The Kinect 2.0
Microsoft has put a lot of work into making the Kinect 2.0 motion-sensing camera better than its predecessor. In most respects they’ve delivered on this promise. We found it to be noticeably more accurate than the original Kinect, and also better at working in low light. In practice, however, some features work much better than others.
Although you can navigate the menus and screens using the Kinect rather than the handheld controller, swiping your hands around the screen feels a little unweildy. Opening an app, for example, involves gradually pushing your hand towards the icon, but the response isn’t always accurate. We found ourselves frustrated with motion-sensing navigation and quickly returned to using the controller. The camera integrates a few genuinely useful new features, though, such as signing in via face recognition, or purchasing content online by scanning QR codes rather than typing in a 25-digit key.
Kinect can also launch apps using voice commands, but these don’t work all the time. You can activate most features using voice control, but you need to speak quite loudly and clearly to get a response. When the system does respond, it’s usually accurate. For most people, voice navigation won’t replace the controller, but it’s a fun addition.
Apps and media
Games aside, sometimes you just want to sit back and watch a movie or listen to music. The Xbox One is trying to be seen as a media hub as much as a games console. But does it live up to this promise?
There are plenty of general non-game entertainment apps and media tools available, including an online download and rental service, DVD and Blu-ray capabilities and streaming music/video services. Unexpectedly, the free software required for Blu-ray and DVD playback isn't installed by default – you need to install it from the app store. However, it can’t play 3D movies.
Possibly one of the most useful additions to the Xbox One is Skype, which makes good use of the Kinect camera. We found the picture and sound quality to be clear. The camera’s movement detection accommodates additional people who walk into the frame by automatically zooming out. The wide field of view can comfortably show three people.
Most of these media apps require an Xbox Live Gold subscription to access. There can also be extra costs for premium features.
TV or not TV?
Two of the most highly publicised additions to the Xbox are TV capability and OneGuide, which operates as a TV guide within the console. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a moot point for Australians, as our electronic program guide (EPG) isn’t included. This restricts OneGuide to simply listing new content for entertainment apps. However, if you have a pay TV, set-top box or TiVo, you can run these into the console via the HDMI input and switch to them using the Xbox One controller.
SBS and Channel Ten already have Xbox One apps for catch-up TV, but the popular ABC iView isn’t yet represented. While these apps work as expected, their compatibility with OneGuide is inconsistent. Some list upcoming content while others can't provide any information, and some don’t appear in the list at all. Some of the best digital TV services such as Netflix
are still unavailable in Australia.
As expected, the Xbox One is at least several times more powerful than its predecessor. Games show more detail, with smoother graphics and more simultaneous action.
You can now record up to five minutes of in-game footage while you're playing. We recorded a few clips and found them to be of good quality, without slowing down the console or hindering our gaming experience. Recorded footage can be edited using the free Upload Editor app from the app store, then uploaded for other Xbox One users to view.
Although it may sound like a lot of capacity, the inbuilt 500GB hard drive will fill up quickly, given the amount of space required to install games. Sadly, there’s no way to see how much space is left on the drive, which seems to be a major oversight. You can view how much space each individual game is taking up, but this is a far cry from a disc management feature similar to what was included on the Xbox 360.
Online purchasing and parental controls
Parents will be pleased to learn the Xbox One comes with comprehensive privacy controls that can be preset to filter out explicit content and block online purchases.
There are three default privacy settings – child, teen and adult – plus custom settings. Activating a password to protect these settings is optional, but we recommend it. Changes to these settings and online purchases using your credit card then requires that password. Note that if you choose to enter your credit card details, they will be permanently stored in the console.
If you or members of your family are hardcore gamers, you’ll likely want an Xbox One. Top-line games look and perform better than on the Xbox 360. The ability to record and share in-game footage online is a welcome bonus for serious gamers. It’s a less compelling proposition if you’re just a casual gamer or looking for an all-round lounge room media box, but should become more attractive next year when more media apps roll out.
The Xbox One delivers on most of its promises and really feels like a step up in how we interact with video games consoles. The motion sensing has improved but still has a way to go before it becomes the default method of control.
Just keep in mind that the time between plugging it in and playing your first game can be up to a couple of hours, and will likely include more than 1GB of download data. If you’re buying it as a Christmas present for young ones, we recommend setting it up on Christmas Eve.
CHOICE will review the PlayStation 4 (PS4) when additional stock is available at retail.