Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday took the wraps off of its next-generation Xbox One, a console designed to conquer the living room by attempting to unite major forms of digital entertainment into a single connected device.
Whether Xbox One will succeed in doing so, however, won't be known until later this year, when it is scheduled to hit store shelves and compete alongside Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 4 and other connected entertainment platforms such as the Roku, TiVo and AppleTV. In a press conference held at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters, Microsoft did not reveal a precise release date or price tag for the device. But the technology giant promised that Xbox One would be an "all-in-one entertainment system" that would "make your TV more intelligent."
Though Xbox One is essentially a souped up version of the current Xbox 360 console, there are some key differences: The new version will sport a Blu-ray player instead of a standard DVD player. It will also let users switch more easily between entertainment options, using more accurate voice recognition than the current version on Xbox 360, which has proved frustrating to many users.
In a live demo, Microsoft Senior Vice President of Interactive Entertainment Yusuf Mehdi issued verbal commands such as "Xbox game," "watch TV," "go to music," and "watch movie" to quickly hop from one mode to another without having to manually switch inputs to the TV.
To demonstrate its broader entertainment plans for Xbox One, the company also announced it has recruited movie director Steven Spielberg to be executive producer of an upcoming original live action television series based on its popular "Halo" video game franchise. The show will be streamed via Xbox Live, an online marketplace and community with 48 million subscribers.
The device will also be able to use voice recognition to determine which member of the household is speaking and pull up a personalized home page containing that person's profile and settings, as well as recommendations of what to listen to, watch or play, based on their usage, trending titles and other Xbox Live members with similar tastes.
Tapping into a younger generation's propensity to multi-task, Xbox One will also be able to juggle several functions simultaneously such as buying a concert ticket while listening to music, or chatting via Skype while watching live TV. One example that seemed to resonate well on social networks with Xbox's core demographic of young males is an application that would run a fantasy football league application alongside live National Football League games. The application, licensed by the NFL, would update stats of fantasy football teams in real time with live results from the game.
This type of "companion" experiences remains nascent, however, as content creators continue to experiment with ways to effectively engage, aggregate and monetize audiences with so-called "second screen" applications.
Meanwhile, Microsoft will continue to rely the original purpose of the Xbox, as a game console, to grow its broader ambition of being a central gateway for all forms of digital entertainment in the living room.
While only a handful of games such as Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty: Ghost" was shown at the press event, the company is widely expected to make more game-related announcements titles at E3, the game industry's annual confab scheduled for June 11-13 in Los Angeles, where it will likely announce pricing, release titles and a street date.