As I stated last week, with the launch of the new consoles upon us, it seemed fair to take a look at the consoles for those who were on the fence or weren’t able to acquire one immediately to give people an idea of what they could expect when/if they chose to acquire one. As I happen to be one of the few staff members here who has more money than common sense, I decided to put my money down on both consoles, figuring that if I wanted to cancel a reservation because one (or both) manufacturers upset me, it would be easy enough to do. Since that didn’t happen (surprisingly), I decided to take you fine folks on a journey through the unboxing of both the Sony PlayStation 4 last week and the Microsoft Xbox One this week, to show what the systems come with, what they do out of the box, what they don’t do out of the box, and in general, what you can expect from the systems on day one and beyond.
So, let’s get started.
What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOOOX?
Here’s our wonderful official box shot for the Xbox One:
Unlike the PS4 box, the XBOne box is compressed and stacks everything into two layers, with the cabling and controllers and such on top, and the console underneath (I didn’t feel the need to take an inside box picture because of this). There’s no particular positive to doing things one way or the other, I don’t think, and both box styles are fine, really, but for aesthetic purposes I do find the PS4 box style is more interesting, so there’s that.
Once you have everything upacked, this is what you’ll be looking at:
The box itself contains the Xbox One, an HDMI cable, a Power Cable, a Power Brick, a controller, a package of batteries for the controller, a headset and the Kinect. For those who are curious about component and port redesign elements, the system offers two rear USB 3.0 ports as well as one side USB 3.0 port, which, while not as accessible as those on the PS4, are accessible enough, and since there is one more port on the XBOne, you have more space to plug in peripherals and drives. There’s also an AUX port that’s meant for the Kinect, a standard HDMI Out to display to the TV as well as an HDMI In to allow the XBOne to act as a passthrough for your cable box (which plays into the TV functionality one supposes), an IR sensor and a power port. The power input is completely different from that of the 360, so you can’t swap the machine out as you could with the PS4, in case you were curious. There’s also no component port, as with the PS4, so it’s HDMI or nothing once again here. It also bears noting that the charging port on the controller has changed from the proprietary port the originals used to a Micro-B port as well (if you have an Android phone you likely know what I mean), which is, again, just fine, but it means you can’t reuse old cables for your new controllers.
On the Kinect itself, the device looks a lot more functionally sturdy than its 360 counterpart. Instead of looking like Johnny 5’s head, it’s a flat rectangular box with a more sturdy base, and the camera and microphone look to be much better designed than in the previous version. There’s also a standard RJ-45 port in the back for a network cable, though the console also works wirelessly out of the box for those who’d rather connect that way. Finally, the headset included with the XBOne is much nicer than the one included with the PS4; it’s a full headset that has mute and volume controls built into the piece that plugs into the controller, and it feels much sturdier and more functional than the PS4 headset. On the other hand, the input port is a flat proprietary data port instead of a stereo jack; while this makes it feel much sturdier when it plugs in, it also means none of your current headsets will work with the machine, so if you have a Turtle Beach or something similar, you’ll have to wait for someone to release a converter or something similar.
On the Basic Set Up:
Connecting everything to the console was, essentially, a snap, and getting it up and running was… well, not terrible. The Power Brick is functionally identical to that on the 360 so there’s nothing complicated there, though I had no interest in connecting my cable box through the XBOne for what I feel should be obvious reasons. Hooking up the Kinect was also a snap, largely because the Kinect only has one plug this time instead of having to split off to use multiple plugs, as the original did. The Power and Eject buttons on the console are more motion sensitive than those on the PS4, as they were on the slim 360, and they’re much more accessible overall as a result. Syncing the controller was just a matter of pressing the sync button on the controller, honestly, though it may have been synced out of the box, the console itself doesn’t seem to have a sync button of its own to worry about, implying that a sync is a much easier affair this time around. Once the console was powered on, configuring everything was fairly simple, as it immediately allowed me to log into my home network and my XBL account with no difficulty.
After a fifteen minute update, that is.
As with the PS4, there’s a Day One update for the console, but unlike the PS4, you have to perform this update since this is the update that allows the console to work even when it’s not online. What that means is that you literally do not seem to be able to get to the dashboard until you connect at least one time, so when Microsoft said the original design required internet access, they weren’t kidding. On the plus side, the update took much less time comparatively than that of the PS4’s update, and generally seems to have worked well enough since I was able to jump right in and fool around afterward without connecting to the internet. You can access XBLA and the App Store instantly from this point with no further effort, and no additional updates or prompts seem to come up when this is done. Setting up the Kinect is pretty simple as well; you no longer need to hold up a smiley face card, and all it asks of you is to let it see your floor and to test a few things and it’s good to go. Logging in and out of the console is simple, and once the controller is synced to the machine, it allows you to power the machine on and off with no trouble remotely. In essence, the setup took all of five minutes, outside of the system updates, and everything worked as well as I’d hoped it would.
On the Advanced Set Up:
The first point to make is that the Xbox One worked perfectly fine through my HDMI splitter as well as my HDMI capture device, and the below picture of the UI came from the capture application with no issues or difficulties inherent. In that regard, the system is generally much easier to work with than the PS4, and it made my life much easier, especially if I want to stream games from the Xbox One, since I can do so through the PC and record video locally to upload to my Youtube channel, instead of having to do so through the console. On the other hand, the Xbox One has an annoying habit of turning on the “Record gameplay with Game DVR” option, meaning that it will routinely be grabbing clips of play and storing them locally for… uploading online I guess? It also turns on the Kinect Mic for online chat by default, and while this combined with the ability to stream from the console sounds like an easy way to set up game streaming by default, it’s annoying if you want to do your own video editing, not cram your hard drive full of random clips, or annoy people with Kinect mic usage during play. This can all be turned off under the Preferences option in the Settings menu, thankfully, but be aware of this thing to start with if you don’t want to make use of these features.
I also opted to configure SmartGlass on my Android phone to test it out and see how it works locally, which is… slightly less intuitive. While installing and logging into the app is a snap (NOTE: there are different versions for 360 and Xbox One), getting it to connect to your device is slightly less so. It couldn’t directly connect through the cellular service, which is fine enough (it’d probably kill the data plan anyway) but it also didn’t seem to like the idea of connecting via wireless connectivity when the XBOne was also using the wireless connection. It’s not that they can’t use the wireless connection simultaneously, they just can’t really talk to one another while doing so for whatever reason. It’s possible that, because they have to talk to one another over the wireless network, one might need a better router than the one provided by one’s ISP, but since Microsoft states that SmartGlass should work over cellular signal and says nothing about sharing a wireless connection, more troubleshooting may be in order. What I can say is that connecting the XBOne to a wired connection and trying again resolved the issue instantly, as SmartGlass instantly found the XBOne on the network and connected with no problems whatsoever, so if you have a wired connection available, you may just want to go that route, honestly.
The only other minor oddity with the Xbox One concerns its physical design. Now, a bunch of people have pointed out that the thing is absolutely massive; while the PS4 is 12″ x 11″ x 2″ the XBOne is 13 1/4″ x 11″ x 3″ in comparison, making it the largest console of at LEAST the last two console generations (the original Xbox beats it handily, obviously). That said, however, anything that (size-wise) helps with proper cooling and airflow to avoid the console blowing up the first time it gets warm outside is a good thing in MY book. I’m not saying that the size isn’t onerous, but I am saying that because I’ve gone through seven 360’s because of heating issues, if the XBOne doesn’t have a RROD issue due to heat problems I don’t care that it’s gigantic, since the size difference amounts to an inch and a quarter of length and an inch of height. What is annoying, however, is that the console cannot stand on its side, and must be laid flat in order to function, which makes no sense at all given that the 360, Wii, Wii U, PS3 and PS4 all support standing the unit on its side. There’s literally no reason for this to be this way and it’s a small annoyance from an entertainment center real estate perspective, but one that I think most people are going to be frustrated with in the end, especially if they’re keeping their PS3’s and 360’s connected as well, as I am.
On the Functionality and Environment:
The XBOne user interface is generally similar to that of the 360 interface, so those who are used to the Metro style Microsoft has been pushing should be right at home instantly here. The top menu breaks the UI down into “Pins” for apps you’ve pinned to have instantly available, “Home” to display your current apps and friends list, and “Store” to grab new games and apps and such. Each heading has numerous subheadings that break out into their own page of tiles for easy access and usability, and everything’s very easy to see and use. Anyone who has exposure to the 360 or Windows 8 will instantly recognize the design and be familiar with it, but even new XBOne owners will find that it’s simple to figure out where everything is with some minor playing around, and you shouldn’t find yourself getting lost at any point. You can also use the Kinect to putz around in the menus if you’d rather, and that actually works out pretty well. Saying “Xbox” to turn the device on gives you the ability to call out names of tiles to access, and simple commands highlight on screen in green to show you what you can say to move along to where you want to go. The device generally recommends complex voice commands on the first try, even things like “Killer Instinct,” “Lococycle” and “Crimson Dragon,” and you can shut it off easily if you turn it on by accident with a “Stop Listening” command. Also you can pause games by saying “Xbox Pause” if you have to jump up to do something, which is a small thing that I actually like quite a bit, though your mileage may vary. The Xbox One also offers the “Snap” feature, which allows you to snap an app to the side of the screen while you’re doing something else, so you could snap your party chat into place while playing a game, or snap the Youtube app into place to view walkthrough videos, for example. It works well enough and doesn’t seem to hurt the system performance noticeably, if at all, in testing it with Madden NFL 25 and Dead Rising 3, and it has some useful applications, at least.
The Xbox One controller works exactly as the 360 controller did, with some mild aesthetic changes. The triggers and bumpers are slightly wider and depress with a little more resistance, the D-Pad is a full cross rather than a cross on a circle pad, and the Xbox button is raised slightly up on the pad, though there are no wild additions like that of the PS4’s touch pad or illuminated back piece. The back of the controller does seem to have infrared lights of some sort built into it, though how those function with the console or the Kinect isn’t something I’ve noticed at this point. The controller also allows for exchangeable battery packs or disposable batteries, which is a good and bad thing; the controller comes with disposable batteries, thus requiring a separate purchase of a battery pack if one wants a rechargeable controller, but if the pack does die, replacing it is easy in comparison to that of the PS4 controller. The Day One package Xbox One controller also has a little “Day One 2013″ label on it, for those who care about this thing. Outside of some aesthetic changes, however, nothing important has changed on the controller, and while the D-Pad feels like it might be slightly more responsive for fighting games, the controller will otherwise be instantly familiar to fans and instantly accessible to newcomers.
For those who are wondering about what’s available here, as with the PS4, the good news is that you can see all of your friends who are online as normal, and your Achievements are available to you from jump once you log in. The Xbox Live Store also has a fairly good selection of games to look at, between the physical and digital versions of the launch library and the digital only titles that exist, though the options are still somewhat limited at this point. Nothing that’s available in the store is cross-platform, and almost everything here, save for Killer Instinct, Xbox Fitness and a demo of Kinect Sports Rivals, has a cost associated with it. There are a couple of Xbox One exclusive titles available on the digital marketplace, such as LocoCycle, Crimson Dragon, Powerstar Gold and Killer Instinct, and nothing here is specifically “freemium” in the strictest sense. While Killer Instinct carried that stigma for a while, it’s more accurate to say that the core product is a demo and you can buy access to different aspects of the game if you only want certain things, but there aren’t tokens or persistent transactions, and you can just buy the whole package outright if you’re so inclined. In other words, there are no microtransactions to speak of, thankfully, and you can quite literally buy what you want. There are also an extensive amount of apps, including obvious ones for things like Twitch, Uplay and YouTube, but also odd additions such as SkyDrive and TED (does anyone really need an entire TED Talk channel?) as well as the much vaunted Skype app. There’s also an app for modifying videos on the Xbox One, and while it’s not as evolved as a tool you’d use on your PC, it’s not bad all in all.
That said, while Sony had some mild issues with their application presentation side of things, Microsoft does far worse here overall. As with Sony, there are absolutely no demos available save for the aforementioned Killer Instinct and Kinect Sports Rivals downloads, but the former is more of a gateway to the final product, and the latter is a demo for a game that isn’t out yet and, further to the point, probably isn’t a game anyone cares about. More demos for the surprisingly robust library of exclusive digital games available at launch would have done wonders to put them ahead of Sony, especially given how mandatory demos were on XBLA, but such is not the case here, and that hurts a lot. Further, the Skype app, which should expand what users can do with the Xbox Live service, is limited and depressing in action. It does allow you to use video chat through the Xbox One, certainly, and while it requires users to have Gold service, that’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is that the service doesn’t allow for any sort of advanced features because you’re on Xbox Live Gold. You can’t run video calls between more than two people at one time unless someone has a Premium account, and instead of integrating the service into the Xbox One it’s just an app you can pin into place. Realistically, Microsoft owns Skype, and the Skype app was an interesting bit of business when it was announced, but at this point the functionality of the app is no better than it is on PC, and Google Hangouts is far and away a better service at this point in the PC realm. Why Microsoft isn’t doing more to emulate that product and leverage Xbox One support is beyond me, but as it stands now, it’s not an exciting addition to the console.
A larger problem, however, is that Microsoft no longer has a leg to stand on with their at-cost Live Gold service because Sony is, to be polite, kicking their ass and it’s not even close. Sony has added a Party option into the PS4, making that something Microsoft can’t crow about, and the Microsoft service isn’t compatible between 360 and XBOne users, which is weird and confusing, since you can see and message your friends on their 360’s normally otherwise. Most of the apps that exist on one console exist on the other, so there’s nothing but Skype, Twitch (which is only a viewing service app) and the NFL app for Microsoft to lean on as being “unique” that matters much. Perhaps most depressing, however, is the fact that Microsoft had a unique opportunity to make Gold seem better with the launch of the new consoles, and they blew it. Sony was forcing players to invest in PS Plus in order to be able to play online on the PS4, but since the service had (up to this point) been a service that gave gamers free games every month, Sony made that a part of the PS4 launch and gave gamers two games, at launch, free of charge. Microsoft had been giving away games on the 360 as something of an incentive to keep competitive with PS Plus, so knowing that Sony would likely do something like this, Microsoft could have made something good free on launch and impressed gamers with their forward thinking ideas, especially since the free games at launch deal would be widely known by the XBOne launch day. Instead, we get “Kinect Fitness,” a fitness program that downloads video workouts for use with the Kinect free, which is… fine as a concept but does not compare to RESOGUN or Contrast in the slightest.
To put it another way, yes, both consoles are going to sell out on day one, because that’s almost always how the console market works unless you’re Nintendo at this point. Long-term, though, which is going to interest you, the description of “This gaming console gave me two free games when I booted it up,” or “This console gave me an exercise app, a program I can run on my phone and PC for free, and an app to watch streams even though it can’t stream games yet, though its competitor can out of the box”? Yes, you can unlock Achievements for watching things on Twitch, but speaking as the guy who sporadically writes a column about earning Achievements, nobody cares when the alternate option is free games. Microsoft was already kind of starting behind the eight ball here, with the controversy surrounding the console from its announcement until now, and giving Sony any major points to win with isn’t a good idea. Hopefully they turn that around soon, but as it stands right now, they’re just handing Sony more ways to say “WE’RE BETTER” from jump.
On the other hand, Dead Rising 3 certainly looks like a next generation game, so there’s that.
Overall, the Xbox One, in the same fashion as the Playstation 4, isn’t a bad console overall, and this was also a generally solid launch for Microsoft pound for pound. Microsoft has a handful of exclusive launch titles to work with, both at retail and digitally, and as with Sony, at least one of them (Dead Rising) is part of an established and desirable franchise. The list of downloadable exclusive titles is also very interesting, with the revamped Killer Instinct leading the pack, and there really does seem to be something for everyone here. The controller feels very comfortable and doesn’t have any gimmicks attached to it, and the end result feels more “classic” than its PS4 counterpart with its lights and touch pad, though which one will be better in the long run remains to be seen. It’s also as easy to set up and get going as the PS4, if not easier due to its better compatibility with switch and streaming devices (though its power cable doesn’t swap with the 360’s) and it also carries over all the pertinent data from your original profile. The lack of demos available through XBLA and the general lack of comparable free content hurts the XBOne in comparison to the PS4, as does the lack of out of the box streaming, and the fact that the Skype app doesn’t add in anything interesting in comparison to its PC/mobile counterparts is depressing. The lack of basic functionality, such as being able to chat with 360 users or the ability to review the contents of your hard drive, is also frustrating, though supposedly these things will be fixed with time, and while SmartGlass is interesting enough, it’s not as functional as Sony’s Vita connectivity, or as easy to set up.
In the end, for those who are curious, right now both consoles have their good points; Microsoft has the larger app library and larger feature list, while Sony has the better incentive for gamers to jump on board and the better cross play functionality. Both consoles could easily make a few modifications to give them the edge in the next few months, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play that out. Hopefully there will be some moves between the companies to stay competitive with one another and vie for the consumer dollar, especially once the holiday push comes to an end and the consoles have to stand on their own merits. We’ll look over some of the games released in the coming weeks to see who has the better launch library, so stay tuned to Diehard GameFAN for more as the weeks progress.