Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled its highly-anticipated new gaming system, the Xbox One.
The Xbox One is not just the latest iteration in the company's console line. Microsoft is billing the device as an "all-in-one" entertainment system that represents a huge leap foreward in gaming devices.
"It changes everything," proclaimed Marc Whitten, an Xbox executive, at Tuesday's unveiling event.
The official Xbox website offers an even more glowing take:
Welcome to a new generation of games and entertainment. Where games push the boundaries of realism. And television obeys your every command. Where listening to music while playing a game is a snap. And you can jump from TV to movies to music to a game in an instant. Where your experience is custom tailored to you. And the entertainment you love is all in one place. Welcome to the all-in-one, Xbox One. [Xbox]
Microsoft would understandably want to hype its console as a pixel-shattering product. But does the console live up to the hype?
It appears the company is intent on making consoles capable of far more than just, well, gaming. While modern systems all feature web access and apps, Microsoft has "[taken] the next big step in introducing a console designed from the ground up to do far more than just games," says Wired's Chris Kohler.
So what exactly can Microsoft's new toy do that others can't?
The Xbox One will be able to run multiple apps at once on a split screen. That means users can play a game while Skyping with friends, or watch a movie while surfing the web. The new system also comes with an updated Kinect sensor for motion-activated controls that can read users' heartbeats.
On top of all that, a new partnership with the NFL means the Xbox One will offer live NFL broadcasts and fantasy statistics. Microsoft even announced that it would develop a live-action program specific to the device with the help of famed director Steven Spielberg.
"When Sony unveiled their PlayStation 4, one of my complaints was that it focused too much on games and not enough on becoming more than just a console," says TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington. "Microsoft has taken the exact opposite approach, fielding a device that seems like it would be equally at home in either a hardcore gamer's, or a non-player's living room. That should help them deal with a changing gaming industry."
The move toward all-encompassing entertainment comes at a time when thrill-seekers have a plethora of new platforms and devices to choose from. Microsoft last released a console, the Xbox 360, way back in 2005. As the New York Times' Nick Wingfield notes, game developers at that time had no competition from tablets and smartphones loaded with free downloadable content.
"The new device, the Xbox One, is a big gamble by Microsoft that it can re-establish the living room as the place where people can get the best gaming experience, with the most eye-popping graphics and innovative methods for controlling games," he says. "It is also an effort by Microsoft to step up its push to make the Xbox an all-purpose device for getting to online video."
The increased competition from handheld devices has given Microsoft a clear financial incentive to offer a system suitable for more than just gaming. As the Wall Street Journal's Ian Sherr and Drew Fitzgerald note, sales of games and gaming consoles are on the decline, and Microsoft's own gaming division has seen a drop in profits as phones and other devices "have become go-to machines for a new swath of casual games that are either free or cost a few dollars."
Microsoft has said that the new system will debut sometime later this year. When it does, we'll see if it really is Game Over for the gaming console as we know it.
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