It's a long article, please read at the source.
We aren't in the habit of talking to our consoles. It feels weird - if not plain silly. We don't like the way that voice commands take longer to register than a good old-fashioned button press and we're unsure if it's actually going to work even if we do pluck up the courage to vocally command our consoles. And what's the point of using voice to turn on our games machine if we're reaching for our controller anyway? And how useful is voice control if we still need remotes for our TV and sound system?
What was novelty - if technically impressive - technology on the original Kinect forms a fundamental basis of interaction with Xbox One, and from what we saw at Gamescom, parallels with Xbox 360 hold little water. Voice control on Xbox One actually works and it seems to be genuinely useful. It should be faster than using the joypad for certain functions, but ideally you'd use both in concert. And as for Xbox's isolation from the rest of the components in your system, that is now clearly a thing of the past.
"It'll work with any TV, any amplifiers. It'll work with any AV equipment at home," says Xbox director of product planning Albert Penello. "When we say 'Xbox On' we can actually light up your whole entire system and control everything just with voice."
With full system integration, voice control comes into its own. Penello likens Xbox One's incorporation with your equipment to the Harmony universal remote, except that your voice is the key. You can walk into your lounge and your voice powers up everything: you won't need to reach for your remote or Xbox controller, you won't need to use multiple doobries to access each part of your system. Two words and you're up and running. Xbox One is always on. Even in its low-power sleep state, it should fully reactivate before your HDTV gets around to displaying its image. From a dashboard perspective at least, the days of waiting around for your console to boot should now be a thing of the past.
For this technology to work effectively, three things need to happen. First of all, Kinect's voice recognition tech has to just work - no mean feat considering the amount of languages supported, and the range of accents to accurately process. Secondly, Xbox One needs to know exactly what equipment is in the room in order to speak their own individual infra-red based languages. And finally, and perhaps most crucially, the IR signals that emanate from the console always need to register with the target hardware.
At the press booth, Albert Penello faces some challenges. The amount of ambient noise in the background is immense - the Gamescom din is hardly comparable with living room conditions and he needs to address Kinect loudly and clearly for the message to get through.
"It's noisy in here and unnaturally loud so I have to kind of yell at Kinect," he laments.
Integration with your home system comes via a simple set-up procedure, but Penello's instructions are clearly making their way through to the TV he has set up in the presentation room. And it's all happening without any kind of traditional IR blaster visible in the room.
"Xbox mute. Xbox unmute. Xbox volume up. Xbox volume down."
"That's not going through wires," says Xbox group manager of corporate PR, David Dennis. "That's Kinect blasting the infra-red codes to the TV, the TV picks it up and that's the TV UI changing."
The audio demo shows the strengths and the weaknesses of voice control in working with your AV hardware. Muting and unmuting are on/off functions clearly suited to the tech. Volume adjustments operate on a scale and really require continuous button presses or better still, turning a knob - voice control can't really achieve the same effect without monotonous repetition. Turning volume down by an appreciable amount would take a long, long time.
But what is impressive is that every voice command registered by Kinect is flawlessly transmitted to the relevant kit in the room. It works so well because Kinect itself is the IR blaster. Microsoft has augmented the new Kinect sensor with an IR transmitter in order to see the environment even in pitch black conditions. The upshot of this is that the technology works by drenching the entire room in infra-red light. Forget little LEDs attached to wires you dangle in front of your set-top box; if that's an IR blaster, the Kinect solution is effectively the equivalent of going nuclear. Debug Kinect tools allow you to see what the IR sensor sees - complete blanket infra-red coverage of the whole room. It's hard to imagine a scenario where this form of IR blasting wouldn't work.The core interface and Kinect personalisation
Penello is now demonstrating the core user interface, and he's keen to point out the authenticity of the presentation, warts and all.
"We are running on real kits, real hardware - these are near-final boxes. There's no PC hidden underneath anywhere, there are no wires going back behind. Everything I'm actually showing is running on this box right here," he says.
I think it is high time Microsoft actually made public the Xbox One UI. They have only shown it in bits and pieces and that's not helping their already rocking boat.
They should let a non-PR person do a candid demo. Their glossy marketing videos are not going to cut it.