Microsoft's follow-up to its successful Xbox 360 console is officially called Xbox One.
Xbox head Don Mattrick took to the stage on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., May 21 "to unveil the ultimate, all-in-one home entertainment system." On display was a black, sharp-edged console, revamped controller and an upgraded Kinect sensor that constitute the new Xbox One. Anchoring the Xbox experience is a new, personalized home screen that unifies gaming, TV, music and movies for users.
As expected, the included Kinect motion sensor will play an integral role in operating the Xbox One., Xbox Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated how the new Xbox detects a user and delivers a personalized home screen based on the person's identity, games and favorites. He showed how voice commands and new hand gestures, all of which were detected by the Kinect, made switching between modes "as fast as switching channels on your TV remote."
By uttering "Xbox, watch TV," the system switched instantly to the TV viewing mode. The instant switching capability extends to practically every activity, including switching between games, movies and music. A new Windows-like snap mode allows users to multitask. Mehdi showed off the new functionality by "snapping" Internet Explorer alongside movie playback of the Star Trek (2009) film.
Xbox One will also offer deep Skype integration. Not only will the feature enable widescreen HD video calls, the Xbox One will have the distinction of enabling group video calls from the living room, Mehdi said.
The addition of Skype comes as no surprise.
Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion. Since the completion of that blockbuster deal, the software giant has been making the most of its investment by integrating the voice, video and chat communications platform into several of its product lines, including Outlook.com, Office, Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
Marc Whitten, chief production officer of Microsoft interactive entertainment, offered a peek under the Xbox One's hood. Its spec sheet includes a 5-billion-transistor microarchitecture, 8GB of RAM, USB 3, Wi-Fi Direct and Blu-ray compatibility. He boasted that the console features "practically silent operation," alleviating noise concerns and hinting that the company has learned from the overheating problems that plagued the early Xbox 360.
All told, the new Xbox One architecture, underlying OS and new Kinect sensor add up to "lag-free, instant and complete experience," said Whitten.
Xbox Live is also getting a massive upgrade. The cloud component that powers game matchmaking, media delivery and other online features will grow from the "15,000 servers [that] power the modern Xbox Live experience" to 300,000 servers, explained Whitten.
Microsoft pledged to reveal more at E3, the video game industry trade show that takes place in Los Angeles from June 11 to 13. One thing appears certain: Xbox One will hit store shelves in time for the crucial holiday-shopping season.
Before concluding the press event, Mattrick confirmed that Microsoft is "launching the Xbox One around the world later this year."