REDMOND, Wash. – Microsoft thinks it has the one.
The company unveiled the Xbox One, an entertainment console that wants to be the one system households will need for games, television, movies, sports and other entertainment. It will go on sale later this year, for an undisclosed price.
For the past two years, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has outsold its rivals. But it’s been eight years since that machine came out, and Microsoft is the last of the three major console makers to unveil a new system. In those eight years, Apple launched the iPhone and the iPad, “FarmVille” rose and fell and tablets began to threaten desktop computers, changing how people interact with games and beyond.
Now, the stakes are high as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all using their latest machines not only to draw gamers but also to command the living room. The goal is to extend their reach beyond loyal legions of hard-core gamers and to become as important to our lives at home as smartphones have become to our lives on the go.
Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s president of interactive entertainment business, said the company has spent the past four years working on an “all-in-one home entertainment system.”
At an hourlong unveiling at the company’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters on Tuesday, Microsoft executives used voice controls to seamlessly switch back and forth between watching live TV, listening to music, playing a movie and browsing the Internet – all while running apps for fantasy football and Skype chats. It showed how users could watch live sports on TV while getting updates on their fantasy leagues on a split screen.
“It really extends the home entertainment experience,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau said.
He said the console seems to appeal to “more than just a core gamer in the family” and should be of interest to all types of audiences, from sports players to TV viewers to those who are “social and want to share things.”
The Xbox One is the third entry in the latest round of the “console wars.” It follows Nintendo Co.’s launch of the Wii U in November and Sony Corp.’s tease in February of the upcoming PlayStation 4. Each of the new consoles has shifted away from simply serving as gaming machines as they incorporate streaming media apps and social networking features.
With the Xbox One, people will be able to connect their cable or satellite set-top box and watch TV through the game machine. The Xbox One has its own guide and lets people change channels by voice command.
Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated how the console switched quickly between channels after saying show names such as “Mary and Martha” or commands like “watch MTV.” His voice command of “What’s on HBO?” brought up the channel guide for HBO.
“No more memorizing channels or hunting for the remote control,” Mehdi said.
The interface for the TV goes well beyond the functionality in the Wii U, which still requires users to press buttons to change the input source on the TV. Xbox One seamlessly switched between games, movies and TV shows with a single voice command.
Microsoft also unveiled a new version of its camera-based Kinect system with better motion and voice detection, including the ability to read faces and tell whether you’re smiling or not. The Kinect will be required for Xbox One to work. The company also introduced a more ergonomic Xbox controller, with new buttons and a slightly different layout from the Xbox 360 controller. The new console will also add the ability to play Blu-ray discs, matching what Sony has in its older PlayStation 3.