Microsoft unveils Xbox One
More games to be revealed at E3 conference June 11-13
Microsoft thinks it has the one.
The company unveiled the Xbox One, an entertainment console that promises to be the one system households will need for games, television, movies and other entertainment. It will go on sale later this year, for an undisclosed price.
For the past two years, Microsoft has led the gaming industry in console sales with the Xbox 360. But it's been eight years since that machine came out, and Microsoft is the last of the three major console makers to unveil a new system.
The stakes are higher as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all using their latest machines to not only draw gamers but also command the living room. That could translate into revenue from deals with content providers and sales of movies and music.
Don Mattrick, Microsoft's president of interactive entertainment business, said the company has spent the past four years working on the "all-in-one home entertainment system."
At an hour-long presentation at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters on Tuesday, Microsoft executives used voice controls to seamlessly switch back and forth between watching live TV, listening to music, playing a movie and browsing the Internet — all while running apps for fantasy football and chats. It showed how users could watch live sports on TV while getting updates on their fantasy leagues on a split screen.
'You can switch to your game like it's a TV channel flip'—Marc Whitten, Microsoft
Xbox One is the third entry in the latest round of the "console wars." It follows Nintendo Co.'s launch of the Wii U in November and Sony Corp.'s tease in February for the upcoming PlayStation 4. Each of the next-generation consoles have shifted away from simply serving as gaming machines, as they incorporate streaming media apps and social networking features.
Changing channels with your voice
With the Xbox One, people will be able to get a feed of TV channels from their cable provider. The Xbox One has its own guide and lets people change channels by voice command.
Senior Vice-President Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated how the console switched quickly between channels after saying show names such as "Mary and Martha" or commands like "watch MTV." His voice command of "What's on HBO?" brought up the channel guide for HBO.
"No more memorizing channels or hunting for the remote control," Mehdi said.
The interface for the TV goes well beyond the functionality in the Wii U, which still requires users to press buttons to change the input source on the TV. Xbox One seamlessly switched between games, movies and TV shows with a single voice command.
"You can switch to your game like it's a TV channel flip," said Marc Whitten, Microsoft's chief product officer of interactive entertainment business. He called it a "lag-free instant experience."
Microsoft also unveiled a new version of its camera-based Kinect system with better motion and voice detection. It also introduced a more ergonomic Xbox controller, with new buttons and a slightly different layout from the Xbox 360 controller. The new console will also add the ability to play Blu-ray discs, matching what Sony has in its older PlayStation 3.
New Call of Duty, FIFA games previewed
Among the games previewed for Xbox One were the military shooter Call of Duty: Ghosts from Activision Blizzard Inc., the soccer extravaganza FIFA 14 from Electronic Arts Inc. and the racing simulator Forza Motorsport 5 and time bender Quantum Break, both from Microsoft Game Studios. Microsoft said more games will be shown at next month's E3 video game conference in Los Angeles.
The company said there will be more than 15 games available exclusively on the Xbox One in the first year after it launches, eight of them new franchises.
Microsoft is also promising a "premium" live-action TV series based on its Halo video game franchise, which will be produced by Steven Spielberg.
Meanwhile, Microsoft and the National Football League announced a multiyear agreement to upgrade interactive TV viewing of pro football games, through such products as the Xbox One and Microsoft's Surface tablet computer. Fans will get the ability to watch games, chat with other fans, view statistics, access highlights in real time and gather fantasy information about players and teams — all on a single screen. For those who prefer multiple screens, fans can get an even deeper experience on mobile devices such as tablets.
Microsoft didn't directly address whether Xbox One will be able to play used games bought from other players or games designed for the existing Xbox 360 system. It also didn't say whether it requires a constant connection to the internet.
The original Xbox debuted in 2001, and its high-definition successor premiered in 2005.
Xbox has been the exclusive home to such popular gaming franchises as sci-fi first-person shooter Halo, racing simulator Forza and alien shoot-'em-up Gears of War. In recent years, Microsoft expanded the scope of the Xbox 360 beyond just games, adding streaming media apps and the camera-based Kinect system. With the innovations showcased Tuesday, Microsoft is taking those ideas further.
Nintendo kicked off the next generation of gaming in November with the launch of the Wii U, the successor to the popular Wii system. The Wii U features an innovative tablet-like controller, though its graphics is on par with the previous-generation Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Nintendo said the console sold just 3.45 million units by the end of March, well below expectations.
Sony was next, teasing plans for its upcoming PlayStation 4 — without showing the actual box — at a February event in New The PS4 is expected by the holidays.
Microsoft didn't waste any time showing off the Xbox One console, new Kinect sensor and Xbox controller at the beginning of Tuesday's presentation.
Microsoft's stock fell 26 cents, or less than 1 per cent, to $34.82 in afternoon trading Tuesday.