What is Xbox One? Is it a games machines, a media center, or an app player? Microsoft wants it to be all three, with near instant-on, voice activation, Skype and many other features, but to do this, it runs a version of Windows 8, a gaming hyper-OS and a media system, highlighting the company's struggles with Windows.
One Console to Rule Them All
The Xbox One (yeah, us too!) revealed yesterday is Microsoft's third home console and aims to dominate the living room for far more than just games, working at the instant-on, fast switching, speed we're now used to. This machine is the one that Microsoft hopes will finally tie your television, movie, music and gaming into one device, while helping to support content on your other gadgets (not just Microsoft ones).
Effectively a high-end PC with an eight-core x86 CPU, 500GB drive (although how much of that will be left for users with all those OSs installed and the other required data is anyone's guess), Blu-ray drive and 8GB RAM, it comes with some tight hardware/OS integration, making it a powerful beast.
Running a modified version of Windows 8 to provide app support for the likes of Skype (with video chat via the Kinect 2.0 camera), Netflix and other entertainment services. It will use the tiled Windows 8 interface that current Xbox 360 users are now familiar with as Xbox services have evolved into one common interface.
Xbox One's dashboard will look familiar to a Windows 8 user
Counting Down the Systems
Behind Windows 8 will be a Hypervisor-like OS to manage the games, these are all built on PC tools like Unreal Engine 4 and will demand most of the system's resources, but since the Xbox One is a living room machine, users will still be able to switch between environments and apps instantly, saving users from the quit-game-do-something-else-reload efforts. Note, it is not backward compatible with Xbox 360 games, despite that basically being a PC-design too.
The third OS will manage resources between the two main systems and catch things like the TV input (using HDMI pass thru) that allows the Xbox One to manage your home viewing, record shows and likely output multiple panes of video (it will come with Snap View so you can run multiple apps or content at the same time.
To highlight the multimedia and interactive credentials, Microsoft has a deal with the NFL to produce exclusive content that works with SmartGlass and Kinect, to get viewers more involved in the games through live games of Fantasy Football and so on.
SmartGlass For Your Tablets
The use of Windows 8 means that when it goes on sale, Xbox One should have a pretty decent app store but with its likely focus on media content and games, don't expect all your handy utility apps to be there. A new SmartGlass app will be available to send content to your tablet, making your iPad or Android a second-screen.
For the current 77 million plus Xbox 360 games-playing owners, the focus on games will have to wait until the E3 Entertainment Expo next month, but the few racing and shooting games shown demonstrate detail and definition matched only by high-end gaming PCs that costs many thousands of dollars.
With Xbox One capable of outputting to 4K HD TVs, it should keep them happy for years to come. Pricing and release date will be announced later in the year, but expect the hype to start building between this and Sony's rival PlayStation 4 as the big holiday season items.
However, with console sales down heavily generation on generation, will Microsoft find that the smartphone and tablet market which is killing Windows 8 PC sales also affects the console business? And our our smart TVs, PVRs and Apple TV-like devices more than enough for most in the living room?