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Xbox One Hands On: Multitasking Multimedia Machine

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 26 comments

While the Xbox One has taken a beating in pre-release chatter and commentary, our sneak peek at the final interface shows that Microsoft does have a coherent vision for how gaming, video and communication can merge together seamlessly.

Yesterday (Nov. 7), Microsoft showed Tom's Guide what the experience of using an Xbox One will be like when the system launches on Nov. 22. From the dashboard interface to the television guide to the apps, Microsoft let us delve into how Xbox One could be the center of your media world.

Xbox One's integration of apps

To appreciate what the Xbox One offers, it's useful to first consider what the Xbox 360 doesn't offer. Playing a game on the Xbox 360 is great, but it's a closed experience. Say I'm flying around a track in driving title "Forza 4" and get an alert that someone on my friendlist has come online or sent me a message. Then what? I manually pause the game and press the shiny metal button in the center of the controller to open a small pop-up menu to read messages. To get to the main dashboard of apps and choose one such as Netflix, I first have to quit the game.

MORE: PS4 vs. Xbox One: Console Comparison

And now? While racing in "Forza 5," I press the guide button to enter the dashboard. My game is suspended, waiting there in the main tile (a kind of window) for me to return. The last four apps I've used are visible on that Home screen, as well as some Featured tiles, showing what's new to Xbox Live. I can use the controller to shift to the right to the neighboring Store screen and buy something from one of the four categories there: Games, Movies & TV, Music and Apps.

Or I may shift to the left screen, the Pins page, which displays 15 things I have saved there: games, apps or even specific things from those apps I have favorited, like an album from the music app, a show from a video app or a website from Internet Explorer. I can do any of these things, and my racecar cockpit is just waiting for me in the center of the dashboard. Whenever I want, I go back to it and can be racing again nearly instantly.

Xbox One demo

With Kinect, just say the word(s)

The Xbox One's ability to run both a game OS and a Windows OS simultaneously makes that seamless experience possible. But it is the Kinect's speech recognition that makes shifting among all these activities effortless. Who needs a controller to move through a menu? With the words "Xbox Go Home," my driving is paused and I am on the Home screen. Saying "Xbox Select" shows commands to speak for all of the options on the screen. With "Xbox Daft Punk," I can resume the music I was listening to earlier. Saying "Xbox Forza 5" stops the album and returns me to my racing.

MORE: How the Xbox One Game Lineup Stacks Up

The next words really show the all-in-one capabilities of this new console: "Xbox Watch National Geographic Channel." After I say this, my game is suspended, and I am suddenly watching television, directly jumping to the channel I had named. By plugging my cable box directly into the console via HDMI, I can now jump from channel to channel simply by saying the name of the network — no need to memorize the channel numbers. If I grow tired of the giraffes, I say "Forza," and I am back on the track.

Xbox One's TV grid

Saying "Xbox Show Guide" brings me to OneGuide, which is not unlike the grid found on your typical cable channel guide, though I can navigate through it by voice. I can jump to channels I have marked as my favorites to see only those. I can also check the OneGuide grid to see what's on Netflix, Hulu+ or other apps. There's no separation between "cable" and "online" TV.

Xbox 360 has many entertainment partners that will likely continue with Xbox One, and Microsoft has just named a few that will become available between the launch and Spring 2014: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, CWTV, ESPN, FOX NOW, FXNOW, HBO GO, Machinima, MUZU TV, Redbox Instant, Target Ticket, TED, The NFL on Xbox One, Twitch, Univision Deportes, Verizon FiOS TV and VUDU.

In addition, you can use Skype to do video calls, with the Kinect camera automatically tracking the people in the room — zooming in and moving to keep them in the center of the frame, while continuously adjusting the camera based on the brightness of the room. Integration with Microsoft's cloud-storage system SkyDrive allows you to save video and pictures to the cloud, to share with friends or to be added as an option on your Pin page or even as a channel in the OneGuide.

Snapping apps for multitasking

Enriching that instant flow between apps via voice commands, you can "snap" apps to a sidebar on the TV screen. Once again, I am lapping my rival in "Forza," and I simply say, "Snap Internet Explorer" to start surfing via voice while I race. Or I say, "Snap Television," and I can glance at a football game while I complete lap after lap, the video game not slowing in the least. Perhaps I snap Skype to talk to someone while I play or snap some music. The Xbox One OS allows any app to be snapped while you play a game, or even to run two apps at the same time.

The whole experience is customizable by user: the design themes of the menus, the favorites on the Pin page and the favorites in the OneGuide. Xbox One knows who I am from my face and instantly loads up my settings. Someone else walks in front of the TV, and their profile is loaded up, too, an icon in the upper left corner that is just waiting. I could hand my wife the controller, and it switches to her profile, with everything set they way she has customized it. Or we can switch by voice, rather than passing the controller. The Kinect can track up to six people at once.

MORE: Microsoft Sends Mixed Messages on Xbox One Kinect Privacy

And so, I have seen an Xbox One-focused future. I can flow from one thing to another nearly instantly, even multitasking when I want. I go from game to TV to music to Skype to photo albums effortlessly. Or I browse the Web while I watch TV, listen to music while I browse my Netflix queue, or play a racing game while I video chat with a friend.

And I can jump between it all at any time, or even put the console in Standby mode and have everything saved exactly where it is so I can resume a race in the middle hours later. It is kind of empowering, being in control of it all with just a flick of the wrist or a god-like command.

The Xbox One launches Nov. 22, for $500.

Follow Kevin Ohannessian at @khohannessian and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 3 Hide
    ikefu , November 8, 2013 3:38 AM
    I'm definitely a fan of the multi-tasking aspect of XB One and I've always thought the xb interface was light years ahead of playstation. I wish I could take the hardware from the PS4 and put it together with the controller and interface from the XBox One.

    I can't decide whether the controller and Titanfall/Halo are a bigger draw or the Remote Play with Vita and indie games. I like that both consoles seem to be good choices (after Microsoft fixed a lot of their early stupid decisions)
  • -2 Hide
    NightLight , November 8, 2013 4:36 AM
    i watch a lot of tv, and the voice interface just gets to me. i've made up my mind. Still, pc ftw ...
  • -2 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , November 8, 2013 4:38 AM
    could careless I already have a DVR and a Blu-Ray player. That isn't going to sell me. I want a true console not some multi-media/console.
  • 1 Hide
    outlw6669 , November 8, 2013 4:38 AM
    That does sound interesting; almost worth loosing a bit of gaming performance for.
    That is assuming you live in the U.S. and have access to all these great services :/ 
  • -3 Hide
    kartu , November 8, 2013 4:47 AM
    Hulu, Youtube etc behind subscription paywall.
    100$ more expensive than the competitor.
    Yet it's slower, managing only 720p where competitor does 1080p.
    Rushed out, "beta tested in the future".

    But comes with ability to say "hi NSA!"... Priceless...
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , November 8, 2013 4:57 AM
    While this might be interesting, nothing will beat the PC in my book. The PC can become any of those and mroe, and its up to you. You, the user, decide what you pay for.
  • -1 Hide
    red77star , November 8, 2013 5:47 AM
    Thanks no. This thing is like glorified Windows 8 which i can't stand. It looks like XBOX one is everything but not gaming machine. My money goes to PS4.
  • -3 Hide
    egilbe , November 8, 2013 6:08 AM
    I'm still underwhelmed by Xbone.
  • -3 Hide
    bluestar2k11 , November 8, 2013 6:24 AM
    Multitasking Multimedia Machine.

    Plays Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, CWTV, ESPN, FOX NOW, FXNOW, HBO GO, Machinima, MUZU TV, Redbox Instant, Target Ticket, TED, The NFL on Xbox One, Twitch, Univision Deportes, Verizon FiOS TV and VUDU.

    So basically they took everything windows does since 95, slapped on a metro UI, and stuffed it all in an overheating ITX box? Because didn't windows 95 let people do this on their PC? I remember my dads Pc played TV with a add in card, bet it "could" play DVD's too.
  • -3 Hide
    Traciatim , November 8, 2013 6:31 AM
    Not true Bliestar2k11... Win95 didn't have a subscription fee to use all those services.
  • 5 Hide
    ubercake , November 8, 2013 6:31 AM
    One console simply offers a graphics update, the other console offers that and more.

    This is awesome tech.
  • 2 Hide
    ubercake , November 8, 2013 6:35 AM
    Quote:
    Hulu, Youtube etc behind subscription paywall.
    100$ more expensive than the competitor.
    Yet it's slower, managing only 720p where competitor does 1080p.
    Rushed out, "beta tested in the future".

    But comes with ability to say "hi NSA!"... Priceless...


    This is misinformation. Only some titles are being released at 720p, while most will be released at 1080p.
  • 3 Hide
    ubercake , November 8, 2013 6:37 AM
    Quote:
    Multitasking Multimedia Machine.

    Plays Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, CWTV, ESPN, FOX NOW, FXNOW, HBO GO, Machinima, MUZU TV, Redbox Instant, Target Ticket, TED, The NFL on Xbox One, Twitch, Univision Deportes, Verizon FiOS TV and VUDU.

    So basically they took everything windows does since 95, slapped on a metro UI, and stuffed it all in an overheating ITX box? Because didn't windows 95 let people do this on their PC? I remember my dads Pc played TV with a add in card, bet it "could" play DVD's too.


    Where does your temperature info come from? Or are you just assuming the thing gets hot because it's AMD inside? This would carry over to the PS4 if that's the case.
  • 1 Hide
    ubercake , November 8, 2013 6:40 AM
    Quote:
    I'm definitely a fan of the multi-tasking aspect of XB One and I've always thought the xb interface was light years ahead of playstation. I wish I could take the hardware from the PS4 and put it together with the controller and interface from the XBox One.

    I can't decide whether the controller and Titanfall/Halo are a bigger draw or the Remote Play with Vita and indie games. I like that both consoles seem to be good choices (after Microsoft fixed a lot of their early stupid decisions)


    Quote:
    Thanks no. This thing is like glorified Windows 8 which i can't stand. It looks like XBOX one is everything but not gaming machine. My money goes to PS4.


    There are a lot of indie games available through the Xbox marketplace (or whatever they call it these days).
  • -1 Hide
    TeraMedia , November 8, 2013 6:43 AM
    I'm surprised it requires a cable box. They could have had a more integrated solution - requiring no IR transmitter or other control connection to an external STB - with a cable card and some tuner hardware such as Ceton or HDHomeRun Prime. Plus, they could then offer additional capabilities such as DVR that they probably cannot do from an HDMI input due to content restrictions and re-encoding processing bandwidth.

    Between the lack of DVR capabilities (this is an assumption on my part; I could be wrong), the requirement of an external STB to tune cable TV channels, the not-quite-there 1080p gaming performance, and the fact that this is going to be buggy for the next few months at least, maybe we should call this the XBOX One Half.

    I get where they're going, "One Box to Rule Them All.". I've been expecting either them or the cable co's to go there for a few years now. But the XBone just isn't quite there yet. It's actually very disappointing, because if they had gotten there, then this one device (and perhaps a receiver...) would have been basically all you would need in the entertainment room. Now, it will be something that you will be excited to be able to replace when the full-fledged one comes out. Perhaps that was their plan from the beginning, but it's not a very nice one.
  • 0 Hide
    ronintexas , November 8, 2013 6:46 AM
    There is one thing missing....Media Center Extender functionality. My XBox360 works perfectly to extend WM7 across my network to my TV's. I eliminated all cable boxes ($39.95 per month from TWC for DVR on each TV), and have a 6-tuner unlimited DVR capability with WM7. I can watch live TV, pause, rewind, fast forward, watch recorded TV, up to 6 channels to watch/record simultaneously - total cost - $5.00 per month for all TV's for a single cable card.

    Now Microsoft takes a step backward by only integrating the cable box to the XBox.....isn't that what Google TV does - and for $300+ less....
  • -3 Hide
    fykusfire , November 8, 2013 6:47 AM
    As a friend of mine said recently, "stop trying to make the Xbone happen. It's not going to happen."
  • 1 Hide
    catfishtx , November 8, 2013 7:09 AM
    The tech is a little impressive but I am still not interested. When I game, I just want to game. I don't play background music, watch TV, or manage my Netflix queue. I try to get lost in the game. I do all of that other stuff in real life. Games are the escape so I try to minimize the outside clutter.

    However, my boys are the opposite. Both have their own gaming PCs with dual monitors. They have DOTA going on one and they are watching Youtube on the other. All while texting their friends. So, it seems this is a generational thing. The Xbox might be catering to the teen\20 somethings with this.
  • 1 Hide
    clonazepam , November 8, 2013 8:27 AM
    @ catfishtx - it would seem you have the option to do either
  • 0 Hide
    jimmysmitty , November 8, 2013 10:33 AM
    Quote:
    Thanks no. This thing is like glorified Windows 8 which i can't stand. It looks like XBOX one is everything but not gaming machine. My money goes to PS4.


    It looks the same as a 360's interface. So....

    And its a very smart thing for Microsoft to take advantage of all the benefits of a PC based OS, like multi-tasking. You can do the same stuff in Windows.

    And, I feel bad that you can't accept Windows 8. People take one part of it and moan and complain and act like the entire OS is different when in reality, its the same thing just a different Start menu. And under the hood, 8/8.1 is better than 7.
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