Over the past few months the media has been an absolute frenzy about the impending launch of the next generation Playstation and Xbox consoles. Now that they have been released in the US and Europe, initial feedback and reviews show both consoles already have huge followings. The PS4 has already sold more than 2.1 million units in 2 weeks – it made history for being the fastest selling console, overtaking the Xbox.
In South Africa, the Playstation 4 will be released this week (the media launch is this evening) and is predicted to sell incredibly well for Christmas. Xbox on the other hand, hasn’t yet confirmed a release date. Fortunately for Wired to the Web, I was able to get a hold of a Day One edition of the Xbox One and I wanted to share my initial impressions of the console.
I received my US Day One edition, with a spare controller and a Day One edition of Dead Rising 3.
The Day One edition comes with 3 almost irrelevant features: a black box, a controller embossed with the words ‘Day One edition’ and a chrome D-Pad, and a Day One Achievment for uhm, additional street cred.
The Xbox One console, Kinect and power supply are all incredibly bulky.
Also note that the power supply is not universal. Because it was a US import, I had to purchase a 300W step down transformer for R260 as seen here.
Before I start the setup I wanted to compare some of the components for you.
Firstly the controller: The angular lines on the Xbox One controller makes it fits my hand better and feels more solid. Also, the rumble feedback in the controller triggers and improved D-pad makes a huge difference.
Now the headset: The Chat headset looks much better than the previous one but note the change in connection. I hope that Steelseries release a converter for my wireless headset. Finally, the Kinect no longer fits the clip on top of the TV. This required some creative work with cable ties to ensure it won’t fall off the top of my TV.
Overall impressions: The design is much better than I thought from videos but PS4 clearly has an edge. Both the console and the Kinect feel very bulky and I like the angular design of the PS4.
After plugging in the system, it goes through the mandatory ‘Day One Update’ of ±530MB. Please note that you cannot use your Xbox without downloading it. The download took 19 minutes on my 5MB connection.
Downloading my profile was almost instantaneously (mainly because you do not transfer any of your save games to the new console. Finally, the last hardware setup of the Kinect and DStv took a few extra minutes but was relatively straight forward. I immediately proceeded to install Dead Rising 3, which I discovered needed a 650MB day one patch. Annoyingly, I couldn’t figure out whether it was installing the game to the internal harddrive or downloading the patch, but after about 30 minutes it only showed 1% progress and did not let me play the game for almost an hour afterwards.
There are 6 major changes this review will focus on:
1. The Xbox is trying to be an all-in-one entertainment device
The Xbox now streams live TV incredibly well. The TV can be snapped to full screen or alternatively played as a side bar. I hope when it finally comes to SA that the full suite of TV Guide and PVR functionality is activated by DStv.
The one annoyance was that the Xbox does not provide the ability to control the balance of volume between the game and TV. This means that when you have it in the side bar, the sound just plays over each other.
The Xbox now also controls the TV volume, mute and you can switch on and off your TV by voice.
2. Voice commands rule
The Kinect voice commands work almost flawlessly. I had a more than 90% success rate, even with my heavy Cape Flats accent. Though I found that ambient noise affected the voice controls, and performed really badly when I wanted to demonstrate it to my friends – almost as if it had performance anxiety.
When it works, I would even say that switching on and off your Xbox, making or answering Skype calls, navigating the dashboard and swopping functionality is easier with voice than with the controller. A massive achievement.
It does become problematic if you don’t know the exact command. For example. I was very frustrated this morning when saying “Xbox go to my apps and games” didn’t work, only to realize that I should have been saying “Xbox go to my games and apps”.
I created the Vine below to demonstrate the voice control (I did take some artistic license to fit it into 6 seconds):
Also, I walked into the living room yesterday to see my 2 year old son trying really hard to talk to the Xbox One console.
He kept on saying “Radio go on, Xbox go on”. He seemed quite upset that didn’t work.
3. Other Kinect features and functional add-ons
The Kinect camera features like auto sign on (based on facial recognition) and Skype work really well (Skype is not available at launch on the PS4). The Kinect also tracks when you put your controller down, in order to switch it off to save battery life.
Finally, the gestures are slightly improved with new controls but are still really dodgy. They don’t offer a real alternative to navigating your dashboard.
4. You can now easily share your game play videos
You can now share you gameplay videos with your friends through a simple voice commanded recorder. I recorded the following video using upload studio, but you can also insert voice commentary, overlay it with a recording from your Kinect or add some effects.
5. Hardware performance in underwhelming
Unfortunately, this is where the Xbox struggled to perform. In the 20 minuets of Dead Rising I played, the game froze completely for about 10 seconds on three different occasions. The voice commands still worked and I fiddled around with the system before the game came back up again.
In addition, while multitasking, like snapping the TV in, the system slows down considerably. And as I mentioned before, the game install time is incredibly long.
6. Game lineup at launch won’t make you rush out and get the console
The best games at launch like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 are available on the 360 console and while Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome are Xbox One exclusives, they are not AAA franchises.
The most anticipated titles of the near future, like Destiny and The Division will also be on the Playstation. Even the highly anticipated Xbox exclusive TitanFall will be “cross generational” i.e. on both the 360 and Xbox One. Though as more information around new Xbox One exclusives like Quantam Break and Halo 5 surface, it might drum up more excitement for the next gen console.
There are loads of other changes both positive and negative, to the layout of the dashboard, matchmaking and smartglass. Unfortunately, it’s far too much to go through an already lengthy review, but I think I’ve covered the most important changes to the system.
As an entertainment system it breaks the boundaries of the living room machine. Voice integration and the Kinect functionality really add a whole new dimension to your console.
I think the PS4 will probably perform better from a hardware and graphics perspective and will be more polished system. However, in the long run the integration into the living room and potential for “killer apps” like Titanfall and Halo 5 means this will be a really good buy. If you’re only planning on getting one console, definitely consider waiting for Xbox One’s launch in mid to late 2014.
The good: It’s an all in one entertainment unit; voice commands work well; multitasking and snapping in TV is seamless; Skype integration works well; auto-log on by facial recognition.
The bad: Still a work in progress with game stuttering when multitasking; hand gestures aren’t great; exclusives game lineup is average; game install time is ludicrous.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 13 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ email@example.com