Motion sensing on the Wii made a splash, but the later Xbox 360 and PS3 equivalents struggled to win converts. Undeterred, Microsoft is diving back into the market with the much-improved Kinect 2.0, while Sony is tentatively staying in the shallows with its motion-sensing camera.
The original Kinect has been redesigned from the ground up, and Microsoft is so confident in the future of motion sensing that they’re bundling Kinect 2.0 with the console from launch. It's claimed to be faster, more accurate and has the ability to monitor bits of your body, including muscle tone and your pulse. If that sounds a little too intrusive, don’t worry - using Kinect 2.0 is optional.
Kinect 2.0 has also been integrated into system navigation, so you can use voice commands or hand gestures to run apps, games and videos or even switch between menus. According to previews, switching between TV and game mode is simply a matter of saying “go to TV,” while you can start a movie just by saying its name. These commands have been added into some games such as Ryse: Son of Rome, which will allow you to control legions of soldiers with voice commands.
A Kinect-like peripheral called the PlayStation Camera will be available as a separate add-on for the PS4 at launch, but the extent to which this has been integrated is not yet known. If you already own a PlayStation Move kit for your PS3, you’re in luck - it will work on the PS4.
It's time for online
Strictly speaking, you don't need an internet connection to use eighth generation consoles, but you will be missing out on some of the best features if you stay offline. The Xbox One does require an internet connection during the initial setup. If you are not connected to the internet when you turn on the Xbox One for the first time, you will not be able to use it.
When the Xbox One was announced, gamers were told that they had to connect their console to the internet once a day to verify the contents. Microsoft also placed restrictions on the trading and selling of used games. The global consumer outcry - and Sony’s decision to avoid these restrictions - prompted Microsoft to remove the controversial features. This was a big win for consumers.
The social side of games
Possibly the biggest shift from the seventh generation is the move towards widespread content sharing on the PS4 and Xbox One. You can browse movies and TV shows recommended by friends, Microsoft or Sony staff, and the online community, or browse based on what’s trending.
Competitive features from the PS3 and Xbox 360 will appear in the new consoles, along with the ability to record and share in-game footage. You'll be able to record footage directly to the console, which you can show to friends or even upload to the internet. Live TV and streamed content cannot be recorded.
If you ever find yourself feeling alone, you can also jump on your console and give your friends a video call; Skype is supported by the Xbox One, which means you can make VoIP calls across the world on the big screen using Kinect 2.0. It will, however, be stuck behind the same membership paywall as the streaming services. Skype for PS4 has not been announced, and at this stage it seems unlikely, as Skype is owned by Microsoft.
Each of the next-gen consoles let you play on an additional screen via remote access, for those times when one picture just isn’t enough. The Wii-U controller acts as a second screen, and the PS4 will only link to a PS Vita. While you can use them to remotely play console games when someone else is hogging the TV, they have the potential to extend gameplay beyond the console. A few Wii-U games already offer additional gameplay options via the controller, and the PS Vita is likely to do the same.
Microsoft are taking it one step further with their Smart Glass application, which is available on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Windows phones, and iOS and Android smartphones. But Smart Glass isn’t just for games - you can use it to control the Xbox One or access additional features for movies or TV shows. Sony has announced a PlayStation app, similar to Smart Glass, that can remotely access your PlayStation Network account, work as a second screen on some games, and operate as a virtual keyboard.