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On Wednesday, I visited the Microsoft Experience LA — their fancy loft space in Venice — for a walk-through of what Microsoft hopes will be a radical redefinition of the home entertainment experience. And, judging by the hour I spent there, it will involve quite a bit of shouting in your living room.
Okay, maybe shouting is a bit of an exaggeration, but the thing that my amiable guide was so keen to show off was the voice control. Thanks to the Kinect unit — the motion-sensing microphone and camera device that rests under/over your TV screen — much of the Xbox One’s features can be activated using your voice. You can switch between apps, pause your game, switch to — and control — live TV, switch back to the game, open up a smaller window for any of those apps, etc., all on the fly. And the system — thanks to Kinect’s biometric sensors — can recognize who is sitting in front of it and log you in. When you’re making a Skype call, which you can right from your couch, the Kinect camera will follow you if you get up and walk around; it’ll zoom in if you’re alone, pull out if there’s a group. And there is nothing at all sinister about that.
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It all seemed to work great in Microsoft’s perfect viewing environment — we’ll see what happens in a crowded house or apartment, where the atmospheric volume is threatening to shake the paint loose, just how many times one will have to shout “Xbox, go to ESPN!” to make it all work.
The other big innovation is that the Xbox One will have an HDMI-in port for cable boxes and DVRs, so that you won’t have to change inputs to do all of the things one usually does on a TV screen — and the Xbox will use the Kinect infrared sensors to, essentially, make the Xbox one big universal remote. It’ll change channels, adjust the volume, pause live TV, all at a voice command.
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The actual playing of games wasn’t a focus for this guided tour — I did spend about 45 seconds playing Forza Motorsport 5, and it looked stunning — but the recording, editing and sharing of gameplay footage was. And if recording 30-second clips of you crashing into walls is your thing, then the Xbox One has a rather robust little postproduction suite that’ll let you edit those clips and share them on Xbox Live (their online network/community). So far that’s the only place you can share those clips — no connectivity for, say, Facebook or YouTube, but they claim to be working on it.
They really are trying to make the Xbox One — which I am really trying not to shorthand into “Xbone” — the One Thing You Need in your living room. Until we can do just that — the unit goes on sale (for $499.99 suggested retail) on Nov. 22 — the jury’s still out.
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