Microsoft reveals next-generation Xbox One console

Microsoft revealed its next-generation game console today. Dubbed Xbox One, the console was designed as an all-in-one entertainment system that's equally at home playing games and serving multimedia content. Perhaps in a bid to attract non-gaming audiences, the Xbox One looks rather sedate. Check it out:

Unfortunately, Microsoft provided few details on the hardware inside. The underlying processor has five billion transistors, and the CPU component boasts a native 64-bit architecture. The official product page says there are eight CPU cores, but there's no word on their pedigree. 8GB of memory is included alongside USB 3.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a Blu-ray drive, and 500GB of mechanical storage. That's pretty much the extent of the hardware details discussed during the presentation.

Wired's exclusive look at the console adds a few snippets of information, including the fact that the Xbox One's GPU has eight times the horsepower of the Xbox 360's graphics component. That puts the GPU in the same league as the Radeon HD 7850—and the Playstation 4. According to Wired, the SoC behind the Xbox One incorporates pretty much everything, including the CPU, GPU, audio processors, and even the DRAM. Surprisingly, the chip is fabricated on a relatively large 40-nm process. There are conflicting reports on the fab process, and it seems unlikely 8GB of DRAM was squeezed onto the SoC. We've asked Microsoft for clarification.

The Wired piece confirms that AMD is responsible for the custom silicon, but it doesn't say how the chip compares to the AMD silicon in the PlayStation 4. I'd expect the two to be very similar.

In addition to using its own hardware, the Xbox One will be able to tap into cloud processing power. It sounds like Microsoft will be providing plenty of servers for online gaming, too. The firm currently runs 15,000 servers for Xbox Live on the Xbox 360, but that number will grow to a whopping 300,000 for Xbox One.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from Microsoft's presentation was the fact that the Xbox One runs three operating systems. One provides game developers with low-level acess to the hardware; another is designed to access the web and run other applications; and the third OS links the other two, facilitating quick switching between them. While the arrangement sounds complex, the implementation demoed on stage looked pretty slick. The presenters were able to switch between game and entertainment content with ease, using only voice recognition and hand gestures.

Speaking of gestures, every Xbox One will come with Kinect. The updated motion-control module includes a 1080p camera capable of capturing video at 60 FPS. The field of view has been increased by 60%, which purportedly allows accurate gesture recognition in a wider range of environments. The motion tracking is said to be much more sensitive and capable of understanding the slight rotation of joints, the amount of energy put into individual movements, and even how changes in skin pigmentation relate to the user's heart rate. The potential for fitness-based games appears to be substantial.

Controlling traditional games with gestures seems a little awkward, but Microsoft hasn't forgotten about gamepad users. The Xbox's dual-stick controller has received 40 different enhancements, including new triggers that provide a measure of resistive feedback. I'm looking forward to seeing how developers make use of that particular capability. Hopefully, we'll get a PC version of the same controller.

Based on the content of the presentation, it almost feels like gaming is taking a back seat with the Xbox One. Microsoft seemed to spend more time talking about the console's non-gaming capabilities, like the built-in Skype client, the ability to run an Internet Explorer window alongside other tasks, and support for live TV. It also hyped a new partnership with the NFL and announced that a live-action Halo series is being helmed by none other than Steven Speilberg. There were a few game demos, too, but it's clear that gaming is only one part of the Xbox One's mission.

Microsoft promised to reveal more about the Xbox One at the E3 Expo next month. Hopefully, we'll learn more about the hardware. I'm just as curious about whether the console will require an always-on Internet connection and support used games. Those subjects weren't covered by today's reveal event, and they remain hot-button issues for gamers. We also don't know how much the Xbox One will cost. Based on its tight integration with online services, I suspect we could see a subsidized model bundled with several years' worth of Xbox Live. If you missed the big reveal, you can watch the replay right here.

Update: Microsoft's Xbox One FAQ confirms that the console won't require always-on Internet connectivity, but it will need some form of 'net connection. The console will also "enable customers to trade and resell games," although the specifics of how that works haven't been shared yet. We do know that the new console won't be backward-compatible with Xbox 360 games.

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