I thought of changing the title "always-on" to "Switched on" for clarity but decided against it. Please RTFA, it's not always on internet connection.
Inside sources at Microsoft have spoken to Digital Foundry about why the Xbox One hardware is so large, and what the tangible benefits of the larger footprint are for the user.
Our information suggests the Xbox One design is based on an ambitious brief, essentially impossible to test in anything resembling real-life conditions, and so the company played it safe, putting unit reliability first. A highly placed source says that the console has been designed with a ten-year lifecycle in mind and that it is designed to be switched on for that entire period.
What's more, during that time it needs to operate almost silently in order to earn its place in the living room. It's a unique hardware challenge, and so the company opted for a large design where heat dissipation comes first. Microsoft's engineers are also aware that the company's reputation for quality hardware is still in the balance after the Red Ring of Death Xbox 360 build quality fiasco, which cost the company over a billion dollars.
The net result is a relatively voluminous piece of console hardware, which may take up a fair amount of room in the lounge but has tangible benefits for gamers to make up for its imposing presence.
Microsoft has not released any official specifications on the dimensions of the final box, but extrapolating from the sizes of known components (principally the USB port), Xbox One is approximately 34x26x8cm - more set-top box than console, and noticeably larger than the launch version of the Xbox 360.
Despite the near-final hardware present at E3, the conditions made it impossible for the any kind of audio testing to be carried out on-site, but developers working with the hardware tell us that in its idle and low-activity states, the unit is entirely silent and you can barely feel any heat being output from the unit's vents.
Indeed, we're told by one development source that prototype versions of the hardware - which use the same chassis as the final retail unit - didn't have working power lights, and that it was almost impossible to tell whether the console was in operation or not unless it was hooked up to a display. It's a claim we're looking forward to testing when we're hands-on with the console.
In an internal post-mortem of the Xbox 360 that helped shape the direction of Xbox One, one of the key problems Microsoft engineers wanted to address was the lack of immediacy in current-gen console gameplay, where even the most family-friendly titles can take up to three minutes to load. A key plus point mobile games hold over console is the speed with which casual users can play, and it's an advantage that next-gen console is going to have trouble competing with.
It's an approach that PS4 also utilises, but our Microsoft sources genuinely believe that the TV integration elements set it apart, and that once you have experienced what it's capable of you can never go back. Instant restart is a key feature, but in the here and now we can't help remaining unconvinced about the focus on the TV integration elements of the Xbox One operating system.