is controlled by the console through either an IR blaster or the HDMI-CEC protocol.
The console will feature a similar, albeit richer set of voice control abilities than those found in the first generation Kinect. This will allow users to control Xbox functions via voice command. All voice control will be coordinated through the Kinect, and with this ability Skype will also become a function of the new Xbox.
The device will run three operating systems: Xbox OS, an OS based on the Windows kernel, and another OS that will allow the other two operating systems to communicate by virtualisation (as a hypervisor). Such integration will include features like snapped Skype calls while in game.
The Windows edition on the Xbox will not be compatible with standard Windows apps, though developers will be able to port them over with little effort.
Microsoft have stated that the Xbox Live service will be scaled up to use 300,000 servers for Xbox One users, but have not stated how many of the servers will be physical and how many will be virtual. Cloud storage will be offered to save music, films, games and saved content and developers will be able to use Live servers (along with the Windows Azure cloud computing platform) to offer “massive”, “living and persistent worlds.” The service will still be subscription-based. The friends list will expand to 1,000 friends.
Xbox SmartGlass will provide extended functionality on the Xbox One, allowing Windows Phone smartphones, Windows RT, and Windows 8 tablets to be used as a “second screen.” A demo during the E3 press conference demonstrated its use for setting up a multiplayer match in another game in the background on a tablet while playing another game on the television.
Recording and streaming
Xbox Live Gold subscribers will be able to use the Upload Studio app to edit and share clips from the last five minutes of gameplay footage that is automatically recorded by the console. Integration with the live streaming platform Twitch will also be provided; users will be able to use voice commands to immediately begin streaming footage of their current game directly to the service, and use the Kinect microphone for commentary and voiceovers. Despite the ability to record gameplay, the Xbox One will not include DVR functionality for recording television programs; executive Yusuf Mehdi indicated that the Xbox One would “work in tandem” with existing TV providers, but that Microsoft may need to work with them directly to provide extended functionality such as DVR integration.
Microsoft presented several first-party and third-party titles for Xbox One at its E3 2013 news conference, some of which will be exclusive to the console. First-party titles unveiled for the Xbox One include Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome, a revival of Killer Instinct, Project Spark and a teaser for an upcoming Halo game.
Xbox One games will be distributed on Blu-ray Disc and digitally through Xbox Live Marketplace. Games will be installed directly to the player’s hard drive for faster access time, and will require the disc to play. However, if the game is installed on another console, and that console owner no longer has access to the disc, the owner has the option of unlocking the install on their hard drive by purchasing it through Xbox Live; the installed game will then act as a digital download. Though Microsoft had originally planned to tie disc-based games to the user’s account (see Used games and Internet verification), disc-based games can be traded and sold by players after purchase.
Single-player games that take advantage of cloud computing will require an internet connection.
The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with original Xbox or Xbox 360 games.
After the official reveal in May 2013, the editorial staff of Game Informer offered both praise and criticism for the console. Matt Helgeson described the console as Microsoft’s intent to “control the living room”. He called the Xbox One’s instant switching features “impressive”, and that the console was “a step in the right direction” with regards to TV entertainment, especially the prospect of avoiding the usage of non-intuitive user interfaces often found on cable set-top boxes. Jeff Cork said that Microsoft had “some great ideas” for the console, but that it failed to properly communicate them.
Following Microsoft’s E3 press conference on June 10, 2013, perceptions of the Xbox One by critics changed. Multiple GameSpot writers were critical of the new console; Mark Walton considered the Xbox One’s launch lineup to be “uninspired”, “lackluster” and plagued by “old men in suits, a stream of buzzwords, and superficial games that valued visuals over innovation” (as opposed to the “new generation of gaming” that Microsoft had promised to present during the event, by contrast to its previous television-oriented presentation) alongside strict digital rights management (DRM) practices, while editor Tom McShea noted that despite the increased capabilities and cloud-oriented nature of the Xbox One, the presentation consisted only of “pretty games that didn’t offer any noticeable change to the core experience we’ve already been playing [on the Xbox 360]”, providing existing owners with little reason for spending $499 on the new console. Journalists and consumers jokingly named the console the “Xbone”, believing that Microsoft’s decisions for the systems was in poor judgement.
After Sony’s E3 press conference later that evening, McShea went on to say that Microsoft had become anti-consumerist, trying to “punish their loyal customers” with strict restrictions, and that “by saying no to the used game restrictions and always-online that Microsoft is so happily implementing on the Xbox One, Sony has elevated the PlayStation 4 as the console to grab this holiday season.”
Rafi Mohammed, author of “The Art of Pricing” said on Bloomberg TV that Microsoft priced the Xbox One “too high” and the $100 premium over competitor could “derail” the system this holiday.
Initial used games and Internet verification policies
When first revealed, Microsoft unveiled a number of features and policies for Xbox One games that placed an emphasis on the console’s “always-connected” design and digital content delivery, and that would bring a number of benefits to both developers and players. A DRM system would tie all game purchases (regardless of whether it was purchased digitally or physically) to the user’s Xbox Live account and their Xbox One console. The system would allow a user’s games to be accessed locally by any user on their Xbox One, through a cloud-based game library on any other Xbox One, and would allow a game library to be shared with up to ten designated “family” members (each game could only be played by one remote player at a time). However, this system would have also required the console to connect to the Internet on a periodic basis (at least once every 24 hours) in order to synchronize the library and download updates for games; failing to do so would prevent any games from being played until the console is connected to the internet again. Users would be able to trade in games at “participating retailers” at no extra charge, and could also transfer a game directly to any Xbox Live friend on their list for at least 30 days, but only once.
Industry and consumer reaction to these plans were largely negative. Gaming and PC websites expressed concern over the restriction on the resale of used games, and the requirement of online verification every 24 hours for offline games. Further official details released in June regarding the policy towards used games and Internet connection requirements caused negative backlash among gaming websites as well as concern among independent video game retailers. Microsoft clarified the situation, stating that it would be up to the game developers to decide if used games could be played and if there would be any activation fees. Matt Peckham of Time believed that the Xbox One used games policy went against the first-sale doctrine. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter has suggested that the game developers would limit the used game market for a period after the game was released but might then allow used games to be played.
Xbox Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi defended the changes, stating that the Xbox One was primarily designed with digital distribution in mind, and that the changes to the licensing model on the console would be “easier to understand” when applied to just digital copies of games. He contended that the new system, which would also allow games to be accessed directly from cloud servers by various means (regardless of how they were purchased), would allow publishers to use “a diversity of business models” to meet their individual needs. Mehdi also noted that Microsoft was not attempting to “give in” to the criticism of used games by publishers, but rather trying to balance the needs of consumers and the industry itself. The position on online requirements was reinforced by Don Mattrick, the former president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, who stated that those without Internet connectivity should simply purchase an Xbox 360 instead.
In planning its presentation of the competing PlayStation 4 at the E3 2013 conference, Sony looked at the negative criticism Microsoft received for its Xbox One DRM policies; SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida stated that the PlayStation 4’s DRM policy, which generally allows for used games and sharing, was well established before the Xbox One reveal, but called the public reaction a “very useful source” for how to present details of the console’s capabilities. As such, many journalists considered that Sony had “won” the E3 conference over Microsoft, in part by highlighting its position on used games, Internet connectivity, and DRM in a compelling manner.
In response to the growing criticism, Microsoft released a statement on June 19 outlining how the policies as originally envisioned would be dropped in favor of a system that works in much the same way as the Xbox 360. The new policies include no Internet connection requirements (except for a one-time connection required for initial installation of a new game), no disc authentication, and no regional restrictions. As a result of the changes, the family sharing feature was dropped, as was the sharing feature for digital titles. Xbox One chief product officer Marc Whitten stated that the removal of the family sharing feature was due to the revised Xbox One policies so that they could deliver the console on time, and that the family sharing feature may return in the future. A patch will be required when the Xbox One is first connected to the Internet in order to enable offline mode and update the system software to allow the other policy changes. In his statement on the new policies, Mattrick said that the company took notice of the negative public opinion, and he thanked the public for giving their feedback “to reshape the future of Xbox One”. Other analysts believed that the change was in direct response of Sony’s aggressive position during the E3 conference. Similar to the “Xbone” name, many journalists and players jokingly nicknamed the Xbox One as the “Xbox 180”, due to Microsoft’s reversal of their policies. Mattrick, who had been a leader in the Xbox One development, announced his departure from Microsoft on July 1, 2013, to become CEO of Zynga. Analysts speculated that his departure was predicated on the poor response and subsequent reversal of the plans for the Xbox One.
In an August 2013 interview with Eurogamer, Microsoft Studio’s CEO Phil Spencer stated that their changes on the Xbox One are part of a “two-way conversation we have with our customers”, and a strength on their ability to react to feedback, rather than a negative. Spencer stated that they want to remain true to the “vision around the digital ecosystem we want to put on Xbox Live”, but recognized key features that consumers still want to have, and that implementing these features may push back the timing of their release on the Xbox One platform.
Subsequent to the Xbox One’s announcement, but prior to Microsoft’s policy reversal, U.S. Representatives Mike Capuano and Walter Jones proposed and filed the We Are Watching You Act; the act would require ‘video service operators’ to inform users on how personal data is collected and used, require that users explicitly opt-in to data collection, provide an on-screen notification when data is being collected, and to provide identical service for those who opt-out. The Xbox One was not mentioned in the proposed act by name, as the unit also targeted data collection by the set-top-boxes supplied by television providers.