The Xbox One, Microsoft's first new console for eight years, is almost upon us. Released on 22 November, the next-generation machine will be battling head-to-head with Sony's PS4 - especially as its launch date is sandwiched between Sony's US and European launches of its console. So what does it have in its locker in order to win the hearts and minds of gamers and families over its big rival?
Incorporating a new Kinect, improved motion controls, live TV, cutting-edge graphics and a whole new system for entertainment, Microsoft is really pushing the boat out. Read on to find out everything you need to know.
What's inside the Xbox One?
The Xbox One takes design cues from the Xbox 360. Wrapped in gloss black plastic and with a matte black Kinect and controller, it is as cutting edge as it gets.
As such, Microsoft has packed 8GB of RAM inside, which matches the PlayStation 4. The new Xbox One architecture is the real talking point however; it incorporates the Xbox tech with the Windows kernel and allows you to switch between the two technologies instantly, giving you the best of both worlds, picking functions and features for a unified experience.
Wi-Fi direct is an interesting addition, and for the first time Microsoft has incorporated a Blu-ray player, meaning you can now play Full HD 1080p Blu-ray discs using the console. Microsoft is also promising near silent operation, which is a big change from the original Xbox 360. The console includes a 500GB HDD.
As for the processor, this is an eight-core AMD system on a chip, which we presume will be extremely powerful. Microsoft says it is 8x more powerful than the Xbox 360. USB 3.0 is a nice feature, as is the HDMI in and HDMI out on the back. The former is used for taking TV signals, which we will come to later.
The console does weigh a fair bit, at 3.2kg. It is also 10 per cent larger than the first generation Xbox 360.
Microsoft has also previously confirmed the Xbox One will support 4K resolution and 3D, however there are some question marks over whether we will see Ultra High Definition or 4K games in future. At present, we are unsure whether the console has an HDMI 2.0 port or not, it might just be HDMI 1.4. While the latter is capable of outputting 4K content at 30fps, it is not able to output it at 60fps, which gamers would much prefer. That doesn't mean a 4K game won't look great at 30fps though.
What is more likely is that the Xbox One will support 4K video and images in time, with games in the immediate future being Full HD or even slightly lower in resolution. For example, Crytek's Xbox One exclusive launch title Ryse: Son of Rome runs at 900p and is upscaled to 1080p.
Do I have to buy a new Kinect sensor?
Every Xbox One will ship with a brand new piece of Kinect hardware. Incorporating a 1080p wide-angle camera, Microsoft is promising a best-in-class video calling experience from your living room.
That wide angle camera is also 60 per cent better than the pervious outing and means that it will work much better in smaller rooms. The minimum distance quoted is now 4.6 feet - great for those in the UK who live in a small flat. The Kinect sensor is now a more accurate too with much better finger and feet recognition. It can even see the contours in your face and recognise facial movements, such as smiling, raising eyebrows, etc.
When exercising, the Kinect can even read your heartbeat. In fact, the new Kinect is more accurate than pretty much any other motion sensor out there and is heavily incorporated into the entirely new Xbox UI.
Video playback, for example, can be controlled by Kinect gestures. You can pinch to zoom into a video and issue commands to control pretty much every single element of the Xbox One, from television to gaming. Microsoft has also confirmed that the Kinect for Xbox One is coming to Windows too, and that it will be part of updated SDK.
How do the controls work?
As for the all-important controller, it looks good and familiar, with a refresh on the button front and a better battery casing.
Quick points to note are that the screw holes on the back of the grips are now gone, as too is the parting line that on the 360 gets filled with grime.
The thumbsticks are smaller and now outlined with a knurled texture for better grip, and the d-pad is more responsive. The sticks now also require 25 per cent less force to move, allowing you to adjust your aim in a first-person shooter or execute a half-circle sweep in a fighting game faster and more accurately and the controller has reduced the thumbstick deadzone in the center.
The A, B, X and Y buttons are lower on the controller with tighter spacing, making the transition between each one smoother.
Xbox One’s Wireless Controller sports four vibration motors – a small one behind each trigger that adds additional haptic feedback to the finger tips, and a larger in each grip for large scale rumbles.
The battery pack has been rotated 90-degrees so it's out of the way and the d-pad has been re-engineered to make it better and easier to use. It still takes two AA batteries, however. And with the batteries in the weight is nicely balanced. It's smaller and lighter too, or certainly feels that way. There is also a rechargeable battery pack and recharge lead available as an optional extra.
The controller has a low power state, so that if you are watching a movie or need to step away from the TV, the controller does all it can to conserve battery. According to Microsoft, the moment you pick it up again, it will be ready for use without having to resync with the console.
The Xbox One controller also features higher quality audio with Microsoft improving the data transfer rate between the controller and console. According to Microsoft, in-game chat over Xbox Live will, in many cases, be "clearer than talking on a phone".
Like the PlayStation Move controllers, each controller uses a combination of invisible reflective technology and LEDs to send a patterned infrared signal to your console and Kinect sensor. While that's handy for monitoring where controller is in the room it also means it can automatically set up spilt-screen gaming based on where you are sitting on the sofa without you having to swap controllers with your mates.
Does the Xbox One feature live TV?
You are able to watch live TV through the Xbox One. It includes a specially-made electronic programme guide, called the OneGuide, that is entirely Kinect enabled, at least in the US initially. The EPG lets you select different channels via voice and even choose a programme to watch just by saying it out loud.
In the UK, you can still plug your TV source, be it Sky, Virgin Media, Freeview or YouView set-top-box, into the console and jump to live footage, but it will not come with a the OneGuide so you will still have to control your TV box through your regular remote.
A new "Snap Mode", which we will come to later, means you can use other Xbox apps while watching television. Internet Explorer, for example, can be browsed while watching TV and again controlled entirely by voice.
The Xbox One is also able to switch between TV and gameplay instantly. All you need to do is say "watch TV" and "play games" and the console will instantly change between the two in the blink of an eye. All live TV content will come direct to the console via HDMI.
Xbox has also revealed that it will be making its own television series to be streamed to Xbox One consoles. One of those will be a Steven Spielberg-produced live-action show based around the hugely popular Halo franchise. Other exclusive TV shows are also planned and will be revealed before the end of 2013.
Tell us more about this snap mode
The best way to think of snap mode is a bit like the tabbed windows in Windows 8. You can run an application on the right or left-hand side of the screen, controlling it via voice while doing something else.
This means using Skype while browsing the Xbox UI, or surfing the web while watching TV. It is in Snap Mode that the Xbox's Windows Kernel becomes the most obvious.
Snap mode can also be integrated into apps by developers. For example, live stats from a basketball game can be pulled up while watching the action via live TV. Snap can give you a sort of second-screen experience, but on the same screen.
What games will be available for launch and beyond?
Naturally Microsoft has pulled out all the stops for the Xbox One. Microsoft studios is promising 15 exclusive titles and eight new franchises for the Xbox One. These include the likes of Quantum Break, Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3 and the previously mentioned Ryse: Son of Rome.
Plenty of other titles have also been announced, including EA Sports titles like FIFA 14, Madden NFL, NBA and UFC.
Confirmed titles that will be available on the day of launch (22 November) are:
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
- Battlefield 4
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
- Crimson Dragon
- Dead Rising 3
- FIFA 14
- Fighter Within
- Forza Motorsport 5
- Just Dance 2014
- Killer Instinct
- Lego Marvel Super Heroes
- Madden NFL 25
- NBA 2K14
- NBA Live 14
- Need for Speed: Rivals
- Powerstar Golf
- Ryse: Son of Rome
- Skylanders: Swap Force
- Zoo Tycoon
Microsoft has also confirmed a few other titles that will be released during the "launch window". This runs between the actual launch day and end of March 2014. Those games are:
- Kinect Sports: Rivals
- Minecraft: Xbox One Edition
- Peggle 2
- Project Spark
- Wolfenstein: The New Order
Of those, Titanfall has been garnering the most attention. It is exclusive to Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Windows, which means it won't be available on PS4. Ever. And many claim the first-person-shooter was the best game exhibited at Gamescom in Germany earlier this year.
Is there still Xbox Live?
Microsoft has gone turbo on the Xbox Live front for the new Xbox One console. Powered by 300,000 servers, the new Xbox Live will just take over from the old version, so no need for a new subscription.
To put the server upgrade into context, Xbox Live started with 500 servers and uses 15,000 today. So 300,000 should mean plenty of opportunities for speedy gaming.
Everything is going to be cloud integrated, from cloud saves to music, movies and even games. Gameplay itself will also be recorded and editable via Xbox Live, so even easier to show-off your highlights.
Multiplayer games can even be pre-loaded. Say if you fancy swapping between games but don't want to stop playing, then you can literally queue for another while you play your current game.
And you will now be able to have more than 100 friends on Xbox Live. It was locked before.
Another cool feature about Xbox Live profiles is that you can access yours from any Xbox One, not juts your own. And as Kinect will recognise you, you can stand in front of a friend's Kinect sensor and it will immediately log you in.
All your achievements and everything you earned on your Gamertag on the Xbox 360 will also be able to be seen on the Xbox One too.
What's this Twitch we've been hearing about?
Twitch is built into the Xbox One. It allows other gamers to view live streamed play but with a twist. They can comment in real time on a social feed, while the audio of the player is taken and played over the top too. We can see this as being a great way for friends to help each other play through sections of games that one or more find difficult.
Does Xbox One require an "always on" internet connection?
Due to a backlash, Microsoft repealed its "always on" connection. There is no longer a 24-hour internet connection requirement to play offline Xbox One games, but users will need a one-time system set-up with the Xbox One to play any disc-based game.
Some games do require internet connectivity for certain features, however. For example, Forza Motorsport 5 can be played without Drivatars - the AI opponents created by observing the gameplay techniques of every real-life player - but you will be missing out on a major part of the new game.
Does the Xbox One let me play used games?
Microsoft will allow Xbox One users to share, trade-in, lend, resell, gift and rent disc-based games.
After Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, the company faced heavy criticism for implementing DRM restrictions that prevented gamers from sharing or re-selling Xbox One games. However, the sharing of games will now work as it did with the Xbox 360.
In other words, users who buy a disc can still share the disc, but users cannot share or re-sell downloaded titles. Moreover, playing disc-based games will require that the disc be in the tray. If users choose to download their games, they will be able to play them offline just like they did with the Xbox 360.
With this change, the Xbox One will need disc-based games in the tray in order to play them.
Is every game installed on the console?
After signing in and installing your new game, you can play any Xbox One game from any Xbox One because a digital copy of your game is stored on your console and in the cloud. For example, while you are logged in at your friend’s house, you can play your games, rather than worrying about whether or not you've remembered the disc.
How much does it cost?
The Xbox One costs £429 in the UK and $500 in the US when it launches in November. For that you'll get the box, a controller, and the Kinect Sensor.
It is £80 more expensive than the PS4 but you do get the Kinect.
Where can I get even more information about the Xbox One?
Easy. Head over to our Xbox One hub and everything we write about the console will automatically be published there.