Microsoft officially launched its Xbox One console at midnight, Friday, Nov. 22, and as expected, the company drew crowds at midnight store openings and splashy launch events.
The Xbox One arrives with "the richest and most varied games lineup in Xbox history," according to the company. The launch lineup includes 22 titles, 10 of which are exclusives. For this generation of console gaming, Microsoft is also relying on mobile devices and the cloud to provide a more immersive gameplay experience.
During the May 21 unveiling of the Xbox One, Marc Whitten, chief production officer of Microsoft interactive entertainment, revealed that his company was beefing up its data centers in anticipation of the device's arrival. The massive upgrade involved increasing the number of systems powering the Xbox cloud component from "15,000 servers [that] power the modern Xbox Live experience" to 300,000 servers, he said.
In a statement, the company said the new games tap "incredible power of new hardware and the cloud" and leverage Xbox Live, the bundled Kinect sensor and Xbox One SmartGlass app for titles that "look and feel like nothing else." Xbox One SmartGlass is available now for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, iOS and Android.
While next-generation games are the main attraction, the Xbox One also makes the case for an "all-in-one" entertainment hub.
"We believe a truly next-generation system must deliver not only incredible games but also all of the entertainment you love in one device," said Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of Marketing, Strategy and Business for Xbox, in a statement. Utilizing voice commands, which are picked up by the Kinect motion controller, the device can place (and accept) Skype calls, play Blu-ray discs, stream video and pipe cable TV programming to an HDTV courtesy of its HDMI pass-through.
"From your favorite games, to the hottest TV shows, movies and music, to surfing the Web, to Skype conversations with your family and friends, only on Xbox One can you instantly switch between all of your entertainment and snap them together—all with the sound of your voice," Mehdi said.
During the launch window (between Nov. 22 and spring 2014), several TV and entertainment apps will be available for the Xbox One, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus. YouTube, the company just announced, is available now.
So far, reviews are good but not glowing.
The Verge awarded the Xbox One a 7.8 out of 10, saying that apart from games, "it's too soon to make a call on almost any other feature. Don't buy an Xbox One expecting to immediately throw out your entertainment center." In his review (7 out of 10), Chris Kohler at Wired wrote, "It does a lot of things, and in a way that you may find extremely helpful, but you'll need to take the time to learn how to do them—and learn by trial and error when it's best to just stop trying."
This holiday season, the Xbox One faces off against Sony's PlayStation 4, which launched a week earlier and is $100 less expensive than Microsoft's console. Released last year, Nintendo's Wii U is also vying for gamers' dollars, but it has struggled to light up sales charts like its predecessor, the Wii.