Introduction and design
The Xbox One is over six months old now and selling strongly, albeit not quite as strong as the Sony PS4.
Not just a games machine, it’s designed to sit at the centre of your digital home, offering a slick, unified interface for your choice of Sky, Virgin, BT, Freeview and Freesat TV services alongside music and movie streaming options, Skype chats, catch-up TV and more.
It launched with the new version of Kinect on board by default, though Microsoft later announced changes that saw the Xbox One become available without it – for a cheaper price – from June 2014 onwards.
The normal Xbox One console can be found for £379 online, while the version without Kinect costs somewhere around the £350 mark – about the same as the PlayStation 4 which also comes without its Camera accessory by default.
Make no mistake though, Kinect is baked deep into the Xbox One experience, with voice and gesture controls at the heart of everything should you choose to use them.
So if you’re not going to play a game, you no longer need to use the gamepad to turn the console on or navigate to your entertainment of choice.
It certainly hasn’t been a stellar start for the Xbox One, but nor has it been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s see if it’s worth your money.
The first thing you’ll notice about the console when you get it out of the needlessly elaborate packaging is what an absolute beast it is. It measures 274 x 79 x 333 mm, making it longer and taller than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox 360. You don’t need a tape measure to figure that out though, the thing just looks huge and it’s not exactly a looker, either.
Its size and girth harkens back to the original Xbox, an imposing black plastic beast covered in black plastic ridges. Microsoft seems to be throwing back to that design, bringing back the all black and the ridge-covered aesthetic.
It’s massive size and black rectangular construction evoke a stereo tuner from the nineties. Its imposing bulk begs to be hidden away, with just its slot loading disc drive exposed, little white Xbox logo glowing in lonely TV cabinet darkness.
Flip the machine around and you’ll see a plethora of ports. It has all your standard nodes: ethernet, HDMI out, power, S/PDIF (commonly used for optical audio), dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR out.
Additionally, there are two proprietary ports, one for hooking in the Kinect, and an HDMI-in, which is how you feed the Xbox One a TV signal from a set-top box. There’s also a third USB 3.0 port found on the system’s right side.
The HDMI-in can function as a passthrough and let any old HDMI signal in, but this introduces a lot of input lag, making it no good for hooking in another console.
You can’t talk Xbox One without bringing up the new Kinect. While the system can operate without being hooked into Microsoft’s magic eye, you’d be losing a lot of its most unique features and showroom wow factor if you chose to buy the version that comes without it.
The new Kinect is a whole lot bigger than its predecessor. It’s also designed to sit in front of your TV, rather than perched on top of the screen like the PlayStation Camera. That’s because it’s field of view is now so large that it doesn’t need to sit up high.
Just like the system itself, it has a white light up logo on its right side. Dull red lights from its IR blaster intermittently glow when it’s active.
The underside of the Kinect has rubber feet that provide a firm grip. It’s not going to fall off your entertainment center any time soon. It can also tilt up and down, with enough range of motion that there shouldn’t be any trouble finding the right angle for your living room.
What’s in the box?
What a pile. An Xbox One purchase gets you the console and a Kinect, a power cable and adapter (aka the power brick), a decent headset, the headset adapter, an HDMI cable and controller with batteries. You’ll also get a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live Gold.
The PlayStation 4 is a lot more tidy in this respect. The Xbox One is down on power compared to the PS4 and it’s much bigger too – yet the PS4′s power supply sits inside its frame, while the Xbox One comes with a big external power brick.
Xbox One setup is more involved than on the PS4, but it’s still not terribly complex. Along with power and HDMI, you’ll also have to connect the Kinect through its proprietary cable.
If you plan to watch TV on the console, you’ll do so with an HDMI cable, through the system’s HDMI-in port. You’ll then need to run the OneGuide’s setup, which isn’t too complex. We’ll get into that in the media portion of this review.
When you first switch the system on you’ll be met with a setup wizard which will get you connected to the internet for that day one patch. It’s around 2GB, and absolutely required before you can even get to the Home screen. There’s been quite a few firmware updates since launch, too, so expect your first patch to take a while depending on your internet speed.
The Xbox One’s tiled Home screen is a dead giveaway that the interface shares some DNA with Windows 8. Its brought one of the unique features of the Metro UI to your TV screen in the form of app snapping.
Snapping lets you run two apps at once, giving a third of the screen to one app off to the right, and the rest to your primary engagement. It’s a good way to do a little Internet Explorer browsing while you wait for a friend to join your game, but beyond that it can be straining on the eyes unless your TV or projector screen is very large.
Kinect makes it easier, allowing to simply say "Xbox snap Skype" to get the side by side feature working. It’s also much easier to just say "switch" for toggling between the two rather using the controller.
Game DVR could be the end of gaming tall tales and "you had to be there" stories. With help from Microsoft’s SkyDrive service, it lets you easily record and share your personal epic wins.
It’s much simpler than third-party recording devices since it’s built directly into the system, and can grab your finest moments just after they happen. Simply say "Xbox record that" to Kinect and a 720p recording of your last thirty seconds in-game is saved to the hard drive. You can also get up to five minutes of footage but you have to plan ahead by snapping the Game DVR feature.
Like the recording on the PS4, game DVR cannot record on the Home screen, and developers do have the choice to disable it at certain moments, in case they don’t wont spoilers to pop up online.
Unlike the PS4, which keeps a running archive of your last fifteen minutes of gameplay, the Xbox One is not constantly recording. However, games can be programmed to automatically engage the DVR. Battlefield 4, for example, records when you rank up or earn an achievement.
You can also share clips on Xbox Live where they will appear on in your activity feed. Those feeds are rather buried though, so chances are your friends won’t see it unless you give them a heads up.
Upload Studio also has a simple suite of editing tools, and allows you to record a voice over commentary. You can even use Kinect recording to place yourself in the video, picture-in-picture style.
While the Xbox One currently has no built-in live streaming capabilities to match the PS4′s Twitch and Ustream support, we think players will appreciate having direct access to their clips, which greatly extends the possibilities of editing and sharing.
Smartglass is the Xbox’s second screen experience. It was introduced on the Xbox 360 and lets you navigate menus and see system information on your tablet or smartphone.
The app is back for Xbox One, and does have improved functionality. You can now launch apps from the second screen, and several games now have companion apps. Dead Rising 3, for example, lets you use your device in lieu of the in-game phone for ordering attacks and calling for back. You can even view the in-game map.
The best service Smartglass provides is a keyboard that’s easier than the console’s on-screen option. It’s a great way to read and respond to messages. You can also type in URLs and operate Bing search this way, which is an excellent way to multitask. You can also use the OneGuide on Smartglass for TV control.
The Windows 8 Smartglass app has its own special features. You can throw a browser page from the console directly onto the screen of your W8 device.
Also, its online requirement, which threatened to lock up the system without a daily server ping, has been dialed way, way down. Out of the box, your Xbox One will need to download a day one patch before you even arrive at the homescreen. After that, you can cut the ethernet cable or smash your router; there’s no further online connectivity needed for single player gaming.
Controller + Kinect
Beloved the world over for its comfortable layout and dependable wireless connection, the Xbox 360 controller became a gaming gold standard.
For the Xbox One, Microsoft has given it an overhaul, and it’s mostly for the best.
Same goes for the Kinect. It never got the adoration of the 360′s gamepad, and was often accused of being a gimmicky, "me too" by Microsoft after the Nintendo Wii kicked off a motion control craze.
This time around, Microsoft still hasn’t built a lot of games around the Kinect. Instead, it’s been integrated into the console’s interface. While you can choose not to use it, you’d be missing out on some of the most surprisingly fun, but occasionally frustrating, features of the Xbox One.
The Xbox 360′s controller was widely regarded as the best all around console gamepad. Its natural contours, well placed triggers and asymmetrical stick layout made it comfortable and the right fit for games of all kinds.
Moving from the 360 to the One, Microsoft has altered little about its signature controller. It’s slightly bigger, with a more comfortable feel in the and, so while it looks very similar, it feels more ergonomic.
The most noticeable change is the new position of the Xbox button, which is now at the top rather than in the middle, making it harder to hit by accident.
It’s also now slightly lighter, with a matte finish that feels sleek in the hand. The analog sticks are extra grippy thanks to textured rubber.
There’s also force feedback in the triggers, letting you feel the kick of a gun or the rumble of off-road driving right in your fingers. Right now it’s a bit of gimmick, but you never know what some clever developer might do with it.
Comparing the two side-by-side, we prefer the Xbox One’s controller to the old 360 pad. And we also prefer it to the also-improved PS4′s DualShock 4 design. However, Sony’s controller has a few features we wish Microsoft would had adopted.
For a start, the Xbox One pad is still using AA batteries for power, while Sony has been building a rechargeable cell right into its controller since the DualShock 3. Microsoft sells that functionality separately in the form of the Play and Charge Kit. At £19, it’s asking a lot, since extra controllers are already £44 a pop.
The Xbox One’s controller doesn’t have any motion features, unlike the DualShock 4, which basically has Move built right in. It’s forgivable since you have a Kinect, but we do think that the PS4′s touchpad gives it an edge, both for casual gaming and manipulating big inventory screens.
Overall, the Xbox One controller is an improvement in every way except one: the shoulder buttons. The actions on the Xbox One’s bumpers are less taught. It makes for a flimsier click, which is a real shame, since the One controller trumps the 360′s build quality in every other way.
With the exception of that annoying flaw, the Xbox One has a really excellent controller. It’s a pleasure to hold, the batteries last just as long as the last-gen version and making black the standard color was a wise choice, since it won’t discolor as readily as the 360′s white model.
The Xbox One’s Kinect is a combination camera and microphone. It lets the system see you, hear you, react to your commands or just your presence. It also has an IR blaster that can interact with your TV and other appliances.
While Microsoft has taken pains to assure the public that the Kinect is not required for using the Xbox One, ignore it and you’d be missing out. After all, it’s going to be in the box no matter what; it’s the reason Xbox One is £50 more than the PS4.
Physically, it’s bigger than the Xbox 360′s Kinect. It’s wider, heavier, more rectangular and cannot be mounted to the top of your TV, at least not as-is out of the box. Also, unlike the 360′s Kinect, it doesn’t move on its own to keep you in frame. Microsoft has replaced that slightly unnerving feature with an optical zoom. The Kinect can be manually tilted, but you only need to do so during the initial setup.
There’s a wizard that makes calibration quite painless and only needs to be repeated if you make major changes to your living room setup. The first time you run it you’ll introduce Kinect to your face. Once seems to be enough, the Kinect was shockingly good at picking people out beneath glasses and facial hair.
Some checks do need to be repeated if you move the Kinect: making sure it can see enough of the floor and that the mic is tuned to hear you. The system will ask you to crank up your speakers so it can blast a few notes for a sound check. This makes sure Kinect can hear you over the TV. This whole setup process takes less than five minutes.
The Kinect sees you and hears you, letting you navigate menus with your voice or gesture commands. Being able to go from the first Home screen to your pins with a wave is nice, but beyond that the onscreen hand cursor is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s twitchy and doesn’t recognize a "press" very well.
For voice commands, the Kinect’s mic can reliably hear you over TV audio, but conversation and background noise gives it trouble. It’s best used when there’s little going on in the room besides playing Xbox. You also need to stick to rather rigid command syntax so it understands you.
Everything you say has to begin with "Xbox." "Xbox go to Forza Motorsport 5" will launch said racing game. It sounds simple enough but you’ll find plenty of ways to trip over it.
For example, saying play rather than go to, or Forza instead of the game’s entire name. Kinect is no Siri when it comes to interpreting the way people actually talk.
A lot of the command phrasing isn’t terribly intuitive either. For example, "Xbox on" turns on the system, but "Xbox turn off" switches it off. Forgetting to say "turn" or putting it where it doesn’t belong usually results in no response from the Kinect.
Hopefully Kinect’s voice commands will improve and become less rigid over time. Siri and Google Now have certainly come a long way. As of now, Xbox One’s interface jammed with tutorials and lists of phrases; Microsoft knows there’s a lot to learn and it’s doing its best to compensate. See a full list of Kinect commands here.
Kinect makes a lot of basic functions convenient and fun. Pausing a movie, returning to the home screen and switching between snapped apps worked quite well. However, anything beyond simple commands can quickly get frustrating.
The least reliable command is ironically the most basic. We frequently found ourselves saying "Xbox on" several times before the system would come to life. While it would sometimes snap to attention at first utterance, we never what we had done right, or wrong.
Also, while you can easily setup the Kinect’s IR blaster to automatically power on your TV, it might be a good option to skip. If your TV is already on when you say "Xbox On," it’ll turn it off. A lot of universal remotes have the same problem.
At its best the Kinect compliments the Xbox One’s interface by giving you options. You can go between speech, gestures and controller input without even bothering to tell the Kinect "stop listening." The bevy of options is impressive, and amusing.
Microsoft’s bid for living room supremacy is powered by an AMD processor, backed by 8GB of DDR3 memory and 32MB of ultra fast ESRAM.
For storage, there’s a 500GB hard drive to keep your media, gameplay videos and game installs. Unlike the PlayStation 4, there’s no swapping out that mechanical drive for solid state without considerable trouble, and letting your warranty fly right out the window.
Speaking of windows, if you’ve used Windows 8, the Xbox One’s interface will look familiar. It’s made up of tiles and divided into three sections: Pins, Home and Store. It’s somewhat customizable, letting you pick the color of said tiles, but mostly works by automatically populating itself with your recently accessed apps and games.
Home is the first thing you’ll see when you turn on your Xbox, or hit the Xbox button on the controller. It devotes a large front and centre rectangle to whatever you’re currently doing. Whether it’s a game, an app or TV, you’ll see a live preview of it in the middle of the screen. If you just booted up, it’ll show the last app you used.
The current app preview is flanked on the left by a strip for your Xbox Live profile. It provides fresh information about your Gamerscore and friends list.
The rest of Home is covered in tiles for other recently accessed apps. Besides your Live profile and the current app preview, Snap and My games & apps are the other permanent residents. There’s also a tile representing the disc drive, and three large Featured tiles.
To the left of the Home screen you’ll find your Pins, a favorites list you can customise with games, apps or TV shows. You may remember pins from the Xbox 360, but they’re far more convenient and powerful on the Xbox One.
For one thing, they’re practically living on the Home screen, just a scroll to the left away, while the 360 tucked them into their own folder. Being able to save a specific show or TV channel to Pins is the Xbox One’s media integration at its most convenient.
To the right of the Home screen is the Store. It’s divided into Games, Movies & TV, Music and Apps. There’s also a Bing search bar below it. The layout is attractive and the placement is unobtrusive. We’re just glad that it’s been relegated to its own screen, away from the more personal Home and Pins.
When you’re in an app or game, returning to the Home screen is as simple as pressing the Xbox button on the controller. Games are automatically paused, while videos and live TV continue to play in picture-in-picture mode.
Of course, the whole interface can also be navigated by Kinect, using either gestures or voice commands. The Xbox One’s interface does have its unintuitive moments, and the Kinect compensates for them nicely. We’re not sure why Settings has been folded into My games & apps, but being able to shout "Xbox go to Settings" saves you from having to remember that.
When it comes to booting up, the Xbox One is very fast because it doesn’t really turn off unless you unplug it. Holding down the Xbox button and selecting console off really just puts it in standby mode.
Coming out of standby, the Xbox One takes only twenty seconds to reach the Home screen. Kinect will have you signed in by then as well, unless you’re sitting too far back. We sometimes had to lean forward before it recognised us.
So while not every design choice is transparent, you can’t accuse the Xbox One’s interface of being sluggish. There’s no pop in on the Home screen, and overall navigation is snappy. You can drill through menus and browse your library as quickly as you can manipulate the D-pad, or bark at the Kinect.
Multitasking is where the Xbox One really shines. The system keeps your last three apps suspended, letting you switch between them with nary a stutter.
What’s surprising is how little is on the system when you first get it. When you first use your Xbox One you’ll frequently click on a tile, only to discover you don’t actually have the corresponding app yet. Out of the box, almost nothing is pre-installed. That makes sense for third-party services, but apps like Game DVR, Xbox Video, even the Blu-ray playing software need to be downloaded and installed.
It’s not such a big deal, just a telling indication of how internet reliant this new generation of gaming will be. Be sure get all your pertinent apps downloaded before having friends over to show off the new system.
Every game on the Xbox One requires at least a partial installation before it can be played. These installs are lengthier than on PlayStation 4, but not by much.
For example, a disc copy of Madden for Xbox One needed six minutes to reach 25% installation before letting us on the gridiron. The PS4 version needed two minutes, and an additional minute to download a patch before online features were enabled.
Installing isn’t a major roadblock on either system, but it is something to anticipate. It’s a good idea to pop a new game in the drive the minute you get home. That way you can be sure it’ll be ready when you are.
One advantage the Xbox One has over the PS4 is that discs are not required to play. Once a game has been installed, the system won’t ask for it when it’s selected from the menu. It’s a convenient feature, if nothing else, and makes using the Xbox One feel pleasantly self-contained.
Getting to graphics and gameplay, a lot has been made of the fact that many third-party games run in full 1080p on the PS4, while the Xbox One versions are 720p. There are indeed sharper visuals to be found on the PS4′s versions of Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, but you need a keen eye to tell the difference.
Character models often have more detailed textures, and lighting effects can be slightly more impressive on the PS4. However, performance across the two systems is very similar, with equally smooth framerates and load times that are close in length.
The 720p vs 1080p situation is still troubling, Microsoft will need to close this visual gap in future releases. It’s something we’ll be keeping an eye on as we update this review down the line.
The Xbox One has first-party games that show off just as much graphical gusto as the PS4. Ryse: Son of Rome and Forza Motorsport 5 are just as gorgeous as anything currently available from Sony. Dead Rising 3 is a bit behind the beauty curve but the sheer number of zombies it can render while maintaining a solid framerate is impressive.
When it first launched, the Xbox One’s potential as a media device was very much a work in progress. Especially if you live outside the United States, for it was only on its home turf that the Xbox One’s OneGuide feature worked, allowing you to use the Xbox to work with and control your TV set top box.
The recent Xbox One system update for Europe, though, has finally introduced the OneGuide to a number of European territories, including the UK.
Getting yourself rigged up with the OneGuide for this is pretty straightforward provided you have a
compatible set-top box. First you need to pipe your box into the Xbox One’s HDMI input, then head into the Xbox One settings menu and choose the TV and OneGuide option.
From here you can tell your Xbox what TV service you’ll be using – Freesat, Freeview, BT Vision, Virgin Media and Sky are all supported – and whether you want it to track your viewing history.
You can also clear/refresh the OneGuide’s content, clear your viewing history, and state if you want the OneGuide to hide standard definition versions of channels available in HD.
The facility to have the Xbox monitor your viewing habits is there, of course, so that it can over time offer you an experience more tailored to your specific tastes, focussing on the sort of content you like the most.
Wide broadcaster support
The list of broadcasters supported is surprisingly long. From a UK perspective the key ones are BSkyB (HD and standard definition), BT Vision, Freesat, Freeview, and Virgin Media.
Once you’ve got the OneGuide set up, you can then opt to have the Xbox control whatever cable or satellite box you’ve got connected to it. Handily if you’ve already set up your TV provider the Xbox One will automatically select the most likely remote control code for your hardware, sending out a power off/on command to see if that works with your set-top box.
If it does then that’s it; you’re ready to use your set-top box with your console. If it doesn’t, the console keeps cycling through on/off commands until it gets to one that works.
We tested the system with Sky, Virgin and Humax YouView/Freetime boxes without any issues, and Microsoft assures us that the vast majority of Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes will work with it too.
I was also pleased to see that the Xbox One can additionally take control of your audio receiver if you have one – a welcome touch given how closely integrated such a receiver may be with your video sources.
Refreshed refresh rates
Another key option now available in the Audio & Video subsection of the TV set-up menu that wasn’t there at launch is Refresh rate. This defaults to 60Hz, but I strongly recommend you switch it to 50Hz if you don’t want your pictures to suffer nasty judder.
Alongside this refresh rate choice is the option to choose stereo or surround sound audio.
Before finishing set up, it’s worth heading into the Display & Sound setup menu and checking that you’ve got your TV resolution set to 1080p if you have a full HD set, that you’ve got the Allow 50Hz refresh rate box ticked, and that you’ve got the colour space set to TV if you’re using it with a TV rather than a PC monitor.
Now you’re all set up, what does the OneGuide bring to the table?
The OneGuide in action
Choose the TV app on the Xbox One homescreen to start watching, and your set top box’s pictures immediately appear. Accessing the guide is then a simple case of either pressing the Menu button on the Xbox One gamepad, or if you’ve got a Kinect connected, saying "Xbox, Show Guide".
This calls up an electronic programme guide similar in basic appearance to that you get with digital TVs these days, with a vertically scrollable channel list down the left, and horizontally scrollable lists of current and upcoming programmes stretching off to the right.
Of course, as the Xbox One is passing through a direct signal from your box, you can also simply use the box’s own remote control to look at its built-in EPG.
But highlight a programme in the OneGuide and you get a nice HD graphic from it, along with information about the show and, if it’s a programme currently showing, a large green bar visualising how much of the programme has elapsed.
Choose a current programme from the listings and like magic your Xbox One will deliver the right channel number to your set-top box. Choose an upcoming programme, and a window pops up offering you the chance to rate the programme (worthwhile if you want the Xbox to more quickly learn your preferences), see Season Details information on the show you’ve selected, and see the available upcoming imminent showtimes for the episode you’ve selected.
In some cases there’s also a Ways To Watch column, showing video streaming platforms carrying the programme you’re interested in.
Some channels additionally provide a ‘You May Also Like’ section to the right of the showtimes list, highlighting three shows connected by genre or cast to the content you first selected.
You can select certain channels to be your favourites on the OneGuide too, to provide a streamlined listings experience.
As well as being able to select full TV Listings and Favourites, the OneGuide options screen lets you access ‘App Channels’.
The options available here include YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Twitch, Wuaki.tv, EuroSport News, OneDrive, Machinima, the TED lecture channel, and even the Upload Studio where you’ve got stored your greatest Xbox gaming moments.
It’s a bit puzzling that you only get some of the available on-demand content providers here – for instance, there’s no Demand 5, no Netflix and no Blinkbox.
But it’s good to see in this day and age the Xbox giving streaming apps more or less the same weight in its OneGuide interface as broadcast fare.
Considered overall, the OneGuide is really quite clever, giving you a much more ‘joined up’ content-finding experience than you could get with a typical set-top box EPG – especially the integration into the EPG of ‘also likes’ and alternative on-demand viewing options.
OneGuide UK 2
There is one rather glaring limitation of the OneGuide system, though. Namely that if you select an episode on the OneGuide that isn’t showing live, you don’t get the option to set your connected TV receiver to record it, despite your Xbox One being able to issue commands to that receiver.
When you think about it this is an inevitable limitation. After all, you’re using the Guide on your Xbox not the guide on your TV receiver, so setting that receiver to make recordings from your Xbox would involve the console somehow being able to open up the receiver’s guide, track down the right programme, and issue a record command.
Of course, Xbox could argue with some justification that it’s no great hardship picking up your TV receiver’s remote and tracking down in your receiver’s own listings an interesting broadcast the Xbox has discovered for you.
But surely the whole point of the OneGuide is that it should offer a unified, one-stop TV experience.
We can’t help but think that after a few times of having to juggle two remotes and two EPG’s just to set a recording many people may just decide to go back to keeping their TV and gaming/multimedia experiences separately.
Another potential problem for the OneGuide is that TV viewing tends to be a whole family activity rather than a personal one.
Everyone in the house is familiar with using their TV as the starting point to their TV-viewing experience, whereas in most households using an Xbox One will certainly not be second nature.
In other words, while people not familiar with the Xbox One might appreciate some of the extra functionality the OneGuide offers, they still likely won’t ever want to bother with the extra effort required to use it. Even if you fork out £20-£30 for the pretty much essential Xbox One media remote.
Having mentioned the media remote, though, I’d hoped that the Xbox One’s much-vaunted Kinect might go a long way to making the OneGuide more intuitive to use.
After all, in theory you can use it to issue voice commands so that you barely have to touch the joystick or optional remote. Supported OneGuide voice commands include ‘Xbox, Watch TV’, ‘Xbox, One Guide’, ‘Xbox, Favourites’ and the ability to switch to a show or channel by name.
While this all sounds great on paper, despite calibrating the Kinect umpteen times for every member of the household, the Kinect’s ability to respond to commands accurately – if at all – is far too flawed and inconsistent to be usable.
While you might be happy to be patient with Kinect in other areas, if you’re going to leave behind the zippy interface of your Sky box, you’re going to want the same speedy experience.
However, I’d estimate that the voice recognition system failed to respond at all or failed to correctly recognise a OneGuide command – especially when trying to tell it show or channel names – at least 60% of the time.
This leaves you feeling frustrated and, as you bellow the same instruction at the console for the fourth time, a bit of an idiot, frankly.
It doesn’t help that the voice command system responds pretty sluggishly at the best of times, denying you that ‘instant response’ that’s so important with any control system.
In short, trying to use your voice to control the OneGuide is more or less a non-starter, more likely to have you tearing your hair out than marvelling at the arrival of a brave new world of TV interfaces.
One possible solution might be to run your broadcast receiver into an HDMI splitter, sending one signal direct to your TV and one to your Xbox One. That way family members not comfortable with the Xbox One can still use the TV as before, while getting the benefits of the OneGuide on the occasions where you think they’ll come in useful is no more complicated than choosing another input.
But this is more expense and hassle, of course, and so it’s a solution that probably won’t curry favour in most households.
Moving on to other parts of the Xbox One’s media credentials, Microsoft’s recent move to shift video streaming services outside of its Xbox Live Gold subscription ‘walled garden’ is hugely welcome.
It’s long seemed nonsensical and unfair to force people to subscribe to Xbox Live just to access their Netflix or Amazon Instant accounts that they’re already paying for.
Media and playback
In terms of the quantity of streaming apps available in the UK, the Xbox One is doing… OK.
The main services of note are Netflix, Amazon Prime/Instant, Demand 5, Blinkbox, Xbox Video, 4OD, Machinima, Skype, YouTube, Wuaki.tv, MLB.tv, and the TED ‘inspirational lecture’ channel.
There are a trio of glaring omissions here, of course – namely the BBC iPlayer, the ITV Player, and any sort of Sky support, including Now TV or Sky Go.
Fortunately the BBC iPlayer app will be added eventually (probably later in 2014) with some Sky channels and Now TV supposedly launching before the end of summer.
There’s no word on any ITV Player or Sky Go support, though, with Microsoft simply referring to Sky Go as a ‘potential future opportunity’ – despite the services presence on the Xbox 360 and recently being confirmed for the PS4.
Talking refresh rates
When the Xbox One first launched, the quality of the streaming experience was severely hamstrung by the lack of a 50Hz output, which meant pictures stuttered alarmingly. This is, now, thankfully fixed, leaving you with a very nice quality streaming experience, with good stability and crisp HD pictures (so long as you have a decently fast broadband connection obviously).
A big part of any household’s media experience these days is playback of photos, videos and music via USB storage devices or DLNA streaming from networked external devices. And in this department the Xbox One continues to be something of a bust.
For starters it can’t play any media file from a USB port. Not even your JPEG photos. And nor does it support DLNA ‘pulling’, where you can browse and access content stored on networked devices from the console.
The console does support DLNA streaming if you enable it via an external smart device app such as Skifta or Windows Media Center 7 or Windows 8.1 PC. But this is hardly a convenient approach.
Doubtless some sort of more useful DLNA system will appear at some point – certainly it seems there’s a PLEX app for the console in the works. But it does seem strange that DLNA pull technology isn’t on the Xbox One yet when it was there on the Xbox 360.
Remarkably, the Xbox One still doesn’t even let you rip your own CDs to its hard drive. It will play an inserted CD well enough, but you can’t build up a convenient archive of your music on the console. CD ripping was, of course, available on the Xbox 360.
To be clear, there are ways of getting multimedia playing on the Xbox One. As well as the third-party DLNA ‘client’ option already mentioned, you can now access stuff you’ve got stored on the OneDrive cloud system. And you can, of course, access your favourite music via YouTube if you don’t want to subscribe to a streaming platform like Xbox Music.
But it’s a real shame you have to resort to such indirect methods when accessing your own stuff was all so easy on the Xbox One’s predecessor.
Blu-ray and DVD
The last thing on Xbox One as media server watchlist is its playback of Blu-rays and DVDs. And again we have to start with a major absent feature: 3D playback.
Well, maybe not everyone will see this as major deal given that 3D’s never exactly hyper popularity seems to be on the wane. But nonetheless it’s been a standard feature on normal Blu-ray players for ages now. Oh well. Maybe we should be grateful there’s Blu-ray playback at all given the Xbox 360′s failure to adopt it.
With 2D Blu-rays and DVDs the console has gone from being a pretty poor effort at launch to being a pretty decent one now. For starters, recent updates have added a 50Hz playback option for Blu-rays which works much better with UK TVs than the previous 60Hz alternative to Blu-ray’s native 24p format. Though 24p is also, naturally, supported.
Pictures look more detailed and noiseless than they used to as well. There are some standalone Blu-ray decks that can deliver bit more sharpness and colour resolution, but some viewers might actually prefer the less ‘forensic’ but smoother finish to the Xbox One’s images.
There were significant problems with the audio performance of the Xbox One’s Blu-ray player at launch. Specifically some major lip synch errors when watching at 24p, and the fact that the console could only ship out uncompressed DTS surround sound, not Dolby Digital.
Both these problems now appear to be fixed – even if the Dolby Digital issue has only been solved by converting DTS tracks into Dolby Digital for output.
Looking back over all the Xbox One’s media offerings as they stand today, it’s certainly true that we now have a console that’s much improved from its ‘bare bones’ launch day status. However, it remains very much a work in progress in some key areas, and while there are glimmers of genius from the undeniably sophisticated OneGuide integrated TV functionality, for now the problems with controlling the system – especially in a family use environment – represent a significant barrier to its wide adoption.
At least until Microsoft adds a few more compelling features to make the effort feel more worthwhile.
Microsoft introduced Xbox Live at the tail end of the original Xbox’s shelf life, but it was on the Xbox 360 that it became the fleshed out, full featured online service that we know today. Now that more and more console features are internet dependent, a strong web connection, as well as buying into the console’s online service, is a basic requirement.
Paying for an Xbox Live Gold account has always been necessary to take your Xbox games online. That was a major edge for the PS3, which gave away this functionality, but now Sony has taken the same approach and put the PS4′s multiplayer behind a paywall.
On launch, the Xbox One still required you to meet the £35 price tag before you could have access to video services like Netflix. This is no longer the case though, so you’ll only have to pay once with no Xbox Live subscription requred for streaming video.
Your account from the Xbox 360 will carry over to the Xbox One and for better or worse, Xbox Live is still basically the same service we knew from the 360. You can message friends, join groups for voice chat and jump right into a game. While you can still type up messages, Microsoft no longer lets you record and send audio messages.
At least you’re paying for quality servers. Right out of the gate, connections to Live have been stable, not buckling under the pressure of the day one launch crowd. We were able to play online co-op in Dead Rising 3 as well as fight online in Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts without a snag. Mic chat through the included headset was sharp, even clearer than on the Xbox 360.
Downloading a digitally purchased game from Xbox Live is just as swift as on Sony’s servers. Games can be played in mid-download, letting you dive into titles before the massive files finishes arriving.
With Game DVR the Xbox One has introduced big element to Xbox Live, but hasn’t given it its proper due. Your friend feed is rather buried, hidden a couple menus deep in the system’s interface. It makes uploading the file to SkyDrive and sharing it on YouTube a much more attractive option. While we appreciate that notifications and shared content it cluttering up our home screen, Microsoft should really consider finding a new place for this content to live.
There are also no free games yet available for Gold subscribers on the Xbox One. There is Killer Instincts, but it’s too riddled with microtransactions to really be called free. When you download the game you get only one character and one arena. Everything else is pay to play, up to the point where you can spend enough to buy a full boxed title.
Xbox really needs to step things up in this regard. PS Plus subscribers currently get two free games, Resogun and Contrast, and they’re both solid titles. Gold subscribers on the 360 currently have similair benefits, so there’s really no reason why Microsoft shouldn’t have come out of the gate with something to reward its paying customers.
While the Xbox One is still building up its library, and value concious gamers would do well wait for some discounted Platinum Hits to emerge, early adopters will find enough to scratch their next-gen itch.
For a comprehensive rundown of the best Xbox One currently has to offer, we turn to sister site GamesRadar. If you still need something to play after reading this, check their list of the best Xbox One games.
This is the Xbox One’s Halo, the game meant to sell systems and get people playing and paying on Xbox Live. It’s multiplayer only, so don’t pick it up unless you want to in online. If you do though, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a fast-paced, dynamic showdown of man versus machine versus man inside of a machine.
From GamesRadar’s review:
"Titanfall blends familiar concepts with innovative ideas in remarkable ways, leading to a nearly nonstop supply of awesome moments. But for as fun as it is, you’ll likely find yourself wishing Respawn was more ambitious when it comes to game modes, since there’s a good chance you’ve captured enough flags for one lifetime."
Yes, the launch was troubled, but the server’s have come a long way, and Battlefield 4 is one of the best looking, biggest scale Xbox One experiences in both campaign and multiplayer.
From GamesRadar’s review:
"Multiplayer shooters don’t get better than Battlefield 4. Incredible destruction, smart map design, and solid tech combine to produce a true showcase for PS4 and PC. While solo play still lags behind, it’s a big step up from BF3."
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
AC IV: Black Flag is a funny thing. It’s both a return to form for the series, and bit of a hard left into full-on pirate mode. Do all the classic Assassin’s Creed bits, leaping from above onto unsuspecting prey, then hop aboard your frigate and broadside an enemy ship with a volley of cannon fire. AC IV might be the best AC game, but it’s definitely the pirate game ever made.
Note: the above video was crafted from footage of the PS4 version of the game, which looks slightly better. AC IV still looks spectacular on the Xbox One though, trust me, I’ve played them both.
From GamesRadar’s review:
"An ambitious start for Assassin’s Creed on next-gen. The vibrant Caribbean world and bloody piracy shine brightest, while the only sour notes come from contrived series story beats and repetitive missions–both need rethinking for AC5."
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
Yes, it’s an up-rezzed last gen title, but it’s also one of the best games of last year and it truly benefits from the next-gen visual spit shine. Like many third-party games, it does look slightly better on the PS4, but that shouldn’t stop Xbox One owners from picking it up. You’re still getting one of the most compelling single player titles in ages. This is Lara Croft at her very best.
Note: the above video review was crafted with footage from the last-gen version of the game.
From GamesRadar’s review:
"One of the best adventure games on console, with a fantastic blend of action and exploration. The Definitive Edition really is definitive, but isn’t worth a repeat buy for those who’ve already experienced Lara’s story."
Dead Rising 3
Dead Rising 3 is an over the top zombie kill fest where you can craft weapon as well as vehicular methods of destruction. What it lacks in graphical polish it makes up for in sheer scale. DR 3 puts an appropriately insane number of zombies on the screen, and then lets you plow through them in a flame shooting dune buggy. Somewhere out there, George Romero is proud, or annoyed about being ripped off again, I’m not sure which.
From GamesRadar’s review:
"Dead Rising 3 excels at what it does best, which is mainly killing zombies in deeper ways as your undead-slaying skills grow over the game. And it’s smoother than ever to maximize that quality time of chainsawing a zombie in half. Yet the lack of combat annoyances only amplify the flaws of the writing and the lack of mission variety. Dead Rising is closer than ever to realizing its full potential, but its many mistakes make it clear that it isn’t quite there yet."
Imagine the best Matrix game never made and add in a bit of Assassin’s Creed-style exploration. What you’ve got is Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch_Dogs. Following Aiden Pierce as he dismantles a power-mad society from the inside out, the game is an absolute blast and one of the biggest games of 2014.
From GamesRadar’s Watch Dogs review:
"Watch Dogs’ interconnected world is a wonderful, explosive, high-tech playground. Shame the people who inhabit it are so forgettable."
Games coming soon
It’s not enough to have four or five stand-out games available on your console; what you really need are great games waiting in the wings, ready to launch this holiday season.
Thankfully, the Xbox One has these in spades. From Bungie’s next big first-person shooter, Destiny, to the frenetic, post-apocalyptic playground, Sunset Overdrive, there’s a slew of triple-AAA titles coming our way this fall – many of which are exclusive to the Xbox One.
Calling Destiny ambitious is a disservice to the game. It’s an ambient world (er, galaxy) that operates in real time. It combines single- and multiplayer into a single campaign, seamlessly transitioning between the two. It’s from the team that made Halo, so while Destiny may not have the iconic face of Master Chief plastered on the box, it will have the same creative minds doing what they do best: sci-fi.
From GamesRadar’s Destiny preview:
"Bungie had a lot to do with what the first person shooter has become today. Now that the developer’s time with the landmark Halo series is over, the developer is setting out with a brand new IP. With the company’s next project–an open, shared-world shooter called Destiny–it looks like the creators of Master Chief are aiming to change the face of the shooter once again."
If you asked us one year ago what Quantum Break was about, I don’t think we’d be able to tell you. It’s one part live-action drama, one part third-person shooter and the resulting concoction is one helluva trans-media experience.
From GamesRadar’s Quantum Break preview:
"Quantum Break isn’t just a game; it’s a transmedia experience, with much of its story told via a live-action television series … During certain parts of the game, you’ll have to make decisions that will drastically alter the course of your story, which also creates a personalized live-action television series tailored to your choices."
From GamesRadar’s Sunset Overdrive preview:
"Much like the glorious Bulletstorm, Sunset Overdrive is all about being aggressive and killing enemies with style. Everything is designed to stop players from cowering behind cover and playing the game like a last-gen shooter."
The Xbox One wants to be everything to everyone. Games, movies and music, its lofty ambition is to put all your entertainment in one box.
Does Xbox One truly make you master and commander of the living room, or is it all more trouble than it’s worth? Allow us to break it down.
The Xbox One has the stronger game lineup for the time being and Kinect is great for simple commands. Saving gameplay footage, quickly pausing a movie, answering a Skype call, all these features work smoothly and make for a convenient and fun interface.
Xbox One’s gameplay video sharing is less locked down than the PS4′s. Xbox One doesn’t keep a running video archive like PS4, but it does grant you a lot more freedom with your footage. You can upload right to Skydrive, then download the an MP4 of the clip and do whatever you like with it. The PS4′s sharing is limited to the PSN or Facebook, with no actual access to the file.
It’s the best place to see TV alongside streaming media. Being able to perform a Bing search for a show and see when it will be on next as well as the places to rent or buy it is fantastic. While the Xbox One’s media integration isn’t perfect, there’s no other system that brings this kind of service to your TV.
The interface is fast and customisable. The system comes out of standby in less than thirty seconds, and menus move as fast as you can manipulate them. We also loved the convenience of Pins, which let you keep almost anything just a click away.
The TV integration features also work well, though the clunky hit-and-miss nature of the voice commands and the potential confusion of family members could mean you forgo this option.
Snapping apps makes for poor presentation. Performance-wise, the system can handle two programs admirably, but there are very few apps you’d actually want running side by side. TV and a game seem like the most common request, but the result is a visually cramped experience, and a jumble of audio.
This is a feature better suited to Windows 8, where the mouse and keyboard make it easy to resize windows and alt-tab between the two.
The controller still uses replaceable batteries. We really wish Microsoft had copied Sony’s DualShock and gone for a built-in rechargeable cell. No one likes searching for AAs when friends come over. Also, the shoulder buttons on the One’s controller don’t feel as nice as those on the 360.
Kinect commands are very rigid. We weren’t expecting Siri, but you have to talk to it in very precise, often unintuitive ways to make it understand. It also failed to register the "Xbox on" command about half the time. After a while, I found myself ignoring the option for Kinect commands completely – they’re too hit and miss and far too slow even when they do work.
Some third-party titles run in 720p. That simply shouldn’t be the case. You might need to pause the game and have a look to tell, but there are noticeable differences between Xbox One and PS4 versions, with the PS4 coming out on top. If there’s one thing Microsoft needs to sort out in the next few months, it’s this.
When the Xbox One was first unveiled to the public, there were worries that it would embody the Jack of all trades, master of none cliche. While the media integration features need polish and Kinect could use a grammar lesson, the most important things are there: good games, a solid interface and reliable servers for hours and hours of online gaming.
From yelling at Kinect to pinning channels and games to sharing uploads from the Game DVR, it’s just plain fun to use the Xbox One – but it’s not a perfect system yet.