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Microsoft’s Xbox One proves it’s more than a game center

What is the Xbox One?

If you’re a video-game aficionado, you know the answer: It’s Microsoft’s latest game console, and it arrived in North America and Europe on Friday. To gamers, Xbox means cutting-edge adventures such as “Halo” and “Gears of War,” as well as the brand that brought online competition to the masses through Xbox Live.

But Microsoft wants you to think of Xbox One as more than a game machine. You can use it to watch movies on Netflix and Hulu Plus. You can hook it up to your cable box to watch live TV. You can Skype your grandma and share family photos through the SkyDrive storage service.

The Xbox One arrives with a respectable library of 22 titles, all sold separately. By and large, they look just as pretty as their counterparts on Sony’s PlayStation 4, which came out last week.

Both the Xbox One and the PS4 are state-of-the-art game machines, and for some, the difference will come down to price. At $500, the Xbox One costs $100 more.

The most significant distinction between the two is the re-engineered Kinect camera that’s packaged with every Xbox. Like the one for its Xbox 360 predecessor, it lets you use voice commands and gestures to navigate on-screen menus and some apps, but it’s much more precise and responsive than before.

Gift Guide: Wireless audio gizmos under $500

If “unplugged” acoustic music was a hallmark of the ’90s, surely “wireless” listening is the big trend of the ’10s.

Several wireless gadgets should keep music lovers a bit more tangle-free this holiday season.

• Beats Studio Wireless ($380): This plush set of over-ear headphones comes with wireless ability for an $80 increase in price. Like the wired-only model, this puts you in a cocoon with its noise-canceling technology, which works even if you just want padded silence. The sound is crisp, and the bass is deep.

• Monster iSport Freedom ($250): Meant for a workout, these on-ear headphones are made of sweat-resistant plastic and rubbery material and will give you a tight-fitting hug.

Although the headphones don’t jostle while jogging, there’s something about completely covering your ears that creates a kind of bone-conducing sound. Every foot strike resulted in a thud inside a reviewer’s head, something that doesn’t happen with $29 iPhone EarPods. The sound is excellent, though, and I appreciate not having to worry about yanking my headphones off accidentally by snagging the cord.

• Sonos Play:1 ($200 each): The little brother to the company’s Play:3 and Play:5 speakers packs a big, immersive sound in a package the size of a pickle jar.

Unlike Bluetooth speakers, Sonos speakers run over Wi-Fi and need to be plugged into a power outlet.

• Beats Pill 2.0 ($200): This Tylenol-shaped beat box puts out a decent sound, but it’s remarkably tinny for the Beats brand.

This year’s model adds some cool features. A near-field communications chip lets you pair two Pills together for stereo sound.

• Marley Get Together ($200): This is what you want when you go on a picnic with your hippie friends. It’s even made of hemp.

No kidding: The cloth enclosure is made of recycled hemp, organic cotton and recycled plastic. Its natural bamboo front gives this an Earth-loving, yet luxurious polish. Two big woofers and two tweeters on the front will reassure you that you’re not compromising on sound.

• Soundcast Melody ($450): This Bluetooth speaker flips the idea of surround sound on its head. A speaker grill encircles a body that is shaped like a rice cooker. You can surround it from any direction and still feel the sound coming your way.

This chunky, 9-pound speaker is for people who want mobility but for whom weight is no issue. At this price, it’s pushing the upper end of wireless speakers.

• HMDX Jam Plus ($60 each): These stubby speakers the size of a tumbler glass are perfect companions to a laptop or tablet.

Pairing two of them for stereo sound was a snap thanks to a switch on the bottom that designates which one is right and left.