Xbox One early impressions

Tuesday, 26 November 2013 12:00 PM Written by 

The consoles deemed as next-gen are officially current gen. The Xbox One had its kickoff weekend, which means I spent a copious amount of time glued to it, trying to see what it’s all about. Like most consoles, there were things I loved and things that I found to be less than stellar. Here are my impressions of the Xbox One in three easy to digest categories: the good, the bad, and the questionable.

The Good

Kinect

Let’s get this out of the way early. The new and improved Kinect is worth the extra $100. It feels like this new Kinect is what Microsoft wanted the original Kinect to be. It’s fast, responsive, and good at recognizing my face on the first try. It makes the Xbox One feel like futuristic tech. Walking into the room, saying “Xbox, on,” followed by “Watch TV,” and then for it to actually work feels like something from science fiction.

 

TV Integration

You’re at a serious disadvantage if you cut the cord and did away with cable but you bought an Xbox One. The X1 paired with Kinect are made for cable. I barely touch my cable remote anymore. You can just say, “Watch TV,” or “Watch ESPN” and the Xbox tunes to that channel. You can even say the names of shows, although that has a lower success rate. I never thought a video game console would make watching cable exciting, but the Xbox One has.

 

Snap

If a cable box is connected to the Xbox One, TV can be “snapped,” which means that it can be posted in the right margin of the screen. I spent the majority of my Sunday playing “Forza” and “Killer Instinct” while football was perpetually snapped in. This is the Xbox One’s killer app. Other apps like ESPN, Netflix, and SkyDrive can also be snapped. I look forward to seeing how this process can evolve over the X1’s lifespan.

 

Game DVR

I was reticent to try out the X1’s DVR, but once I tried it the first time, it became an addiction. The system is constantly recording your last 30 seconds of game footage. When something of epic proportions happens like a last minute touchdown in “Madden,” or a double ultra combo finish in “Killer Instinct,” you simply say, “Xbox, record that.” The system then saves the game clip to your hard drive. What you do with it from there is up to you thanks to the Upload Studio and SkyDrive.

 

Upload Studio/SkyDrive

Game clips can be edited and shared thanks to the X1’s built-in integration with Upload Studio and SkyDrive. Upload Studio adds some nice editing features, which are great to see in a free app. It allows you to splice up to five clips together, provide voiceover narration, add after effects, or add video recorded with the Kinect. Once edited, your clips can be uploaded to Microsoft’s SkyDrive and shared with the world. The X1 might not have livestreaming just yet, but this is a nice alternative in the meantime.

 

Play while installing

Games have a mandatory install, which seems to be the new normal in next-gen. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for the install to complete to get to work. The system installs just enough to get you playing.

 

Party chat voice quality

The new party chat system has been upgraded to Skype-quality voice communication. When it works, it’s quite the upgrade from the party chat we’re used to on the 360. But the new system is not without its flaws. More on that later.

 

Killer Instinct

“Killer Instinct” isn’t just the best game I’ve played on the Xbox One. It’s also the best game I’ve played from either of the consoles’ launch lineups. I’ve had more fun and have been more excited while playing this game than any game I can recall in the past few months. This is a must-play for any fighting game fan. The developers at Double Helix created something that has a great chance of being adopted by the fighting game community. I hope to see it on the main stage at EVO 2014.

 

The Bad

 

The UI

Microsoft and Sony need to find the middle ground between the PS4 and Xbox One UI. While the PS4 doesn’t allow any customization, the X1’s is a cluttered mess. I still haven’t fully figured out where to find things. The layout is comparable to Windows 8. The main tiles switch depending on apps or tiles you recently used. Settings can be found by pressing the menu button on the controller. Certain tiles aren’t labeled clearly. Perhaps there’s just a learning curve, and it will make sense as I use it more. For now, I’m not a fan.

 

No data management

The X1’s 500 Gb hard drive is going to fill up faster than in previous consoles thanks to recorded clips, mandatory installs, music, movies, etc. The system has never needed easy data management more than it needs it now. Sadly, that feature is gone. Even the 360 had an easy-to-manage data screen that displayed what was taking up most of the space, what could stay, and what could go. The X1 just shows you how much space you have available. It doesn’t even categorize things. The absence of data management sure is a head scratcher.

 

When Kinect can’t understand you

I said in jest in a tweet that the Kinect could be both the best and worst thing about the X1. It’s highly futuristic when it works, but painfully frustrating when it doesn’t. Voice commands are never perfect, and probably never will be. When the Kinect doesn’t hear me, or takes me somewhere where I didn’t want to go, it makes me just want to shut the whole thing down. It’s even worse if there are friends around watching me. Here’s this new piece of tech that’s supposed to be a step into the future, and here I am shouting, “Xbox......XBOX……Watch ESPN...WATCH ESPN!” only for it to take me to the ESPN app.

 

System overload

Having TV snapped while editing a video, while a game is running in the background, while in party chat creates some noticeable lag on all fronts. Fortunately, the X1 makes a game the priority. There isn’t any lag or longer load times there. The snapped app is always the one to suffer. The TV picture occasionally slows down, or the system gets locked up on a command. Be sure to close apps if you aren’t using them.

 

Obnoxious controller

The Xbox 360 controller was a better gamepad than the new controller for the X1. The new shoulder buttons are difficult to press. The new rumble features make an audible noise that can be clearly heard, which is a huge distraction when playing a game that encourages immersion. Plus, the controller still takes AA batteries in 2013. Electronic devices that will receive heavy usage need rechargeable batteries. That’s the new standard.

 

Quality loss from HDMI-in

I’ll admit I’m obsessive when it comes to picture quality, so I noticed a slight loss in quality when I plugged the cable box into the X1. The picture looks washed out and slightly fuzzier than a direct feed going to the TV. The average viewer may not notice anything, but it will drive you nuts if you’re like me.

 

The Questionable

 

Party Chat system

Xbox managed to complicate one of its best features from the Xbox 360. If you’re in a party, it’s impossible to play certain online games if the other members of your party aren’t playing with you. “Killer Instinct” wouldn’t let me search for an opponent, but rather forced me to play my friend in the party who happened to be playing something else. Therefore, I was unable to play online while in a party. It’s completely ridiculous. I hope Microsoft is able to fix this in the future.

 

Rigidity of TV Integration

If the TV functionality has one downfall, it’s that it has no way to interact with your cable box’s DVR or OnDemand services. The X1 has a sizable hard drive. It should be able to record TV shows. You can go out and buy a TiVo, and have it act as your set top box. Why can’t the X1 do this?

 

Skype not snappable

Snapping a Skype call was one of the first things Microsoft showed off during the X1’s reveal. It turned out it was a great big farce. The Skype app is not snappable at launch. I was really looking forward to being in a video call, while playing head-to-head with a friend. This would make online play even more like the opponent was sharing the couch with me. But it’s not possible at this time.

 

No friend notifications

Microsoft has replaced friend requests with a new follower system. Followers are people who sent you a friend request that you never accepted. The problem is, that there’s no notification when someone follows you. Followers are just thrown together in one label-free group. I was told I was sent a couple friend requests over the weekend, but I have no idea how to find them. There doesn’t seem to be a way.

 

Party invitations

A notification pops up in the bottom of the screen that says “it’s party time” when a friend invites you to a party. If you’re doing something and can’t get to the notification in time, the invitation evaporates, never to be seen again. The friend has to invite you again, or you have to invite the friend to a new party. Party requests are no longer housed in your messages. This new party system makes no sense to me. It seem counterintuitive.  

 

One download at a time

This system has 8 GB of RAM. Why can only one app or game download at a time? The PS4 can download many things simultaneously. The X1 can’t even install and download something at the same time. It’s time to move forward.

 

The system is down

Some of the X1 experienced some app outages this weekend. Party chat went in and out sporadically over the weekend. SkyDrive couldn’t be accessed. Even the new avatar customization screen was down. Hopefully these are just growing pains, but I don’t remember the 360’s programs seeing outages like this.

 

So those are my early thoughts on the Xbox One. A full review and comparison piece will come in the next couple weeks. Be sure to follow my running thoughts on the new consoles on Twitter @GameGuyPGH.

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