Editorial

The current benefits of Xbox One

Microsoft’s new Xbox One doesn’t fit the “gaming console” description most gamers and technology enthusiasts are probably familiar with.

When Microsoft revealed the Xbox One in May, there was a heavy emphasis on television capabilities of the device. This inevitably met with the disdain of gaming-focused forums and websites, but it’s one of the best aspects of the console for those looking for an all-around entertainment device. Luckily, the gaming features haven’t suffered.

The Xbox One has a long road ahead of it, as does Sony’s PlayStation 4. Looking forward, there will surely be substantial improvements made to both consoles, and the lineups of games and apps will only get better with time as well. But for early adopters, there’s still a lot to like about the Xbox One. Here are some of the current benefits of the console that make it an easy recommendation for people with the cash to spare that are looking for an all-in-one entertainment device to pair with their cable or satellite set-top boxes.

TV integration

Microsoft’s decision to integrate television with the Xbox One was scoffed at by many gaming-oriented websites, but in practice it’s hard to see many reasons why anyone with a cable or satellite set-top box would take issue with the feature.

When first setting up the console, users are presented with a pain-free way to integrate the Xbox One with subscription television services. Simply plug in the HDMI output from your set-top box, select your provider and the bundled Kinect sensor can control your TV browsing. Equally fantastic is the ability to control your TV via your voice with Kinect, making the sensor a hands-free remote.

Of course, there are drawbacks. At the moment, there’s no way to control a set-top box’s stored DVR media through Xbox One; DVR capabilities are available for live content (such as pausing and rewinding), but recorded content can’t be manged. Additionally, the integration hasn’t launched in most markets – right now it’s mainly a U.S. feature. And while the solution is great for those who subscribe to TV services, it’s not perfect for cable-cutters: There’s no way to input an antenna for over-the-air signals, and Microsoft doesn’t offer any local channels through internet protocol TV. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon (or perhaps ever), given the U.S. television industry’s staunch opposition to IPTV that doesn’t require a subscription.

Overall, however, the TV integration is undoubtedly a cool feature – one that isn’t without drawbacks, but it’s going to serve most people well.

Quality games lineup

One of the strangest misconceptions about the Xbox One is that it doesn’t have good games. When looking at the aggregate scores of exclusive launch games for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it’s impossible to say they’re not, at the very least, on equal footing. In fact, exclusive Xbox One games are currently getting slightly better overall scores than PlayStation 4 games. The differences are negligible, however, so owners of either console will surely have something to play.

“Forza 5” and “Dead Rising 3” are standout Xbox One exclusive games, and while “Ryse” won’t win any game of the year awards, it’s a decent game on its own merits. “Killer Instinct” is also fun, and the base game is free to all Xbox One owners.

Microsoft already has a stacked lineup for the future as well. Next year should see the release of major exclusives such as the next Halo game, “Quantum Break,” “Titanfall” (which is exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 for previous-generation consoles; it will also be available on PC), “Sunset Overdrive,” “Kinect Sports Rivals,” “Project: Spark” and more.

On top of that, the overwhelming majority of third-party games are going to be released for both consoles.

For the more casual-minded, Microsoft also has the free “Xbox Fitness” training game. The game uses Kinect to monitor a user’s technique and heart rate, which goes well beyond what typical fitness videos provide. There are several free add-ons to the game, and more are available for purchase. It may not be an exciting exclusive for most gamers, but it bolsters Microsoft’s goal of making Xbox One a true all-in-one entertainment device.

Gamers who don’t care about the other entertainment features of Xbox One will find something to love. The PlayStation 4 may be more single-minded in its focus on games, but it’s by no means an afterthought on Microsoft’s new console. Neither console will struggle for quality exclusives, and to suggest either will suffer from a lack of good games in the future seems downright absurd, given the support both companies have from developers.

Apps lineup

Microsoft launched the Xbox One with about 20 apps in the U.S., many of which are also available in other markets.

On top of the expected Netflix and Hulu Plus apps, the NFL, ESPN, YouTube, Skype, Vudu, and iHeartRadio all had apps ready for the Xbox One’s launch on Nov. 22. Given that the Xbox 360 took years to slowly fill out its app lineup, it’s a great start for Microsoft’s new console.

Many apps should be on their way in the coming months because the Xbox One runs a modified version of the Windows 8 core, making development relatively easy. That may be both a blessing and a curse in the long run if apps aren’t modified to best use a TV screen. The Skype app for Xbox One, for instance, appears to be a nearly a direct port of its Windows 8 app. That makes it great in terms of features, but it doesn’t really lend itself well to a TV screen at the moment.

It’s still not clear how many developers will jump on the Xbox One bandwagon, but it’s almost certain the console will feature far more apps than the Xbox 360 has. Microsoft will have to push for more support, but that shouldn’t be a problem given the ease of porting apps from Windows 8. And unlike Windows 8, the Xbox One isn’t in dire need of an app ecosystem – the core focuses of the console are clearly gaming and TV, so there’s less of a constant demand from tech pundits for a vibrant app ecosystem.

Simple interface

While the Xbox 360’s latest dashboard took some liberties with Microsoft’s Metro interface, the Xbox One is Metro to the core. Gone is the abundance of ads found on the Xbox 360, as are several sections that cluttered the interface. Instead, users are able to pin what they want to their own home screens, and the most recent apps are available when users first sign in. Similarly, the disc currently in the console is displayed on the main page, as is a link to all the apps and games installed on the console.

Users can customize the appearance of the home screen, much like Windows Phone, by selecting their own colors. It’s not a major benefit, but it will surely please anyone tired of the green Xbox color scheme.

Multitasking is fantastic, and pressing the Xbox button on a controller quickly becomes a mesmerizing experience while watching TV or playing a game. While Microsoft touted snapping apps, that feature isn’t quite as useful as previously indicated. Apps such as Skype lack the capability entirely when gaming, and many simply aren’t very useful at the moment. Still, who can complain when you can watch TV and play a game on the same screen at once?

The interface is equally great for the OneGuide, which aggregates app content and TV listings in the same area. The guide can also be navigated with Kinect voice controls, though a media remote is sorely missing at the moment.

It all just works

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Xbox One has going forward is it all seems to mesh perfectly.

Microsoft executives have been fond of saying the Xbox One “just works” – and it mostly does. The implementation of multitasking through the console’s operating systems makes switching between TV and gaming a breeze, and the app catalog is already fairly robust for a new console. There simply isn’t a device that competes with the Xbox One right now; it took console gaming and evolved it, even if it’s not a revolution.

Some of the coolest features of the console are actually simple ease-of-access improvements. Instantly recognizing users makes signing in to different profiles easy, and not having to bother programming a universal remote when Kinect automatically determines the correct codes based on the brand is about as painless as can be.

There’s a long way to go before the Xbox One gets to where the Xbox 360 in terms of content, but the foundation for a successful lifetime is already in place. It may not be a “must-buy” device yet, but it’s getting there.

Neowin's full Xbox One review is scheduled for Wednesday. A look at the drawbacks of the Xbox One will be published later this week.

Images via Microsoft

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