With the Xbox One's release this past Friday, November 22, we have the final piece to the next gen console puzzle. Whether you consider the Wii U next gen or not, or that neither the PS4 or Xbox One can truly be considered next gen in the face of a good PC, the fact remains that the Xbox One represented the last major new system we were waiting on for the forseeable future. Certainly the Steam Box will get some buzz once that's released, but price and compatibilty may represent hurdles to the type of adoption both the Xbox One and PS4 have thus far received. Plus, there's the argument - which I tend to agree with - that you don't necessarily gain any benefit investing in a Steam Box over a good PC. Final judgment will be reserved though once Valve's Steam Box initiative gets fully underway.
Naturally, both the PS4 and Xbox One launches can be considered a success, with each selling over 1 million units in the first 24 hours. The Xbox One needed 10 or 11 more countries with which to reach that number, but it was also priced $100 more, and faced similar supply constraints (meaning its arguable both could have sold more if stock was there). Like the PS4 and Wii U before it, a small percentage of Xbox One launch consoles were affected by technical issues, but, luckily, overall, all three seem to be solid hardware out of the gate. That does nothing to soothe those who actually have a unit with issues, but it seems that, based on percentages, all three major new consoles had reasonably smooth launches. To wrap up the sales commentary, if sales don't pick up for the Wii U this holiday and beyond, it's certainly reasonable to think that both PS4 and Xbox One will surpass total Wii U sales by or before June 2014 (as some analysts have suggested), which would also put to rest the idea that the industry's new norm is greatly reduced sales, i.e., the Wii U's sales issues are its own. No matter what, console gaming is still small change compared to smartphones and tablets, but we at least have the potential of still being a very vocal percentage of the technology ecosystem if sales for both the PS4 and Xbox One maintain positive momentum into 2014.
Now, with all that out of the way, I'll provide my impressions of the Xbox One. Since my wife and I are writing a book on the Xbox One, My Xbox One, follow-up to My Xbox, which covered the 360, we needed our usual two consoles: one to play with, and one to keep pristine so we could methodically document the goings on. For now, I just opened up the one to play with.
Packaging was not quite as elegant as the PS4's, but it still gives a nice impression when unboxing. You get the console, "high speed" HDMI cable (really just a high quality standard HDMI cable), controller, headset, Kinect, and power brick. Both the console and power brick are big and heavy, particularly in comparison to the PS4 (Ken Gagne put the Xbox One's weight at around 6 pounds (not counting the power brick) and the PS4's at around 4 pounds). The console itself also won't win any awards for looks, but the VCR jokes made at its expense are mostly without foundation. It merely looks like a standard AV component. Unlike the PS4, the only orientation possible for the Xbox One is horizontal, though I highly recommend if you want to put the PS4 vertical, get a proper stand for stability!
The Kinect looks rather nicer than the original model and again, much like a bigger version of the PS4's optional camera. Since the days of the original Xbox, Microsoft has never shied away from large components, and that's clearly true here. The controller is roughly the size of the 360's controller, with a similar layout. It's also nicely detailed and even has a "day one" logo on it, as do select other components and games. It's nice that Microsoft singled out day one buyers in this regard, particularly since, as early adopters, we're all the guinea pigs with this stuff!
The Xbox One is on the bottom far left, follow by the Comcast X1 cable box, and then the PS4. The PS4 camera is on top of the TV, while the Xbox One Kinect is just below the TV. You can see a few other choice items in the photo as well.
Anyway, hook up was straightforward, as was connecting my cable box to the Xbox One's HDMI in. This was particularly easy for me since my Xbox One was taking the place of the mostly dissapointing Vizio Co-Star Google TV box, which had a similar HDMI pass-through. I also have Xfinity's fancy X1 cable box, so I took the additional step prior to setting up the Xbox One of changing the box's remote settings from RF (meaning I didn't need line of sight) to IR (you need line of sight). While this makes controlling my cable box with the remote slightly less appealing, it does allow the Kinect's IR blaster to control my cable box without issue, as well as my TV and sound system.
Going through the software setup was similarly straightforward, though I did have to suffer a day one software update like I did on the Wii U and PS4. Unlike the PS4, however, I was not able to pre-load the update on a USB stick.
When I got to the part about telling the Xbox One where I lived, who my cable provider was, and what my media components were that it could control, it all went off without a hitch. Everything was in the system.
Now, in terms of first impressions, I have to say, that even moreso than the PS4, there are an overwhelming number of features. This was compounded by Xbox LIVE issues on the first night, which went away by the next morning. This meant software downloads, patches, add-ons, etc., were extra slow in coming. It wasn't quite as bad as the PS4's issues, which lasted a bit longer, but it did mean I couldn't update my avatar and gamer pic on the new system, which clearly required a stable connection.
Though not as dramatically improved as Sony's PS4 controller over the PS3's, the Xbox One's controller is still a nice upgrade over the 360's superb controller. I will say though that, like the PS4's controller, the secondary window and options buttons (effectively the old Select and Start buttons) are rather too awkwardly placed and flush for my tastes, and the longer analog sticks will take some getting used to. Otherwise, the d-pad is far nicer and all the other buttons seem responsive.
If you don't know the Kinect's voice command structure (motion controls are mostly deprecated in the menus, though using the controller is a non-issue) or how things like snap (snapping an activity to the side, be it an app, game or live TV) work, you're in for a high learning curve. I'm still stumbling my way around. Saying "Xbox Home" will often work, but saying "Xbox Go Home" is far more precise and is actually what it's expecting to hear. This type of precision, which is not always aided by on-screen prompts, is definitely a frustration that only experience will fix. Overall, the voice commands work well and everything moves at a nice, snappy pace in the menus, an advantage that both the PS4 and Xbox One have over previous systems.
So, what about the games? I bought three of the "special" day one games, which come with nicer packaging and a few minor in-game extras and achievements. These were: Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, and Forza Motorsport 5. I also downloaded the free Killer Instinct and Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason, as well as bought Powerstar Golf ($19.99 from the digital store).
I shared a few videos from the games as a test. In some ways its better than what the PS4 can do, in some ways worse. I just said, "Xbox Record That," and it saved a clip (you can see a few below), which I was then able to save in a separate app to my Skydrive account for sharing. Otherwise, the default is just to make it available to your other Xbox LIVE friends. On the PS4, the only present option is to save the clip to Facebook. Both let you edit your videos first of course, and both also support live game streaming, though it looks like that feature on the Xbox One won't be active until early next year.
Forza Motorsport 5
This is exactly what you'd expect. It's an unbelievably gorgeous racing sim. Only car nuts can truly appreciate the exhaustive attention to detail, but if you have any interest in racing games and don't mind the lack of an arcade feel, this is an easy choice.
Video of my first time playing Forza: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201644922499551&l=776000946663068...
Dead Rising 3
This game starts out intense and doesn't let up. There are many more zombies obviously than previous games. Even on the lowest level, I got my butt whipped. With that said, it's suitably tense and, with enough time invested, looks like it will pay off as a rewarding experience.
Ryse: Son of Rome
After all the negative press, this one surprised me. It looks and sounds fantastic, and, surprise, plays great for me. The combat is relatively straightforward, as you can essentially block, attack, and push, as well as perform finishing moves should you be so motivated. The timing reminded me a bit of the classic, Karateka. It's all real-time, but you can't really button mash. You really do need to time the blocking and parrying to be effective. I also liked that early on, it switched from hand-to-hand combat to a brief period where you manned something that shot flaming arrows, which reminded me a bit of one of the mini-games in the Cinemaware classic, Lords of the Rising Sun. I can see how some might find the combat repetitive, but, to me, it's about technique, which I like (being able to issue comands over voice via Kinect was rather neat too, but a bit overwhelming at first). There are also a lot more modes to explore in this one.
Some video of me playing Ryse: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201645645517626&l=775124038306615...
From an audio-visual standpoint this is nice, but fighting games are not my thing. I will try to invest in the training to get some skills, but, initially, I was just able to button mash. Even on the lowest levels, I was getting beat up. Nevertheless, fighting game fans likely won't be dissapointed.
Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason
This gives you a taste of the Wake Racing component, and obviously makes use of Kinect. My youngest daughter and I played this split screen, and I actually found it quite responsive, which bodes well for future Kinect usage in games. With that said, steering with my body is not exactly a gaming experience I'm after.
What can I say about this? Mix Outlaw Golf (sans raunch) and Hot Shots Golf (sans anime styling), and you have this delightful golf game. It absolutely breaks no new ground, but it's polished, has a nifty leveling system, lots of modes, and is complete fun if you're any type of fan of those previous games. It doesn't break any audio-visual ground, and it's not even something that can't be done on previous systems, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with it (I do find the characters a bit dull, though). The learning curve was so low for me that I immediately won all games that I played, even against online opponents (admittedly, I'm still on a very low level since I just started out). I'm going to be playing this one for a very long time.
I ran Netflix and a few of the other media apps to try them out. No issues. Skype worked beautifully and seamlessly. We called my in-laws a few times, who were Skyping from a computer, and it was smooth as silk on our end (they have a somewhat crappy camera and lighting, so we looked far better to them than they did to us). The Kinect automatically tracked who was talking and zoomed in and out as needed to accommodate more people (our whole family, including the dogs, though no cat). That's kind of the hallmark of the Xbox One, that it's all seamless and all works alongside what you're currently watching on TV. Again, lots (LOTS!) to learn here and get a handle on, but you can really see where this is all headed.
A few last notes. I had to set the beta surround sound setting manually in the Xbox One's menu for the HDMI in for my cable box to sound like it should. There's a similar setting for the optical audio out, which I hooked in my wireless headphones to. This had the added benefit of giving wireless sound to my TV, since all the TV's sound is piped in through the Xbox One. Naturally, the audio over HDMI works at the same time as does piping the audio through the optical audio, so it's never an either/or type of deal. Finally, my cable box was always a bit quiet (a common Comcast issue) going into my sound system (I sometimes had to crank the sound to max to hear it loud), but now that it's piped through the Xbox One, I can use normal volume levels of my sound system, so that's a nice bonus.
If you have any questions, ask away, as I really only touched on (from memory) what I went through on the first few days of owning it. I'd also love to hear your thoughts if you have one. Naturally, for a variety of reasons, I'll be spending a LOT more time with the console.
Getting a birdie in Powerstar Golf for Xbox One. Automatically recorded on the Xbox One: