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Review: Microsoft’s Xbox One

January 20, 2014 • Reviews

Microsoft released their Xbox One gaming console late last year in the US, UK and a few other territories, but while the unit isn’t available in Africa, South African gamers have opted to import their consoles rather than wait for a solid release date.

Microsoft's Xbox One console (image: Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Xbox One console (image: Microsoft)

Johannesburg-based guest writer Dale Lince is one such player, and he reviews Microsoft’s Xbox One for IT News Africa. Is it what players expected, or could it have done with a bit more time in development?

Hardware

In terms of size, the console is large, but not quite as large as most people would make it out to be. It is about the size of two Blu-ray players stacked on top of each other. The power unit is external to the console, unlike Sony’s PlayStation 4, but by designing it that way, it leaves more space for ventilation and cooling of the device.

For media playback, the unit now sports a slot-type disc drive and incorporates Blu-ray playback. It’s a feature that the previous model lacked, as it was tray-based and had no Blu-ray support. However, through constant pressure from eager gamers, Microsoft opted to include these features – which incidentally is also present on the PS4.

Turning the unit around, the back-end reveals a number of ports and connections, which includes HDMI-Out, HDMI-In, motion sensor Kinect port, optical audio out and the much faster USB3.0.

Controller

The controller is one of the most important aspects of any gaming device and while the One’s controller is very similar to the 360 version, quite a number of changes have been made – just enough to make it different.

All the buttons, except for the guide button, have been kept in the same place, but the analogue sticks are smaller with deeper indentation, so the user’s thumbs sit better – and they finally centre properly in the middle of the controller.

As for the shoulder buttons, they have been made longer and wider, but the pressure zone on each button has been made smaller and can only be pressed in a certain way, so this might take some getting used to for users with big hands.

One of the most exciting features of the new controller are the left and right triggers. For their design overhaul they are almost three times thicker than previous controllers, and they feature their own rumble motors.

What this means, is that users can experience individual rumble effects on either the left side or the right side of the controller – instead of the whole controller. As an example, if users in Forza 5 drive off the track for their right tyres, only the right triggers would rumble.

The battery pack has also been moved to the inside of the controller shell, as opposed to the battery pack sticking out the back – this way, it caters much better for people with large hands, or long fingers.

Kinect, the motion-sensor addition to the unit, is roughly the same size as its predecessor, but sports a bigger base, making it more stable on difficult placement points, like speakers and small shelves. It now has a higher resolution camera and IR blaster built into it, which can turn on/off and also change volume on your TV, home theatre system, etc., as long as it is supported.

Software

After an initial online update, the console takes users through a tutorial on how to use the controller, Kinect and how to make the most out of the interface and apps.

The facial recognition is fantastic and makes good use of the higher resolution on Kinect. Speaking of Kinect integration, the voice command system works really well this time round. With the launch of Kinect for the 360, the voice recognition was as spot-on as it could have been, but now it understand a great majority of the commands without users having to repeat themselves.

Some users might find it a bit awkward speaking to their consoles and dishing out commands, but it is a great feature to have and definitely beneficial for skipping straight to the built-in apps and launching games, without the need to go back to the Home screen (previously known as the dashboard).

Taking on the look and feel of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, the system appears a bit clunky and daunting at first, but once users get used to it and start integrating the voice commands, they should be swinging through the interface in no time.

With the new console comes powerful new CPU and GPU chips to keep everything running smoothly, and unlike the 360, the One is now capable of full multitasking. It can keep multiple apps and one game open at all times, which allows users to easily switch between them, without the need of restarting games or apps.

Games on the One needs to be installed before they can be played, but thanks to the multitasking capabilities, users can dive straight in while the game is being installed, but only at a predetermined point, which is usually around the 10% or 15% mark. The title will complete the remainder of the installation in the background.

This is a welcome feature, as some of the games can get quite large and installation or download times can get lengthy, while also extending the lifetime of the optical drive, by reading all game data off the hard drive during gameplay.

The pride and joy of many Xbox gamers is the Achievements aspect – which have now been separated from the core system and runs in its own app. In addition to the usual collection of Gamerscore through in-game actions, they now also have time-limited challenges, which provide users with an achievement, but no Gamerscore. Apps also have achievements now, but they will not add any Gamerscore.

Conclusion

While it’s a great gaming and home entertainment system, the Xbox One is not without its faults and teething issues, but it seems Microsoft is taking most recommendations from users into account and making the changes that the community wants.

One thing that has to be said, is that the functionality of the unit is extremely limited when not connected to the internet. It leaves users with a bare-bones experience where they won’t even be able to access the achievements app.

If the few launch titles and features are a sign of things to come, this will be the most amazing gaming and entertainment generation ever.

For IT News Africa’s review of Sony’s PlayStation 4, click here.

Dale Lince – Guest writer

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