Xbox One interface and dashboard revealed
8th Nov 2013 | 11:00
We dive into Kinect, voice commands and more on Xbox One hardware
Microsoft has spent months showing off choice bits of the Xbox One, but what we've been waiting for all this time is a look at how all those pieces fit together.
Thankfully that's exactly what we were shown this week during an hour-long session in Venice Beach, California.
TechRadar sat down with Microsoft's senior PR director for Xbox Jose Piñero to see the Xbox One UI in action, issuing commands to the console through the new, superior Kinect sensor and switching between apps, games and TV at lightning speed.
Piñero also showed us how to answer Skype calls, how to use multiple applications at once and pin them to the side of the screen, how to use the Xbox OneGuide for easy TV channel-flipping, how to record and upload gameplay footage, and more.
We came away with a few concerns still remaining, but were generally impressed with the nimbleness of the system and the accuracy of voice commands with the new Kinect.
Xbox One dashboard
It's no secret that Microsoft's vision for the Xbox One was to make a device that would fulfill every living room need, from gaming to movies, music and TV.
It's also designed to cater to individual users and recognize them thanks to the new Kinect. Kinect recognizes when users it knows step into its field of view, and switching between profiles is as easy as saying "Xbox, show my stuff." It recognizes your voice and switches to your custom view. This will work even on other consoles that don't belong to you since everything is stored on the cloud.
The Xbox One's home screen/dashboard is comprised of three pages. The main page is automatically tailored for specific users based on what they were last doing, displaying most recently used items with a big tile for the last "experience" (a game, app, etc.) used.
To the left of the main home page are your pins. Up to 25 pinned items, like music albums, TV shows, games, apps and individual Skype contacts will appear here. They'll be tailored for whatever user signed in first, or whoever told the Xbox to display their "stuff."
On the right side of the main home page are the buttons to get to the various marketplaces for games, music, movies and TV.
With three people in the frame, the Xbox One Kinect appeared to easily recognize which people had profiles and switch between their custom views easily and quickly.
App switching and multitasking
The Xbox One features all the apps you'd expect, and switching between them is as easy as saying "Xbox, go to Skype," "Xbox, watch TV," or "Xbox, go home."
If you're playing a game and get a Skype call, you'll answer the call with voice commands and the game will be suspended exactly where it is. That applies to basically everything; any time you switch out of a game and start another application, be it Netflix, Skype, Hulu Plus, TV, Internet Explorer or whatever, the game will always pick up right where you left off when you go back to it.
"You're constantly connected to your entertainment, and there's no reason to miss a moment," Piñero said.
He switched among multiple apps continuously with only a brief pause in between requests, and the Xbox One didn't miss a beat. Applications started almost instantly, and the console didn't seem to break a sweat even when jumping from one to the next continuously in quick succession.
Piñero revealed that the Xbox One works to recognize when users intend to say a command, versus when they just say something in conversation. What's more, the console doesn't seem to stumble over accents - Piñero, who has a moderately strong accent, had about 95% of his commands reacted to correctly.
You can pin applications to one side of the screen while continuing to use others by saying, for example, "Xbox, snap Internet Explorer." The browser moves to the side, and you can continue to watch TV or play a game on most of the screen. When one app is pinned, you switch between them by saying "Xbox switch." "Xbox, unsnap" is the reverse command.
It also recognizes the names of games and other things; you can say "Xbox, return to Forza Motorsport 5" and it will take you back to the Turn 10 racing title.
We also used the Xbox One's game DVR functionality.
The console constantly records the last five minutes of gameplay, and saying "Xbox, record that" automatically creates a 30-second clip that you can then edit by saying "Xbox, go to upload."
You can trim a clip down, though right now it's impossible to break out of the time constraints the console sets. You can't record more than five minutes at a time, for example. And unfortunately you can't upload the clip to YouTube, only to Xbox Live.
However when you're editing gameplay footage you can simultaneously record commentary video through Kinect and upload the two together with a picture-in-picture effect. Everything is easy and intuitive.
Kinect, vastly improved over the Xbox 360 version, is good at detecting people now. During a Skype call, for example, the image will zoom, pan and tilt to keep speakers' faces in the frame. It's all done digitally; the sensor never moves. When someone leaves the frame the Kinect camera will re-focus and zoom on whoever remains. If someone enters the frame, it zooms out to encompass them as well.
"Today, one of the ultimate enemies of gamers is the fact that they have to change inputs on the TV," Piñero told us. The Xbox One's HDMI-in port is meant to eliminate that problem once and for all, especially if it's the only game console you use.
The new Kinect itself is an IR blaster that literally sends signals bouncing around the room and off players to reach the cable box and change the channel. That's also how the Xbox can adjust the volume on the TV or on separate AV receivers.
But HDMI-in is what makes the Xbox OneGuide possible. OneGuide, activated with the easy-to-remember command "Xbox, OneGuide," is like your cable company's channel guide, only cleaner, more customizable, and controlled by Kinect.
To change the channel, you simply call out "Xbox, go to Comedy Central" or "Xbox, go to MSNBC." In fact - and this applies across the entire Xbox One system - Kinect will recognize any words displayed in green on the screen at any time as voice commands, and in OneGuide that includes channel and program names.
From the OneGuide, you can also make favorites lists that are customized for each users' profile and see something new called app channels, which are curated selections of content, such as trending clips or popular movies, from apps like Hulu Plus.
Those of you outside the US will have to wait a bit longer for this feature, and we've been told it won't arrive in the UK until 2014.
Making it work
Piñero discussed other features that weren't yet available for us to try out, like fantasy football and fitness features. He also dished on "media achievements" that unlock when you watch, say, 10 movies in one weekend, or when you start a new TV show (though they won't add to your gamerscore, because "Gamerscore is sacred," as Piñero said).
We also didn't get to check out the Xbox One's Twitch integration.
But our concerns with the Xbox One are mainly for people with more complicated living room set-ups than a cable box, an Xbox One and a TV.
Thanks to the Kinect's IR blasting capabilities, the Xbox One is also designed to work with an AV receiver for external speakers. But what about users who currently have different devices connected to different audio devices, or users who like to switch from external speakers to a high-quality audio headset when their roommates go to bed?
For example, a user might currently have an Xbox 360 connected to external speakers through an optical cable, but the cable box might be sending sound to the TV through an HDMI or component cable. If the cable box is routed through the Xbox One using HDMI, and the Xbox One's audio is connected to an AV receiver via optical, will all sound come through the external speakers now?
Piñero said various set-ups will work, but we fear the more complicated your living room is the more difficulty you might have in getting the Xbox One to control it all.
We'll know more by the time our full Xbox One review is published, so keep an eye out. More answers await.
In the meantime, Microsoft has put up a 12-minute video demonstrating the whole thing in action. Impressive.