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    Xbox One Reviews

    The last time I unboxed a brand new Xbox console, the iPhone hadn’t yet been invented,people still watched movies on DVD, and ‘bieber’ was just a funny sound. It’s almost unbelievable to think that it’s been eight years since the launch of the Xbox 360, making the previous one the longest console generation ever; surprising considering the increasingly rapid pace of advancement in the consumer tech space. The explosion of mobile gaming in the interim has led many to dismiss console gaming, predicting its impending demise as everyone moves to multi-purpose personal devices where gaming is just one of those many purposes.

    What those people don’t take into account is that today’s consoles both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are more than just game consoles. They’re all-round living room entertainment systems; the Xbox One arguably more so. Microsoft doesn’t even call the Xbox One a game console, but rather an “All-in-one Games and Entertainment System”, and it needs to be that if it is to remain relevant in the modern-day living room.

    The Hardware

    I won’t get too caught up in the technical details, but suffice it to say that the Xbox One is exponentially more powerful than the previous generation of consoles, so if you’re coming off a PS3 or Xbox 360, you’re in for a treat. Though it may lack a bit in horsepower in comparison to the PS4, any difference in visuals or performance between the two consoles is minimal and only noticeable in some multi-platform games if you set both versions side by side.

    So unless you’re nitpicky about frame rates and resolutions, you won’t find too much to complain about with the Xbox One’s game performance.

    The one area where the Xbox One clearly disappoints is in its external design. Simply put, it doesn’t look like a device meant for 2014. The closest comparison you can make to its design is with that of an early 90s VCR. It’s large, it’s blocky and it won’t stand out in your home entertainment set-up, especially if set aside a smaller and more attractive PS4. And as if the Xbox One console wasn’t big enough on its own, like the Xbox 360, it also comes with an annoyingly large power brick. So despite its size, Microsoft hasn’t managed to house the power supply internally, which is something Sony has done with the PS4 and the PS3. That said, a home console really isn’t a hands-on device, so other than to insert discs, you won’t really have to interact with it much, so you can just set it under your TV and forget about it.


    Hardware reliability was a major problem for the Xbox 360 in its initial years, but by all accounts, Microsoft has learned from the past, as the Xbox One’s hardware seems far more robust and reliable. I did have a few issues with the Xbox One review units that Microsoft initially sent over, but the company was quick to replace them and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. However, in the event that you do end up facing any hardware issues, you can rest in the knowledge that Xbox offers some of the best customer service in the country. That said, thanks to Microsoft’s exclusive tie-up with Amazon.in, you’ll only get official warranty support if you buy from there. Personally, I’d definitely recommend getting it from Amazon, because while import units will be cheaper, the Indian warranty gets you that priceless peace of mind.

    The Controller


    The Xbox 360’s controller was universally loved, and over the years, it has also become the default controller for PC gaming. It was large enough to fit snugly in your palms without feeling bulky, the asymmetrical placement of the analog sticks was a revelation, and the triggers made it perfect for shooters. The Xbox One controller takes the ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach, so there isn’t much of a departure from a design perspective. It is noticeably smaller and lighter, but that doesn’t take away from the sturdy, reassuring feel we’re used to.

    The triggers are once again great, and this time around, Microsoft has added additional rumble motors in the triggers, so aside from the general controller rumble, games can also send vibration feedback to individual triggers, a feature that is a godsend in Forza Motorsport 5, where the triggers will rumble to tell you when you’re losing grip and about to spin out of control. The D-pad was probably the weakest aspect of the Xbox 360 controller and while it feels a bit soft here, it’s a marked
    improvement. However, the bumpers (RB and LB) do feel stone-like and hard to press, especially in games like FIFA that use them a lot. All in all, the controller is once again fantastic, with improvements in most areas, and what was already great has been left unchanged. We just wish the controller was rechargeable rather requiring AA batteries. That really isn’t asking for too much in 2014.

    Kinect

    Up until a couple of months ago, when Microsoft released a standalone console SKU of the Xbox One, every unit shipped with a Kinect sensor and aside from the exclusive games it was the biggest differentiator between itself and the PS4. For the uninitiated, Kinect is a camera and mic sensor that sits atop your console or TV that enables motion-controlled games as well as gesture and voice control to easily navigate through games, apps and the console UI itself. Kinect is now optional, so if you’d like the sensor along with the console. Is it worth that extra?

    With Microsoft no longer including a Kinect sensor in every box, I wouldn’t bet on too many publishers making Kinect games, or even including too many Kinect features in their games, aside maybe from voice commands.

    Several third-party game publishers had announced Kinect games a while back, but those numbers have thinned ever since the sensor became optional. But Kinect has several uses other than motion-controlled games. In fact, the entire Xbox One user interface was designed with Kinect in mind, so you can navigate through the entire menu, launch apps and games, and even turn on and off the console using voice commands like ‘Xbox On’, ‘Xbox Go to Store’ and ‘Xbox launch FIFA 15 demo’. You can also use commands to control media playback when you’re watching movies or listening to music.

    Kinect for Xbox 360 suffered from one major flaw you needed an unpractical amount of open space in your room for it to be able to fit your entire body within the frame, but Microsoft has done extremely well to make the new Kinect work in much smaller spaces. There’s also a noticeable improvement in the quality of the camera, even in low light, although gesture recognition is still hit-or-miss.

    Unlike the Xbox 360, Kinect for Xbox One does support voice commands in India even though some commands will need you to fake a US accent (especially ‘Xbox On’). For most part though, voice commands work surprisingly well and make navigation a breeze, whether it’s moving from one app to another or snapping in and out (more on that in a bit). So is Kinect a must-have component?

    Not really if all you want to do is game, but it does make things a lot more manageable and there’s something very cool about having a device that obeys the sound of your voice. That said, Microsoft is constantly working to tweak the UI so it becomes just as easy to use with a controller, so there’s a good chance Kinect could just become a novelty over the coming months.

    Usability and interface


    The Xbox One’s operating system works a bit like modern mobile devices do. Everything, from the settings to your friends list to the messaging system, is a different app that you can launch and quit.

    So rather than being a menu item like in a traditional console, or even the PS4, every software component of the Xbox One is designed as an individual app, which helps when it comes to the snap feature. Snap is a bit like picture-in-picture, which means that while you’re gaming or watching a movie, you can bring up another app on the right side of your screen. So you can Skype with a friend while you game, or check IMDB or Wikipedia through the Internet Explorer app while you’re
    watching a movie.

    The problem with snap, and a lot of other features of the Xbox One’s user interface, is that it was designed with Kinect in mind, and if you happen to buy the console without Kinect, even simple tasks like accessing your messages or unsnapping become unnecessarily cumbersome. Now, Microsoft is actively working towards making the UI easier to use, and some of those UI tweaks may even have been implemented by the time you read this, but you should know going in that the
    Xbox One system is one that is constantly changing, with new features being added
    and the existing ones being tweaked all the time.


    One feature that Microsoft has focussed a lot on is OneGuide, a system through which you can connect your cable set-top box to the Xbox One, giving you a richer television experience thanks to richer channel guides and voice commands, plus the ability to customise your TV watching experience by pinning your favourite channels, shows and apps.

    since that would require working with individual cable operators. Microsoft has even come out and said that the feature will be added for India, but not in the foreseeable future. You can still connect your cable box to the Xbox One, but that just works as a pass-through, displaying TV through the Xbox One, but disabling the cable box’s menu system in the process. Simply put, you’re better off not connecting your set-top box to the Xbox One till Microsoft decides to bring in OneGuide support.

    I’m not a fan of the tiled interface that Microsoft has carried over from Windows, and while the tiles probably make it more gesture-friendly if you’re using Kinect (I honestly didn’t bother with gestures since I could use voice), there just seems to be a lot of wasted space, especially in the Store, where the entire screen space is taken up by a handful of tiles, forcing you to scroll sideways way more than you should. The Store also isn’t very user-friendly. You can’t simply browse all games
    alphabetically or by genre. Yes, there are categories like new games, popular games, etc, but you get the distinct feeling that the store was designed more so it could show you what it wanted you to see. Bing does let you search the Store, but more robust browsing options would be welcome.


    You’d generally expect Microsoft to be the sort of company that would exercise absolute control over what you can and can’t do with your console, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a few features of the Xbox One that go completely against that notion. For one, with Xbox One games being so massive (usu ally over 20 GB) and they all being installed on the console’s 500 GB hard drive even if you own the disc, you’ll be running out of hard drive space pretty quickly. But rather than forcing you to buy a higher capacity proprietary (and overpriced) hard drive, as was the case with Xbox 360, you can now use external hard drives as many as you like to expand your storage.

    So you can download and install games on external storage and play games off those hard drives as well, which is a great feature.

    Another user-friendly feature that may well have been added by the time you read this is support for the popular MKV video format, one of the most requested features, and something Sony has shied away from supporting since the PS3 days. Also being added is DLNA support for more hassle-free media streaming.



    These may not be game changers, but the fact remains that in its current state, the Xbox One user interface isn’t the best out there, and these little updates are great statements of intent. There’s lots of room for improvement and Microsoft is keen to get there. It’s already laid out a roadmap for all the tweaks and feature-adds that it will be bringing in the future, and is pushing out genuine updates to the system every month. If the updates over the past few months are any indication, the Xbox One is only going to get more user-friendly and feature-rich as time goes by.

     Gaming


    An ‘All-in-one Entertainment System’ it may be, but what you’re most interested in is game performance and convenience and this is where Xbox One really shines. As you would expect from a next-generation console, the system is designed to get you gaming as quickly as possible. In the Xbox One’s Instant-on mode, the console always stays in standby. Say ‘Xbox On’ into Kinect or power it on manually and you’ll be ready to game within seconds. No more do you have to wait minutes for a gaming to boot up; it’s all instant now, and even though all games need to be installed on the hard drive - whether your game is on disc or being downloaded you can start gaming
    even before the game is fully installed.

    For example, Forza Horizon 2 is a 36 GB download, but I was able to start playing with less than 30% of it downloaded.As you would want from a modern-day console, the Xbox One is also socially connected, and this goes far beyond simply sharing your gaming moments with friends on Xbox Live, Twitter or Facebook. With Twitch integration, you can live stream your game as you play. The Game DVR function is always running as you game, recording your gameplay without you having to tell it to do so. If you do happen to snatch a great kill streak in Call of Duty or beat your friend’s best time in Forza, you can simply say ‘Xbox Record That’ or snap to the Game DVR app to save your gameplay clip. The only downside here is that you can only save up to five minutes of gameplay at a time (as opposed to the PS4’s 15 minutes), which isn’t even enough for one half of a FIFA match. Once saved, you can either upload clips to your OneDrive account or to YouTube directly from the console.

    When you talk about gaming on consoles, exclusives are always a big part of that discussion, and the Xbox One does have a set of compelling exclusive games that I think and most would agree are better than what Sony’s PS4 has coming up in the near future. The excellent Forza Horizon 2 released earlier this month, while October-end will witness the release of the game on our cover Sunset Overdrive, a frantic, open-world action-shooter from Ratchet and Clank creator Insomniac Games.

    November brings the title loyal Xbox fans will be waiting for Halo: The Master Chief Collection a compilation of all the numbered Halo games, complete with updated visuals and reworked multiplayer.

    Then of course, next year, there’s Remedy’s promising cross-media title Quantum Break, with Xbox favourites like Gears of War and Crackdown also set to return in the future. Oh, and did I mention that every Xbox One sold in India comes with a free download code for FIFA 15? That instantly knocks Rs 4,000 off the Xbox One’s price. The PS4, by comparison, is sold in India without any bundles.

     Software rules


    The Xbox One is a solid console, but it isn’t perfect. Fortunately, we live in an age where the success of a device depends less on the hardware powering it and more on the software it runs. The fact that the Xbox One is built on a platform that is malleable enough to tweak and update endlessly means that things can only get better from here on out. More features will keep getting added, new apps will
    make it onto the Store, and we’ll even start seeing localised entertainment content.

    With Microsoft doubling down on gaming and simultaneously backing away from its aggressive pre-launch push towards Kinect and TV, the Xbox One is now also a more gamer-centric device, which will surely also result in more great games.

    The Xbox One and PS4 both take different approaches to console hardware and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I was already impressed by what the PS4 has to offer, and Sony’s console currently holds the performance edge for multi-platform games, but the Xbox One has the stronger entertainment feature set and a more promising line-up of exclusive games. So if you were hoping for this review to recommend one over the other, I can’t because it’s simply too close to call.

    Console gaming is alive and kicking, and the Xbox One is one of the reasons why. That said, while it’s a great gaming machine, it is yet to reach its full potential as an all-round home entertainment device. But Microsoft’s got its head down and we wouldn’t bet against it getting there soon rather than later.

     pros

    • Gaming convenience
    • Kinect voice support, improved camera
    • Gameplay streaming, recording
    • Promising upcoming games line-up
    • Great entertainment features
    • External hard drive support
    • Frequent updates and feature additions

    Cons

    • Huge size of console, external power brick
    • Multi-platform game performance generally better on PS4
    • Controller requires AA batteries
    • Tiled interface isn’t the best
    • UI not optimised for controller navigation
    • No OneGuide support in India for forseeable future

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