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What is the Xbox One?

Eight years on from the launch of the Xbox 360 we finally have its successor; a powerful, multi-functioned super console designed not just to revolutionise gaming, but transform your living room. Curiously, this makes the fight between the Xbox One and Sony’s new PS4 the mirror image of the last console battle. Where last time Sony had the all-in, home entertainment powerhouse that ‘only does everything’, while Microsoft had the more streamlined, game-focused system, now it’s Microsoft pushing for the bigger vision and Sony running after the more hardcore gamers.

This makes reviewing the Xbox One tricky. It’s £80 more expensive than the PS4, and most of that £80 has gone on a Kinect sensor, a UI and a set of entertainment features that you might be ambivalent about. Much of your opinion will depend on how you want to use a console. Do you want it in the living room or in the bedroom, snug or study? Is your lounge already packed out with smart devices, or are you looking for something that brings you all your entertainment in one place?

It’s tempting to conclude that, with the Xbox One, Microsoft has put its long-term strategy for the living room ahead of the needs of its gaming audience. There’s some truth to that, and some of those who adopted the Xbox 360 might defect to the Sony side this time around. Yet there are some fine games in Microsoft’s launch line-up, and there’s plenty of potential in the console’s mix of hardware, Kinect, cloud-based services and exclusive IPs.

Xbox One: Design and Spec

Your first impression of Xbox One will run along the lines of ‘Blimey, that’s a monster’. It’s a big, chunky console, reminiscent of the original Xbox – the one the Japanese legendarily nicknamed ‘the coffee table’.

The Xbox One is a bit of a beast.

Once you get used to it, though, it’s not actually that big. It’s taller and fatter than a Blu-ray player or Sky box, but not dissimilar in size to the old Xbox 360 Elite. Once you have it sitting under the TV it’s surprisingly unobtrusive, and the new, squarer Kinect is more compact and more solid on the surface than the first-generation model. The console still needs a separate power brick, which is almost the same size as the one supplied with the Xbox Slim.

Connecting everything up isn’t a challenge. The Kinect plugs into its own dedicated socket, there’s an HDMI out to your TV and an HDMI in for your PVR or set-top-box, two USB ports, an Ethernet socket and an optical out for your soundbar or AV amplifier. The Xbox One doesn’t output much heat, even under load, and it’s very quiet in normal use, with only a small, high-pitched hum to alert you that it’s running. Start playing Ryse: Son of Rome or Forza 5 and the noise levels pick up, but this is Microsoft’s quietest Xbox yet.

The Xbox One is a bit of a beast

Internally, it’s based on an 8-core AMD Jaguar APU which is broadly similar – bar a few customisations – to the one found in the PS4. The big differences are clock speeds, with the Xbox One running at 1.75GHz to the Sony’s 1.6Ghz, and the number of cores in the built-in GPU. The Xbox One has 12 of AMD’s GCN compute units, with a total of 768 shaders. The PS4 has 18, which gives it a total of 1152 shaders. This gives the PS4 a considerable advantage on raw graphics horsepower, and one that the Xbox One’s higher GPU clock speed, at 854Mhz to 800Mhz, won’t compensate for.

To make things worse for Microsoft, while both consoles have 8GB of RAM, the PS4 comes packing 5500Mhz GDDR5 to the Xbox One’s 2133MHz DDR3. That gives the PS4 a lot more bandwidth between the CPU, GPU and system memory, and while the Xbox One has 32MB of faster embedded SRAM to cache data and reduce any bottlenecks, that still gives the PS4 a powerful theoretical advantage. Finally, while the PS4 can throw most of its resources at games, the Xbox One is holding a proportion back for the operating system and Kinect.

The first thing to say is that this doesn’t feel like a huge issue at the moment. Xbox One games like Forza 5 and Ryse look fantastic, run smoothly and have all the visual detail, overblown lighting and rich surfacing effects you might expect from a next-generation game. There is an issue with resolution, where key cross-platform titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 are running at 720p on the Xbox One and at 1080p/900p on PS4, upscaled to 1080p for TV output. If this is the way things go it’s not necessarily a huge disaster, and at normal viewing distances on a below 46-inch TV you may struggle to see what all the fuss is about.

Yet this might matter in the future. We can’t see a situation happening where big franchises like Call of Duty, FIFA or Assassin’s Creed use noticeably different assets and effects on PS4 and Xbox One, but Sony may pull away when it comes to the exclusives, as it did with Uncharted 3, The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls on the last-generation systems. We can’t predict the future, of course, but unless you’re determined to pixel peep then both consoles deliver a sizeable and appreciable improvement on their predecessor.

ROUNDUP: Best Xbox One games

Xbox One: Controller

With the best console controller ever made as a foundation, it was unlikely that the Xbox One would run amiss here, but the new Xbox One controller improves on the Xbox 360’s in a number of ways.

In the hand it’s lighter but still very familiar, with a similar layout of sticks and buttons. The thumbsticks have a textured ridge around the pad that adds a little extra grip, and the sticks themselves feel slightly tighter, more precise.
The new Xbox One controller

The triggers curve slightly outwards and the bumpers are larger, with all four fitting more naturally under the fingers. The D-Pad has a lighter, more defined feel, while the Start and Back buttons are now Menu and View, though in games they are still used in much the same way. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how Microsoft could improve it.

The surprise hit feature, however, is the inclusion of the new ‘impulse trigger’ motors. The Xbox One controller still has rumble feedback in the grips, but the introduction of rumble in the triggers is a brilliant move, best enjoyed in Forza 5 where the rumbling on the accelerator and the brake adds more than you might think to the feeling of immersion.




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