By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Redmond, Wash. – Two months after Sony unveiled the first glimpse of its forthcoming PlayStation 4 console and 19 days before the start of E3 in Los Angeles, Microsoft formally announced here Tuesday
its next “all-in-one” entertainment console – the Xbox One.
During a press conference that was broadcast live on the Spike channel and on the Xbox website, the company revealed the new platform will launch later this year, at an undisclosed price.
This go-round, the Xbox is positioned more as an entertainment hub than a simple video game console, placing as much emphasis on movie and video entertainment, Skype video calling and second-screen interaction as it does on advanced (and in some cases exclusive) new gaming capabilities.
The Xbox One console is said to offer eight times the graphic performance of the Xbox 360. It boasts 5 billion transistors, compared with 500 million on the predecessor, while the memory was boosted to 8GB from 512MB.
Also included is a new 500GB hard drive, Blu-ray–capable optical drive, and a custom AMD 40-nanometer system-on-a-chip with both CPU and GPU processes.
The “soul” of the Xbox One architecture was said to be its melding of three systems in one — the Xbox OS, the kernel of Windows and connecting the two for multitasking and effortless control.
The system is comprised of three core parts — the console, the motion-sensing Kinect 2.0 device and a new controller.
Microsoft also employs its Smart Glass technology that turns a mobile phone or tablet into a second screen to intelligently interact with the Xbox for enhanced, interactive viewing of TV shows, movies, music, sports and games.
Xbox president Don Mattrick said that in developing Xbox One, the development team focused on making an “entertainment console” that lines up games, television and software and makes the user experience simple, instant and complete.
The system is designed with voice and facial recognition as key input devices, with gesture and spoken control at the heart of the experience.
Users can log into the system by speaking and the new system architecture can be audibly commanded to switch between content selections with simple spoken or gesture commands.
Among the new system attributes is Snap Mode, which lets users play a game or watch a movie while calling up other content options in multiple windows on one viewing screen.
The system fully integrates the Skype calling experience, using an advanced high-def camera in the Kinect 2.0 portion of the system. Users will now be able to have group chats using Skype on the platform.
Live TV is now integral to the Xbox One experience, and Microsoft has teamed with ESPN to allow fantasy sports fanatics the ability to instantly call up players’ stats as they change in real time and to view clips of favorite players.
Marc Whitten, Xbox Live corporate VP, said the platform will enable advanced capabilities for games, including monitoring a heartbeat during exercise activities.
The new system controller was created with input from game players, Whitten said, and includes up to 40 design innovations. It also offers improved ergonomics and a new d-pad.
The system will have DVR-like capabilities to record live gaming action and store memorable moments to post in the Cloud for bragging rights.
The Xbox Live Cloud service has been vastly upgraded as well to support Xbox One with more than 300,000 servers, “offering more computing power than existed in the world in 1999,” according to the company.
Microsoft Studios plans to launch 15 new games in the first year of Xbox One, including eight brand new franchises.
Among some of the first games for Xbox One will be EA Sports’ "FIFA 2014," "Madden," "NBA Live" and "UFC," which will all be released in the next 12 months.
A new gaming engine called EA Sports Ignite was said to be able “to blur the line between real and virtual.”
It will utilize the Xbox One's exclusive updates for enhanced game play.
Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios VP, said Xbox One games will also be “more immersive, more personal and more connected than ever before,” and revealed that the Forza Motorsport 5 racing game will be available at launch.
Nancy Tellem, who heads Xbox TV studios, said, “Xbox Live is about to become the next water cooler,” and along with Bonnie Ross, who heads 343 Industries, revealed that Steven Spielberg will help produce a new live-action "Halo" TV series linked to the next iteration of the sci-fi shooter game.
Microsoft also revealed an exclusive partnership with the NFL that will enable viewers to engage with live games in a new way, including making instant Skype calls with friends to talk smack as a favorite player scores.
Activision also revealed that the “Call of Duty: Ghosts” game previously announced for the forthcoming Sony PS4 will also be available for Xbox One.
This iteration of the game was designed around an entirely new engine, with advanced new graphics capabilities, more intuitive and reactive animation.
Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said all downloadable content for “Call of Duty: Ghosts” will launch exclusively first on Xbox One.
Microsoft vowed to reveal more on the console and its related games at E3 next month.
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