Features// An Xbox One in the Living Room

Posted 28 Nov 2013 14:28 by
The Xbox One's bumpy start saw it touted as an all-singing, all-dancing, all-TV, music and movie-playing, all-Skyping and all-Cloud storing entertainment system until several million people yelled: “What about the damned games?”

As I sat down with the free hardware that Microsoft had sent SPOnG on the day before launch, I heard once-Sony evangelist and now Microsoft evangelist, Phil Harrison, being interviewed on the BBC’s old-person Radio 4 channel.

Phil was firmly on message for launch day, when the early adopters would be required to come out in force. Those early adopters are not TV or movie watchers, they probably don’t want their fun interrupted by Skype, they want to play games.

Phil was all over this: “We are all gamers now”.

There lies the main challenge for this big - and I mean big - black box. We are all gamers. You and I have been for years - in my case decades - but your mum might be on her phone; your niece on her tablet; your dad on his PC; your annoying sister on Facebook... we are all gamers but we don’t all play on consoles.

When Xbox 360 launched all those years ago, people like us - well, us - pointed out to massive derision and even a ban of our very name on GAF that it was a Trojan Horse out of the game-playing bedroom and into the Family Room. Inside it were not going to be soldiers but ‘Content’.

It was a different time back then. Many people were firmly of the belief that a games console was about games. Well, the Xbox One is the final proof of our assertion. Instead of soldiers (well, if you exclude the Roman legions from Ryse) hidden inside we have the Kinect 2 trying (and largely succeeding) at hiding on the outside. So, let me start there:

Xbox! Turn On!
The Kinect that I got for my Xbox 360 sits back in its box in the garage, well out of sight and mind. The Kinect that I was given with with the Xbox One came in the same box as the console; therefore felt somehow more like it belongs.

It’s also small, more compact, less flimsy and actually less frightening as it follows you around the place like an NSA black-suit. It must be said that compared to its massively shonky forebear, which shipped amid a Microsoft frenzy of “It is the next console” (it wasn’t, that was a lie) the new Kinect is a doddle to set up.

Phil Harrison on the morning news continued the line that the Kinect 2 can see the blood under your skin (and therefore your heartbeat, to be used for health games such as Wii Fit). This would surprise me despite the fact that the device recognised humans in the room from the get-go. It took no time at all to get it set-up for my profile. The fact that it recognised ‘Tim’ on the next reboot with no further mucking around was both delightful and disconcerting in equal measure.

Out of the Box
In fact, setting up the entire Xbox One was easy enough: HDMI in, Kinect in, controller just synched. Easy. My TV provision isn’t via a HDMI-equipped box (I don’t have satellite or cable TV), so I can’t advise on that. Although you need to be aware of this problem with 50Hz output judders.

Then, sadly, the power brick. Yes, the Power Brick; surely its continued use must relate to some ancient health and safety ruling rather than over-heating problems. It still takes up too much room behind the TV.

So, once set up it was case of retrieving my details from the Internet. A simple process that, aside from the noise kicked out by the box, was transparent to everybody else in the room. But believe me, once you ask the Windows-based box to do anything mildly strenuous it will let you know.

And not just in terms of sound. This is also true in the case of using Snap - the software ability to run an app or apps alongside a game or other app and then to bring it into ‘focus’. Too many apps and things get very sluggish indeed. Also, some apps can snap and some apps can’t.

So, back to Kinect 2. Voice control, in fact. I have a large number of non-gamer friends and they think the ability to say, “Xbox Go Home” is both amusing and effective. It can be, and in fact it sums up the entire Xbox One experience in that it’s sort of OK and slightly better than Kinect/Xbox 360 but after a while you’ll grow tired of it.
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