Everything You Should Know about Microsoft's Xbox One Console

By Wesley Fenlon

The new Xbox One will be here by the end of the year, with a smarter Kinect, instant switching between applications, and a big focus on integrating live TV, gaming, and other forms of media.

Three months after Sony held a special event to announce the PlayStation 4, Microsoft responded with the announcement of the Xbox One. This is the follow-up to the Xbox 360, eight years down the road, and Microsoft's sticking with a familiar strategy: Dominate the living room. In the first 30 minutes of its Xbox One presentation, Microsoft focused more on the console's ability to switch seamlessly between live television, movies, music, and gaming than it did on games themselves. This is the definition of a do-everything box: in fact, Microsoft's combining its Windows 8 architecture and Xbox software into one unified experience.

Microsoft demonstrated that combination by showing off Windows 8's window snapping feature on the Xbox. While watching a movie, they brought up Skype on Xbox and snapped it to one side of the screen, allowing both movie and video chat to run simultaneously.

Through the first 30 minutes of its presentation, Microsoft quickly ran through the Xbox One's new hardware, new user interface, and new Xbox Live features. Everything has been changed and updated, including the Kinect and the controller. Thankfully, Wired has also taken a closer look at the Xbox One's hardware. Let's dig in.

Xbox One Hardware

  • The design of the console itself moves away from the 360's curves in favor of an extremely rectangular, sharp-edged glossy black box. Wired writes that it's a bit bigger than the 360, and half of the top of the console is slotted to allow air to flow out of the top; "The front is nearly without embellishment; even the optical disc drive slot blends into the frontpiece of the box. On the whole, it looks more like a TiVo than any gaming console I’ve ever known."
  • The Xbox One runs on a 40 nanometer system-on-a-chip "made by AMD contains the CPU/GPU chip, the memory, the controller logic, the DRAM, and the audio processors, and connects directly to the heat sink via a phase-change interface material" says Wired. It's a 64-bit architecture, naturally.
  • 8GB of RAM are on board, up from the Xbox 360's 512MB. Microsoft hasn't specified the speed of the RAM, so it's unknown how it compares to the PS4's 8GB of DDR5 RAM.
  • DVD drive is out. Blu-ray drive is in.
  • Microsoft claims eight times the graphics performance of the 360.
  • USB 3.0 is on board, though Microsoft didn't specify the number of USB ports.
  • The console supports Wi-Fi Direct.
  • Wired writes that the console has a 500GB hard drive built-in.
  • The new controller has small motors in the triggers, a more nested battery housing, and a redesigned D-pad.
  • Wireless communication with the controller is about 15% faster.

Wired writes the Xbox One operates at multiple power states, including a standby mode for downloading content overnight. It will draw less power when showing a movie than when playing a game. Standby also lets Kinect turn the console on with a voice command.

Xbox One Software, User Interface, and Xbox Live

  • One potentially exciting, but vague feature Microsoft will offer with the new version of Xbox Live: support for Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform. Microsoft said this would allow for bigger online games and persistent online worlds. This could mean all Live games will now run on dedicated servers, and Wired points out that developers may be able to offload computation to cloud servers rather than relying entirely on the console hardware.
  • There is no always-online connection required to play games or use the console. Microsoft of course points out that many of the console's features are Internet-based.
  • The Xbox One can switch instantly between different software experiences with voice commands like "Watch TV" or "Internet explorer."
The Xbox One actually runs on three operating systems.
  • The Xbox One actually runs on three operating systems. Wired writes: " First comes the tiny Host OS, which boots the machine and then launches two other hard-partitioned systems: the Shared partition, an environment that runs any apps (Skype, Live TV, Netflix, etc.) and helps provide processing power for the Kinect sensor and its gesture and voice controls; and the Exclusive partition, which is where games run. Because of the way memory is apportioned in the Shared partition, you can switch between apps with little to no load times, and even snap them into another app or game to use both at the same time."
  • Microsoft's making a huge investment in cloud infrastructure for Xbox Live. The service currently runs on 15,000 servers, but that number will increase to 300,000 servers for the Xbox One.
  • Xbox One's new servers mean everything' stored in the cloud--profiles, game saves, music, movies, and games themselves.
  • A "dedicated game DVR" is built into the console for capturing game moments. Microsoft didn't go into much detail, but did say the system includes native editing tools, and your clips can be saved to the cloud.
  • Matchmaking has been overhauled and can now search for matches while you're in a game, or in another app, like the web browser.
  • The Xbox One's live TV features come via HDMI passthrough. Wired writes " the cable box, satellite box, or similar device connects directly to the Xbox One, which then passes the mediated signal to the television via an HDMI-out port. Because of that direct pipe from your TV provider to the Xbox One, you can watch TV with varying degrees of Xbox overlay. It can look exactly like your plain old TV interface, being controlled with the original remote. Alternately, you can use Xbox’s electronic programming guide, which presents a lineup based on your favorite channels or tells you what your friends are watching and can be controlled via voice, gesture, and game controller."
  • Xbox One's guide shows you a cable- or satellite-like view of what's on; you can favorite TV shows to navigate to them easily.
  • "Trending" is a feature for both games and TV that shows you what your friends and other Xbox users are playing and watching.
  • Achievements have been reworked to be more dynamic--Microsoft didn't talk specifics.

Xbox One's Kinect

  • Kinect is rebuilt from the ground up, which includes a new 1080p camera and far more accurate sensing of the living room.
  • A big feature of the new Xbox, by way of Kinect, is the console's ability to identify its owner (and other family members).
  • The camera operates at 60 fps, and Microsoft promises that it's far, far more accurate, with tracking of more joints, the ability to spot shifts in orientation, and understand motion and balance. It can even read your heartbeat by pigmentation changes in your face.
The new Kinect can even read your heartbeat by pigmentation changes in your face.
  • Wired writes Kinect's "original sensor mapped people in a room using 'structured light': It would send out infrared light, then measure deformities in the room’s surfaces to generate a 3-D depth map. However, that depth map was lo-res to the degree that clothing and couch cushions were often indistinguishable. The new model sends out a modulated beam of infrared light, then measures the time it takes for each photon to return. It’s called time-of-flight technology, and it’s essentially like turning each pixel of the custom-designed CMOS sensor into a radar gun, which allows for unprecedented responsiveness—even in a completely dark room."
  • Kinect can read two gigabits of data per second for the Xbox One.

Microsoft is still betting big on its "second screen" features with SmartGlass apps for tablets and phones. That includes some exclusive content, like partnerships with the NFL for real-time stat updates, fantasy integration, and so on. Those kinds of features will also be available as snappable windows on the Xbox itself.

Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will run on 64-bit AMD SoCs. They also look similar in other ways--they support USB 3, run media from Blu-ray drives, and come with motion-sensing tech (the PlayStation Eye and Kinect) packed in. Sony cares about sharing enough to put a button right on its controller; Microsoft's "game DVR" will likely offer a similar ability to share game media. Both consoles offer 8GB of RAM, which will be split between games and operating system software, and can boot quickly from low-power states.

And, like Sony's PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is launching later this year--our bet's on November. We'll find out more in early June when both companies show off their consoles at E3 2013.