With the Xbox One now a year old, a re-evaluation of Microsoft's console is in order to see if time has given it a chance to overcome its initial teething problems. How has it improved? What hasn't it fixed yet? Has it finally become the next-generation games console that we deserve?
Microsoft knows its console got off to a rocky start, which is why it's been so good at listening to gamers' concerns over the past year and really taking them on board.
Now that the Xbox One has had time to find its bearings, will gamers finally be ready to embrace it like they did its competitor? With November 2014 sales figures showing the Xbox One outsell the PlayStation 4 in the US and UK for the first time since launch, all signs point to 'yes'.
The Xbox One is not just a games machine, it's also a clever and powerful media hub designed to sit at the centre of your digital home – or at least it would be, if Australians had access to many of the features that overseas Xbox users are currently enjoying.
Regardless, the last year has seen the situation improve for Australians in many ways, and not just in terms of streaming media content. That's not to say that the console can rest easy – there's still a long way to go until we see Xbox One's full potential.
It's quite the legacy to live up to. For long stretches of the last console generation, the Xbox was king. While the Wii was everywhere, and millions of gamers and AV enthusiasts eventually picked up a PlayStation 3, for a while there the phrase "let's play some Xbox" was almost interchangeable with "let's play some video games."
It was the console that brought Xbox Live into maturity, setting the standard for the online experience on a gaming console. It taught couch gamers to tolerate the tech support look of a headset in exchange for voice communication, and that you get what you pay for: a year of Xbox Live Gold might have cost as much as a game, but the service was more robust than Sony's PSN.
The original Xbox One release date was 22 November 2013, launching with the new version of Kinect on board by default. These days of course, Microsoft is offering a Kinect-free option, which has proven popular because of the bundle's cheaper price and higher performance. The standard Xbox One console can now be purchased for about $499, while the version with Kinect costs about a hundred dollars more.
Make no mistake though, Kinect is baked deep into the Xbox One experience, with voice and gesture controls at the heart of everything should you choose to use them.
So if you're not going to play a game, you don't need to use the excellent gamepad to turn the console on or navigate to your entertainment of choice.
The first thing you'll notice about the Xbox One is what an absolute beast it is. It measures 274 x 79 x 333 mm, making it longer and taller than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox 360. You don't need a tape measure to figure that out though, the thing just looks huge.
Its size and girth harkens back to the original Xbox, an imposing black plastic beast covered in black plastic ridges. Microsoft seems to be throwing back to that design, bringing back the all black and the ridge-covered aesthetic.
When you first take the Xbox One out of its box, you'll notice an eyesore of a sticker next to the Blu-Ray drive, asking you to kindly not move the system while a disc is inside.
A good warning, as that can damage a spinning disc in any system, but an ugly sticker - luckily it comes off nice and clean. We also have a hard time imagining that gamers will be moving their hulking Xbox Ones very often, especially since the system is also not designed to stand on its side.
It's massive size and black rectangular construction evoke a stereo tuner from the nineties. Its imposing bulk begs to be hidden away, with just its slot loading disc drive exposed, little white Xbox logo glowing in lonely TV cabinet darkness.
Flip the machine around and you'll see a plethora of ports. It has all your standard nodes: ethernet, HDMI out, power, S/PDIF (commonly used for optical audio), dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR out. Additionally, there are two proprietary ports, one for hooking in the Kinect, and an HDMI-in, which is how you feed the Xbox One your cable or satellite signal. There's also a third USB 3.0 port found on the system's right side.
The HDMI-in can function as a passthrough and let any old HDMI signal in. There is a slight input delay though, which puts the kibosh on dreams of playing PS4 or Wii U games through the Xbox One.
If the Xbox One leaves behind one memory in gamers' minds, it will likely be of the Kinect. Some love it. Some hate it. Others still don't get what it is and why it was necessary.
No matter what camp you fall into, Microsoft has given you a choice whether you want Kinect in your home. Starting in June, the Kinect became an optional peripheral rather than a mandatory pack-in.
But you'd be losing a lot of the One's most unique features and showroom wow factor if you chose to buy the version that comes Kinect-free.
The new Kinect is a whole lot bigger than its predecessor. It's also designed to sit in front of your TV, rather than perched on top of the screen like the PlayStation Camera. It's too big and, presumably, delicate for that.
Just like the system itself, it has a white light up logo on its right side. Dull red lights from its IR blaster intermittently glow when it's active.
The underside of the Kinect has rubber feet that provide a firm grip. It's not going to fall off your entertainment centre any time soon. It can also tilt up and down, with enough range of motion that there shouldn't be any trouble finding the right angle for your living room.
The Xbox One is more than a game console. That got it into some hot water when it first debuted at E3 2013. There were accusations that Microsoft had shoved games to the side in favour of media features and cable television integration - features that aren't even available outside of the US at launch.
While this may have been true about that particular presentation, we've found that the Xbox One itself achieves an admirable balance of gaming and television features, while keeping the former at the forefront.
What's in the box?
What a pile. An Xbox One purchase gets you the console and a Kinect, a power cable and adapter (aka the power brick), a decent headset, the headset adapter, an HDMI cable and controller with batteries. You'll also get a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live Gold.
Xbox One setup is more involved than on the PS4, but it's still not terribly complex. Along with power and HDMI, you'll also have to connect the Kinect through its proprietary cable.
If you plan to watch TV on the console (not available in Australia yet, sorry folks), you'll do so with an HDMI cable, through the system's HDMI-in port. You'll then need to run the OneGuide's setup, which isn't too complex. We'll get into that in the media portion of this review.
When you first switch the system on you'll be met with a setup wizard which will get you connected to the internet for that day one patch. It's around 2GB, and absolutely required before you can even get to the Home screen.
There's been quite a few firmware updates since launch, too, so expect your first patch to take a while depending on your internet speed.
After that's done don't go unplugging your router just yet, at least if you want to play Blu-rays. Almost nothing is on the system by default, and while internet access is not required for single player gaming, there's a ton of functionality that still needs come down from the cloud.
Hop into the Store and get those downloads queued up. After that though, setup is complete. Now before we dive deep into the Xbox One, allow us to walk you through some of its big new functions.
Oh snap, the Xbox One's tiled Home screen is a dead giveaway that the interface shares some DNA with Windows 8. Its brought one of the unique features of the Metro UI to your TV screen in the form of app snapping.
Snapping lets you run two apps at once, giving a third of the screen to one app off to the right, and the rest to your primary engagement. It's a good way to do a little Internet Explorer browsing while you wait for a friend to join your game, but beyond that it can be straining on the eyes and clunky to navigate.
First off, on all but the biggest TVs, a third of the screen just isn't enough space to do much of anything. Having FIFA on one side and an actual live match on the other may sound intriguing, but in practice it's cramped and terribly distracting. Snapping is better left to simpler apps, like Xbox Music or a Skype call.
It's also a headache to execute with the controller since it requires multiple trips to the home screen. First to load up the primary app, then to back out and choose snap, after which you pick your secondary app.
Kinect does make things easier. You can simply say "Xbox snap Music" to get the side by side feature working. It's also much easier to just say "switch" for toggling between the two rather using the controller.
The biggest problem with Snap is that the interface relies on it too heavily for multitasking, and it forces you to give up visual real estate when you really shouldn't have to. For example, Xbox Music needs to be snapped in order to crank tunes while you play. Compare that to the PS4, which may lack a picture in picture feature, but lets its own music service run in the background, tucking the controls into the PS menu.
While it's impressive that the Xbox One's hardware is capable of juggling all this with a drop in gaming performance, it comes off as something you can do, but not something you'll actually want to do, at least very often.
Game DVR could be the end of gaming tall tales and "you had to be there" stories. With help from Microsoft's SkyDrive service, it lets you easily record and share your personal epic wins, besting the PS4's Video Share offering as the more open and YouTube-friendly recording option.
From the get go it's much simpler than third-party recording devices since it's built directly into the system. The best part is that it requires no setup or planning. If you just unleashed a brag-worthy killstreak in Call of Duty, simply say "Xbox record that" and a 720p recording of your last thirty seconds in-game is saved to the hard drive. You can also take a screenshot by saying, you guessed it, "Xbox take a screenshot."
If you're the type who plans ahead and would like to record a longer video, switching to Game DVR, or snapping it alongside your game, lets you record up to five minutes of gameplay. This is one place where Sony's system has the edge. The PS4 keeps a recording of your last fifteen minutes in gaming, letting you pull clips from that instant archive.
So while recording a clip longer than thirty seconds requires less foresight on the PS4, the Xbox One's SkyDrive integration makes for more robust sharing. Whereas the PS4 only lets you upload to Facebook or the PSN, SkyDrive delivers clips as edit and upload friendly MP4s.
Upload Studio also has a simple suite of editing tools, and allows you to record a voice over commentary. You can even use Kinect recording to place yourself in the video, picture-in-picture style.
You can also share clips on Xbox Live where they will appear on in your activity feed. Those feeds are rather buried though, so chances are your friends won't see it unless you give them a heads up.
While not available at launch, Twitch live streaming capabilities are now available on Xbox One, which greatly extends the possibilities of editing and sharing. However, PlayStation 4 also has Ustream capabilities.
Smartglass is the Xbox's second screen experience. It was introduced on the Xbox 360 and lets you navigate menus and see system information on your tablet or smartphone.
The app is back for Xbox One, and does have improved functionality. You can now launch apps from the second screen, and several games now have companion apps. Dead Rising 3 lets you use your device in lieu of the in-game phone for ordering attacks and calling for back. You can even view the in-game map.
The best service Smartglass provides is a keyboard that's easier than the console's on-screen option. It's a great way to read and respond to messages. You can also type in URLs and operate Bing search this way, which is an excellent way to multitask. You can also use the OneGuide on Smartglass for TV control.
The Windows 8 Smartglass app has its own special features. You can throw a browser page from the console directly onto the screen of your W8 device.
Also, its online requirement, which threatened to lock up the system without a daily server ping, has been dialled way, way down. Out of the box, your Xbox One will need to download a day one patch before you even arrive at the homescreen. After that, you can cut the ethernet cable or smash your router; there's no further online connectivity needed for single player gaming.
While this functionality is still not available to Australian customers, North Americans can use that HDMI-in to turn the Xbox One into a cable box. Using a built in guide, you can navigate channels and search for specific shows, using the controller or your voice via Kinect.
Xbox One also integrates streaming services that you're currently subscribed to, and helps you find what you're looking for across all options.
For example, if you want to watch The Matrix, search for the film, and the Xbox One Guide will tell you if you can watch on Netflix, show a link to buy it through the Xbox Marketplace, or give you a heads up that it will be on cable next week.
Of course, with Australia's limited streaming option and lack of cable support, these functions are technically not that useful just yet.
Controller + Kinect
Beloved the world over for its comfortable layout and dependable Bluetooth connection, the Xbox 360 controller became a gaming gold standard. For the Xbox One, Microsoft has given it an overhaul, and it's mostly for the best.
Same goes for the Kinect. It never got the adoration of the 360's gamepad, and was often accused of being a gimmicky, "me too" by Microsoft after the Nintendo Wii kicked off a motion control craze (Sony had its own attempt - remember the PlayStation Move?).
This time around, Microsoft still hasn't built a lot of games around the Kinect. Instead, it's been integrated into the console's interface. While you can choose not to use it, you'd be missing out on some of the most surprisingly fun, but occasionally frustrating, features of the Xbox One.
The Xbox 360's controller was widely regarded as the best all around console gamepad. Its natural contours, well placed triggers and asymmetrical stick layout made it comfortable and the right fit for games of all kinds.
Moving from the 360 to the One, Microsoft has altered little about its signature controller. The most noticeable change is the new position of the Xbox button, which is now at the top rather than in the middle, making it harder to hit by accident.
Basically, Microsoft chose not to mess with a good thing and stuck to improving the existing design. It's now lighter, with a matte finish that feels sleek in the hand. The analog sticks are extra grippy thanks to textured rubber.
There's also force feedback in the triggers, letting you feel the kick of a gun or the rumble of off-road driving right in your fingers. Right now it's a bit of gimmick, but you never know what some clever developer might do with it.
Comparing the two side-by-side, we prefer the Xbox One's controller to PS4's DualShock 4. However, Sony's controller has a few features we wish Microsoft would had adopted.
The Xbox One is still using AA batteries for power, while Sony has been building a rechargeable cell right into its controller since the DualShock 3. Microsoft sells that functionality separately in the form of the Play and Charge Kit. At $30, it's asking a lot, since extra controllers are already $80 a pop.
The Xbox One's controller doesn't have any motion features, unlike the DualShock 4, which basically has Move built right in. It's forgivable since you have a Kinect, but we do think that the PS4's touchpad gives it an edge, both for casual gaming and manipulating big inventory screens.
The DualShock 4 also feels a bit sturdier than the Xbox One's controller. In our experience, The DualShock 4 has proven to be more resistant to wear and tear, still feeling as tough and solid as the day it came out of its packaging. Meanwhile, we've seen instances of rattles developing inside the Xbox One's controller, and even some faulty shoulder buttons.
Overall, the Xbox One controller is an improvement in every way except one: the shoulder buttons. The actions on the Xbox One's bumpers are less taught. It makes for a flimsier click, which is a real shame, since the One controller trumps the 360's build quality in every other way.
With the exception of that annoying flaw, the Xbox One has a really excellent controller. It's a pleasure to hold, the batteries last just as long as the last-gen version and making black the standard colour was a wise choice, since it won't discolour as readily as the 360's white model.
The Xbox One's Kinect is a combination camera and microphone. It lets the system see you, hear you, react to your commands or just your presence. It also has an IR blaster that can interact with your TV and other appliances.
While Microsoft has taken pains to assure the public that the Kinect is not required for using the Xbox One, ignore it and you'd be missing out. The option to buy a Kinect-free Xbox One console is now available for those who don't want to fork out the extra money, but those people will have do so at the cost of the console's voice command features.
Physically, it's bigger than the Xbox 360's Kinect. It's wider, heavier, more rectangular and cannot be mounted to the top of your TV, at least not as-is out of the box. Also, unlike the 360's Kinect, it doesn't move on its own to keep you in frame. Microsoft has replaced that slightly unnerving feature with an optical zoom. The Kinect can be manually tilted, but you only need to do so during the initial setup.
There's a wizard that makes calibration quite painless and only needs to be repeated if you make major changes to your living room setup. The first time you run it you'll introduce Kinect to your face. Once seems to be enough, the Kinect was shockingly good at picking people out beneath glasses and facial hair.
Some checks do need to be repeated if you move the Kinect: making sure it can see enough of the floor and that the mic is tuned to hear you. The system will ask you to crank up your speakers so it can blast a few notes for a sound check. This makes sure Kinect can hear you over the TV. This whole setup process takes less than five minutes.
The Kinect sees you and hears you, letting you navigate menus with your voice or gesture commands. Being able to go from the first Home screen to your pins with a wave is nice, but beyond that the onscreen hand cursor is more trouble than it's worth. It's twitchy and doesn't recognise a "press" very well.
For voice commands, the Kinect's mic can reliably hear you over TV audio, but conversation and background noise gives it trouble. It's best used when there's little going on in the room besides playing Xbox. You also need to stick to rather rigid command syntax so it understands you.
Everything you say has to begin with "Xbox." "Xbox go to Forza Motorsport 5" will launch said racing game. It sounds simple enough but you'll find plenty of ways to trip over it. For example, saying play rather than go to, or Forza instead of the game's entire name. Kinect is no Siri when it comes to interpreting the way people actually talk.
A lot of the command phrasing isn't terribly intuitive either. For example, "Xbox on" turns on the system (a feature that's finally available to Australians), but "Xbox turn off" switches it off. Forgetting to say "turn" or putting it where it doesn't belong usually results in no response from the Kinect.
Hopefully Kinect's voice commands will improve and become less rigid over time. Siri and Google Now have certainly come a long way. As of now, Xbox One's interface jammed with tutorials and lists of phrases; Microsoft knows there's a lot to learn and it's doing its best to compensate. See a full list of Kinect commands here.
Kinect makes a lot of basic functions convenient and fun. Pausing a movie, returning to the home screen and switching between snapped apps worked quite well. However, anything beyond simple commands can quickly get frustrating. Using it to navigate to specific channels in the OneGuide is fraught with errors.
The least reliable command is ironically the most basic. We frequently found ourselves saying "Xbox on" several times before the system would come to life. While it would sometimes snap to attention at first utterance, we never knew what we had done right, or wrong.
Also, while you can easily setup the Kinect's IR blaster to automatically power on your TV, it might be a good option to skip. If your TV is already on when you say "Xbox On," it'll turn it off. A lot of universal remotes have the same problem.
At its best the Kinect compliments the Xbox One's interface by giving you options. You can go between speech, gestures and controller input without even bothering to tell the Kinect "stop listening." The bevy of options is impressive, and amusing.
Don't think that the Kinect is ever not listening though. This thing can turn on the system, remember? It's basically in standby all the time. While we think that Microsoft has better things to do than monitor what people are up to in their living rooms, the idea of an always on microphone is a bit disconcerting in the era of the NSA.
You can opt of out of using the Kinect by simply leaving it in the box, but you can't opt out of paying for it. That's a shame for gamers that would rather put that $50 toward games or a spare controller, but at least it gives a developers a major incentive to design for it. The Kinect's install base will undoubtedly be larger than that of the sold separately, and comparatively underpowered, PlayStation 4 Camera.
Microsoft's bid for living room supremacy is powered by an 8 core AMD processor, backed by 8GB of DDR3 and 32MB of ultra fast ESRAM. For storage, there's a 500GB hard drive to keep your media, gameplay videos and game installs. Unlike the PlayStation 4, there's no swapping out that mechanical drive for solid state without considerable trouble, and letting your warranty fly right out the window.
Speaking of windows, if you've used Windows 8, the Xbox One's interface will look familiar. It's made up of tiles and divided into three sections: Pins, Home and Store. It's somewhat customisable, letting you pick the colour of said tiles, but mostly works by automatically populating itself with your recently accessed apps and games.
Home is the first thing you'll see when you turn on your Xbox, or hit the Xbox button on the controller. It devotes a large front and center rectangle to whatever you're currently doing. Whether it's a game, an app or TV, you'll see a live preview of it in the middle of the screen. If you just booted up, it'll show the last app you used.
The current app preview is flanked on the left by a strip for your Xbox Live profile. It provides fresh information about your Gamerscore and friends list.
The rest of Home is covered in tiles for other recently accessed apps. Besides your Live profile and the current app preview, Snap and My games & apps are the other permanent residents. There's also a tile representing the disc drive, and three large Featured tiles.
Currently, the Featured section is filled with tutorials for the Xbox One. We're not sure what kind of content it will host in the future, be we wouldn't be surprised if advertisements started to hang out there.
To the left of the Home screen you'll find your Pins, a favourites list you can customise with games, apps or TV shows. You may remember pins from the Xbox 360, but they're far more convenient and powerful on the Xbox One.
For one thing, they're practically living on the Home screen, just a scroll to the left away, while the 360 tucked them into their own folder. Being able to save a specific show or TV channel to Pins is the Xbox One's media integration at its most convenient.
To the right of the Home screen is the Store. It's divided into Games, Movies & TV, Music and Apps. There's also a Bing search bar below it. The layout is attractive and the placement is unobtrusive. We're just glad that it's been relegated to its own screen, away from the more personal Home and Pins.
When you're in an app or game, returning to the Home screen is as simple as pressing the Xbox button on the controller. Games are automatically paused, while videos and live TV continue to play, creating a sort of picture in picture effect.
Of course, the whole interface can also be navigated by Kinect, using either gestures or voice commands. The Xbox One's interface does have its unintuitive moments, and the Kinect compensates for them nicely. We're not sure why Settings has been folded into My games & apps, but being able to shout "Xbox go to Settings" saves you from having to remember that.
Currently, notifications aren't getting the sort of prominence they deserve. They're packed into a globe icon in the upper left of the screen, though improvements have been made in the last year. Your Xbox Live friends feed was once tucked away in another small icon, but thankfully, an update to the system's firmware has placed Friends in its own tab alongside Pins, Home and Store. It's much easier to see gameplay videos shared by your friends, or an invitation to join a game now.
Cramming all this important and fun information into tiny little icons really makes the Featured section of Home feel like a waste of space. We'd much rather have game invitations pop up there, rather than tutorials or whatever else is on its way.
When it comes to booting up, the Xbox One is very fast because it doesn't really turn off unless you unplug it. Holding down the Xbox button and selecting console off really just puts it in standby mode.
Surely the Xbox One needs this hidden standby functionality both for better performance, and so the Kinect can listen for your "Xbox on" command. It does stand in contrast to the PS4, which lets you choose to either go into standby, or completely turn the system off. Fully shutting down your PS4 also locks you out of cool features, like PS Vita Remote Play, or starting a download from the mobile app.
Coming out of standby, the Xbox One takes only twenty seconds to reach the Home screen. Kinect will have you signed in by then as well, unless you're sitting too far back. We sometimes had to lean forward before it recognised us.
From a full, unplugged shut down, the Xbox One takes a less impressive minute and seven seconds. Honestly though, there's no reason why you should be frequently unplugging your Xbox One. We just think it's odd that console off really means standby.
So while not every design choice is transparent, you can't accuse the Xbox One's interface of being sluggish. There's no pop in on the Home screen, and overall navigation is snappy. You can drill through menus and browse your library as quickly as you can manipulate the D-pad, or bark at the Kinect.
Multitasking is where the Xbox One really shines. The system keeps your last three apps suspended, letting you switch between them with nary a stutter.
What's surprising is how little is on the system when you first get it. When you first use your Xbox One you'll frequently click on a tile, only to discover you don't actually have the corresponding app yet. Out of the box, almost nothing is pre-installed. That makes sense for third-party services, but apps like Game DVR, Xbox Video, even the Blu-ray playing software need to be downloaded and installed.
It's not such a big deal, just a telling indication of how internet reliant this new generation of gaming will be. Be sure get all your pertinent apps downloaded before having friends over to show off the new system.
Every game on the Xbox One requires at least a partial installation before it can be played. These installs are lengthier than on PlayStation 4, but not by much.
For example, a disc copy of Madden for Xbox One needed six minutes to reach 25% installation before letting us on the gridiron. The PS4 version needed two minutes, and an additional minute to download a patch before online features were enabled.
Installing isn't a major roadblock on either system, but it is something to anticipate. It's a good idea to pop a new game in the drive the minute you get home. That way you can be sure it'll be ready when you are.
Getting to graphics and gameplay, a lot has been made of the fact that many third-party games run in full 1080p on the PS4, while the Xbox One versions are 720p. There are indeed sharper visuals to be found on the PS4's versions of Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, but you need a keen eye to tell the difference.
Character models often have more detailed textures, and lighting effects can be slightly more impressive on the PS4. However, performance across the two systems is very similar, with equally smooth framerates and load times that are close in length.
The 720p vs 1080p situation is still troubling, and this is still an issue that exists a year after release. Microsoft will need to close this visual gap in future releases. It's something we'll be keeping an eye on as we update this review down the line.
The Xbox One has first-party games that show off just as much graphical gusto as the PS4. Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 are just as gorgeous as anything currently available from Sony, though the much-hyped Titanfall's visuals left a lot to be desired. Halo however, has never looked better. The recent release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection saw all four main Halo titles remastered and running flawlessly in full 1080p resolution and at 60fps.
The Xbox One wants to be the one system that handles all the entertainment in your living room. Movies, music and, of course, games, it's set up to do it all.
From streaming apps to cable integration to Microsoft's own services, the Xbox One certainly seems equipped to do it all. We're just glad Microsoft bit the bullet and put a Blu-Ray drive in its system. The Xbox One also plays CDs, something the PlayStation 4 currently doesn't do. Still, can the Xbox One really handle the potentially backbreaking load of the living room?
OneGuide and HDMI-in
If you're in North America, the Xbox One can integrate your cable or satellite feed thanks to an HDMI-in port. Anyone who's had cable installed in their home probably shudders at the thought of fooling with that precarious mix of coaxial and HDMI, but fear not, setting it up is easier than finding your cable company's service number.
After connecting your set-top box to the Xbox One via HDMI there's a setup wizard to take you through all the steps. All you need to know is your service provider and zip code. Punch that in and the Xbox does the rest.
The result is the OneGuide, live TV on your game console organised a lot like a Pay TV service's built-in menu. It can be navigated just like the One's general interface, with speech, gestures, the controller or SmartGlass.
For Australians, it's a lot easier, and also a lot less rewarding.
A whole year has passed, and Australians still don't have access to the much-publicised Pay-TV and Free-to-Air TV integration functionality that other territories have been enjoying since launch. This is kind of baffling.
The OneGuide menu is accurate, but not fast, and certainly not populated with a lot of content. Using Kinect commands with the OneGuide can also be a headache. While it easily understands page up or page down, telling it to go to specific channels can be rather inaccurate. It often tripped over all the different acronyms that make up station names, and sometimes struggled with something as simple as Comedy Central.
Our favourite part of the Xbox One's cable integration wasn't the OneGuide, is was being able to save specific channels and movies to our Pins for fast access. We also liked how TV listings were integrated in search results alongside streaming services. For example, if you used Bing to search for a movie, the results will include the next time it's showing on TV, as well as places to buy or rent it.
Lastly, while that HDMI-in is meant for TV, you can use it for anything with an HDMI port. Before you get too excited, we should tell you that it's slightly too laggy for gaming. Forget about playing Killzone: Shadow Fall or Super Mario 3D World via the Xbox One, it's a much better experience plugged directly into your TV.
When consoles aren't playing games they're often streaming movies. Aside from the content apps mentioned above, YouTube, Crackle, Twitch, Machinima and TED are all available on the console.
After they're installed, accessing content runs through the Bing search function. Either by typing or talking to Bing, you can ask it for, say, Breaking Bad. The search results show you all the places where you can see the sad saga of Walter White, so long as the content is available.
For our American brethren, that meant that it was available on Netflix Instant. It also reminded them that they had a few episodes in their Amazon Instant library, they saw links to buy episodes on the Xbox Marketplace and got a heads up about reruns on AMC over the weekend. All these options were presented in one result page.
For us, all we got was a link to Xbox Video.
Streaming video services are hugely segmented. It would be fantastic to have a search that can present all the options in one place. Bing search comes close, but still overlooks certain media options, so you can't rely on it 100%.
For streaming apps, Xbox and PS4 have continued to add new services over the past year, with PlayStation users now having access to ABC iView, PLUS7 and Foxtel Play, in addition to the Quickflix and IGN apps it had before. PlayStation may have beaten Xbox to the punch on Foxtel Play and ABC iView, but both are confirmed to be on the way for Microsoft's console in the near future. Hopefully we'll see other players join both services soon.
Talking refresh rates
When the Xbox One first launched, the quality of the streaming experience was severely hamstrung by the lack of a 50Hz output, which meant pictures stuttered alarmingly. This is, now, thankfully fixed, leaving you with a very nice quality streaming experience, with good stability and crisp HD pictures (so long as you have a decently fast broadband connection obviously).
A big part of any household's media experience these days is playback of photos, videos and music via USB storage devices or DLNA streaming from networked external devices. In this department the Xbox One was something of a bust on launch, but not any more.
USB playback for some files, including MKV, is now supported, and that's supported by the exciting addition of DLNA and Plex support...
Xbox One now has ability to perform DLNA streaming with the help of the Plex app. Plex is a superb system that turns your personal media collection into a Netflix-type library full of images and music.
It means you can stream media across your own network or even over the internet, and it works flawlessly.
The Xbox One also has its own beta media streaming app which is nowhere near as refined as the Plex one, but it is being worked on so you can expect that to improve over time.
Sony has Music Unlimited, Xbox has Xbox Music, and both services are doing their best to impersonate Spotify. Xbox Music has a library of comparable size, just like Spotify it charges $12 a month for unlimited streaming across your console, PC, phone and tablet.
When we reviewed the PS4, we noted how poor the Channel (radio) service was at finding music we liked. Xbox Music's Radio function is much better at song matching, but its Sony's Music Unlimited that has the better background interface.
To have music going while playing a game, Xbox Music relies on app snapping. That's a pretty nonsensical choice, since it forces you to give up precious screen space for an app you only need to hear, not see. Why on earth doesn't it just run in the background?
Other than that it's a fine music service. While playing in full screen on your TV it cycles through sharp looking album art and band photos. You can listen to whole albums, or create a radio mix. If you're playing a mix, you can zoom out and see the songs that are coming next.
Still, the lack of proper background playback is a deal breaker. While it's a fine way to just play music if your Xbox One is hooked into your stereo, it's not a great way to hear tunes while playing some Killer Instinct, which seems like the whole point of putting music and games on the same system.
Remarkably, the Xbox One still doesn't even let you rip your own CDs to its hard drive. It will play an inserted CD well enough, but you can't build up a convenient archive of your music on the console. CD ripping was, of course, available on the Xbox 360.
Hopefully Microsoft will patch in some background functionality. Until then you're better off with a separate music service.
Blu-ray and DVD
The last thing on Xbox One as media server watchlist is its playback of Blu-rays and DVDs. You'll need to install the Blu-ray/DVD app in order to play discs, but you'll be prompted to do so when you first pop a disc in the tray.
The August 2014 Xbox One update added, amongst many other things, the ability to play back 3D Blu-ray discs, so if you're keen to make use of a 3D TV, you can no use the Xbox One to do so.
Pictures look more detailed and noiseless than they used to as well. There are some standalone Blu-ray decks that can deliver bit more sharpness and colour resolution, but some viewers might actually prefer the less 'forensic' but smoother finish to the Xbox One's images.
There were significant problems with the audio performance of the Xbox One's Blu-ray player at launch. Specifically some major lip synch errors when watching at 24p, and the fact that the console could only ship out uncompressed DTS surround sound, not Dolby Digital.
Both of these problems now appear to be fixed – even if the Dolby Digital issue has only been solved by converting DTS tracks into Dolby Digital for output.
Microsoft introduced Xbox Live at the tail end of the original Xbox, but it was on the Xbox 360 that it became the fleshed out, fully featured online service that we know today.
Now that more and more console features are internet dependent, a strong web connection, as well as buying into the console's online service, is basically a requirement.
Paying for an Xbox Live Gold account has always been necessary to take your Xbox games online. That was a major edge for the PS3, which gave away this functionality, but now Sony has taken the same approach and put the PS4's multiplayer behind a paywall. It does not, however, make you buy in to access Netflix and other streaming services.
The Xbox One still requires you to meet the $80 price tag before you can have access to video services, which is getting harder to justify since it's the pricier of the two consoles. And now that the Xbox One has more online features, there's even more that's walled off until you pay up. Uploading from Game DVR and cloud saves are not available without Gold.
Your account from the Xbox 360 will carry over to the Xbox One and for better or worse, Xbox Live is still basically the same service we knew from the 360. You can message friends, join groups for voice chat and jump right into a game. While you can still type up messages, Microsoft no longer lets you record and send audio messages.
At least you're now paying for local Australian servers. With Microsoft's Azure servers in Sydney and Melbourne now launched, Xbox Live users should find themselves having a much better online experience. Online matches in games are now more likely to default to an Australian connection, rather than an international Azure connection in Asia.
Regardless, connections to Live have been fairly stable since launch, not buckling under the pressure of the day one launch crowd. We were able to play online co-op in Dead Rising 3 as well as fight online in Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts without a snag. Mic chat through the included headset was sharp, even clearer than on the Xbox 360.
Downloading a digitally purchased game from Xbox Live is just as swift as on Sony's servers. Games can be played in mid-download, letting you dive into titles before the massive files finishes arriving.
Game DVR functionality is still great, and now that Xbox One has Twitch capabilities, all of your options for uploading game video are covered. Your friends list is also no longer buried away in the system's interface. And, you can still upload files to SkyDrive to share on YouTube.
Microsoft also has its own PS Plus equivalent with Games with Gold, which finally gives Xbox One owners with Xbox Live subscriptions free games each month. While PlayStation 4 owners have had more games given to them, there have been a handful of quality titles on offer on Xbox One, such as Volgarr the Viking, Chariot and Powerstar Golf.
Hands on gallery
The Xbox One is a lot different from one year ago. Yes it's still Microsoft's ambitious all-in-one media center that has hopes for conquering your living room. It's still got the better console-exclusive games and paid online service.
But it's also vastly different and improved since then, too. It's $100 cheaper if you're buying a system without a Kinect and the changes to Snap, Game DVR and the interface were all welcome, coherent upgrades.
It's still not perfect, though. At its core, the Xbox One is an Internet-dependent box that needs a subscription to Xbox Live Gold to get anywhere. And while the constant updates from Redmond have given gamers good reason to choose Xbox over Sony, I have reservations whether any software - DirectX 12 included -will be able to improve the inferior hardware.
Decoupling Kinect and the price drop will ultimately save the system, but doing so was a slap in the face of early adopters.
Being many million units behind in sales has put a fire under Microsoft, leading to more updates and more exclusives than its closest competitor. So, you ask yourself, is it worth jumping in now at $500 odd, or wait just another six months to see if I can get a cheaper bundle down the road? Let's break it down.
Even though Sony has the market cornered on the whole "for gamers, by gamers" phrase, Microsoft makes a pretty compelling case for the title.
With more platform-exclusive games, an eye on the indie scene and its promotional Games with Gold deal, the Xbox One is a game console any gamer could love. Games like Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive are a visual feast with plenty of depth and pair nicely with the Game DVR feature.
Speaking of which, the system just feels built for the 21st century. It's tapped into the social media zeitgeist where we want to share, upload and promote everything we see and do on a console.
Plus, now with Twitch we're able to stream to our heart's content, all without the need for peripheral hardware. Snap, OneGuide and Achievements have all had their fair share of improvements over the past year and are better for it.
And with the added media apps that have launched over the year, and the apps that are on the horizon, the future seems bright for Australians looking for television content on their Xbox One consoles. The Xbox One feels more like a media titan today than it did 12 months ago, and that's something everyone involved should feel good about.
Lastly, the arrival of long-overdue Australian servers for Xbox Live is a cause for celebration. We'll finally be getting some decent online connections..
There's still a ways to go here in Australia, as we're still waiting for many of the features that Xbox One owners are probably already taking for granted overseas. When will we be able to take advantage of console's TV integration features?.
The Xbox One is big, bulky a looks like it was designed to replace the VCR, not the Xbox 360. The controllers, thankfully, are much different story. They're loads better than they were before, both tightly tuned and laser precise.
What's lacking, though, are built-in rechargeable batteries and visual indicators of who's who on the controller itself. It's easy to forgive Microsoft for forgetting these one or two minor details, but the fact that the solution - a play and charge kit - is out there and they charge an extra $30 for it, is slightly insulting.
But the controller debacle is only half as insulting as the way Microsoft handled Kinect. Once a mandatory pack-in, Microsoft heralded Kinect as the future of gaming and a vital part of the next-gen experience.
Nine months down the road, Microsoft chops the Kinect from the bundle, tells us that it actually frees up some extra memory and puts out a new package, sans Kinect, for $100 less. Kinect commands in general are very rigid and only helpful once you've taken the time to learn the syntax verbatim. We weren't expecting Siri, but you have to talk to it in very precise, often unintuitive ways to make it understand.
Xbox Live Gold is so essential to how the system operates that it should almost be mandatory at checkout. Still, Microsoft has tried to make it a better offer with Games with Gold and strives to produce consistently good online multiplayer experiences.
But, if you're not already a member, Microsoft won't let you forget about what you're missing. You'll find advertisements plastered all over your dashboards that have the same message: Get Gold and you'll have a better time.
It also doesn't help that the system constantly needs to update something. It seems like every time we go to turn it on, it needs another 70-plus MB update in order to watch a simple YouTube video. Of course the point could be made that we can always leave the system in standby mode to circumvent all the updates, but honestly, a system shouldn't need an update every two days.
Last but not least, some third-party titles run in 720p, and that simply shouldn't be the case. You might need to pause the game and have a look to tell, but there are noticeable differences between Xbox One and PS4 versions, with the PS4 coming out on top.
Xbox One is finally picking up steam. It's selling in some places for under $500 and there are a plethora of great, platform-exclusive games ready to pick up right now, not down the road in 2015.
It's the best place for media enthusiasts with DLNA support, and the addition of Plex support is very nice indeed.
There's still a lot of potential locked away inside the hardware of the system that developers are just beginning to figure out. So while PlayStation might have the upper hand for now when it comes to certain third-party titles, it may not always remain that way. Just how Microsoft will get it to that point, though, is still a mystery.
In truth, Microsoft hasn't had the best year. But progress is painful, and that's what we've seen. Thanks to reduced pricing and clearer consumer messaging it's likely that Xbox can brush the dust off before entering the next year of its lifecycle, which will be full of great new games like Halo 5: Guardians, Evolve and Fable Legends.
Microsoft, at least in the gaming world, started with nothing and made it this far, so anything and everything is possible if it's motivated to see it through. The world is yours, Xbox, all you need to do is reach out and take it.