If you want a video game console that does more than play games, the Microsoft Xbox One is the best choice. There's a bevy of streaming partners, a built-in Blu-ray Disc player, the ability to stream content from a connected computer or storage device, and more. Finding all your content is made easier thanks to the OneGuide unified guide, and you can run everything through the console under voice control. And, yes, gaming performance is top-notch, too.
Even gaming fanatics will be impressed. The Microsoft Xbox One isn't the most powerful gaming console you can buy -- that honor goes to the equally new Sony PlayStation 4 (Est. $400) -- but it is close enough to please even hard-core gamers. The hardware lineup closely resembles that of the PS4, including 8 GB of DDR 3 RAM, an 8-core custom Microsoft CPU, an AMD Radeon GPU and a 500 GB hard drive. The performance difference is small -- too small to be noticeable in most games -- but does crop up in a few titles available on both platforms.
Boot-up from a completely powered-off state takes a minute or two. However, since the Xbox One is designed to be always on, at least to some extent, editors at Polygon.com say that once you activate its suspend mode startup takes just under 10 seconds. Initial setup is relatively painless, though you'll need to download all the latest patches and firmware updates, and calibrate the included Kinect voice- and gesture-control peripheral. In an attempt to curb the overheating and noise problems that plagued the Xbox 360, Microsoft has given the Xbox One plenty of room to breathe, and reviewers say the system runs very quietly.
Reviewers warn that the initial Xbox One game library is weak, and that the video game console can't play earlier Xbox games. However, they add that the Xbox One title lineup is a little more compelling than that of the PS4. Regardless, a lack of great games is something that's expected with a game console that's newly launched. It's also fair to expect that both consoles will gain more than their fair share of must-have titles over time.
The media epicenter of your living room. When it comes to media-based features, calling the Microsoft Xbox One "ambitious" would be an understatement. Microsoft positions the Xbox one to be a media hub for your living room. It's a solid, but not altogether successful, attempt. OneGuide integrates live TV and streaming apps to present your entertainment options in a way that makes organizing and finding your viewing choices simpler. However, not all streaming providers play well with OneGuide, and there's no way to include some content sources, like recordings on your DVR.
You can navigate to channels, turn on your TV, raise the set's volume and more using voice commands and the Kinect, which also includes a powerful infrared (IR) blaster. Some reviewers see the process as seamless and almost magical, some see it as an exercise in frustration, and yet others see it as a little of both. Speaking clearly helps, most say. So does understanding the system's limitations.
Most of the major entertainment content-streaming apps are available for the Xbox One, including several not available on the PS4. Experts and users love the new Snap feature, which lets you sticky an app to a third of your screen, multitasking during the middle of a game or live TV. One of the biggest disappointments, reviewers note, is that you'll need to purchase an Xbox Live Gold Subscription (Est. $60 per year) for accessing even the most simple of online features, including using Netflix or Skype. The PS4, on the other hand, requires a paid subscription only for online multiplayer games.
At long last, Microsoft has included a built-in Blu-ray Disc player. Unlike the PS4, that player includes support for audio CDs. It can also play MP3 files from an attached player -- something else the PS4 can't currently do. Finally, where Sony took DLNA support out of the PS4, Microsoft retains at least limited DLNA functionality -- but only for devices and formats compatible with Microsoft's Play To streaming feature.
Large in size, with a ball-and-chain power supply. The Microsoft Xbox One is reasonably attractive in black, with its basic rectangular shape, but it's not exactly stylish either. First of all, it's large -- larger than the Sony PlayStation 4 as well as the original Xbox 360. It also requires a large power brick, which experts lament; and the latest Kinect peripheral is even larger than the last one. As editors of Polygon.com note, "If you're looking for subtlety, this is not the console for you."
Connectivity is relatively robust, though the console has gone digital-only. On the back is an HDMI output, as well as a pass-through HDMI input that sends along digital signals without degrading them. That cuts down complexity and clutter by letting your Xbox One and another component -- typically your cable TV box -- share a single input on your TV. There's also an optical digital audio port, a port for the Kinect, an input for an infrared (IR) device and an Ethernet port. There are three USB 3.0 ports (two on the back, one on the side).
The Xbox One's controller doesn't stray too far from the highly praised Xbox 360's, but there are some changes. Some reviewers like the new design and feel, while others don't, and some say it makes little difference.
Experts say the new user interface is confusing at first, and learning to navigate through the layers of menus is unintuitive, so expect a fairly steep learning curve. The learning curve is even higher if you'll be relying on voice commands, as reviewers say it's trial and error when it comes to learning what the Kinect will and will not understand.
Editor Jeff Bakalar reviews the Microsoft Xbox One, giving it 3.5 stars out of 5. Analysis here is in-depth and based on hands-on testing. He says the price tag and "imperfect" voice control keep the console "short of must-have territory."
Review: Microsoft Xbox One Review, Jeff Bakalar, March 11, 2014
Will Greenwald praises the Xbox One, giving it 4.5 stars out of 5 as well as an Editors' Choice nod. He is less critical of the Kinect's voice controls than reviewers at other sources, and calls the console's attempt at live TV integration "seamless."
Review: Microsoft Xbox One, Will Greenwald, Nov. 20, 2013
The Microsoft Xbox One earns a rating of 8 out of 10 at Polygon.com. The review is competent and covers major aspects of the console. Editors are articulate in highlighting strengths and weaknesses of the console; there's also a video review as well as plenty of high-res photos.
Review: Xbox One: The Review, Editors of Polygon.com, Not Dated
Ben Gilbert reviews the Microsoft Xbox One for Engadget.com, giving it a score of 81 out of 100. Testing here is competent and hands-on. "The Xbox One is quick, quiet and capable of handling live TV and gorgeous games, all at the sound of your voice," he writes.
Review: Xbox One Review, Ben Gilbert, Nov. 20, 2013
In this review, Chris Kohler gives the Xbox One a rating of 7 out of 10 -- or "very good, but not quite great." He is particularly critical of the voice controls, which he finds frustrating.
Review: Microsoft Xbox One: One Up, Chris Kohler, Nov. 20, 2013
Writer Fran Mirabella III calls the Xbox One a gaming console with "exciting living room innovations," but one that "needs refinement." The write-up is informative, and includes videos that cover different aspects of the video game console.
Review: Xbox One Review, Fran Mirabella III, Nov. 19, 2013
The Microsoft Xbox One earns 4 stars out of 5 at TechRadar.com. Alex Roth praises the console for its user interface, motion and voice controls and launch lineup of available games. Testing is hands-on and covers major facets of the console.
Review: Xbox One Review, Alex Roth, March 28, 2014
Adam Rosenberg gives the Microsoft Xbox One a score of 4 stars out of 5 at DigitalTrends.com, as well as an Editors' Choice recommendation. "More powerful hardware, a flexible multimedia operating system, and functional voice commands via Kinect combine to firmly establish Microsoft's Xbox One within the next-gen," he writes.
Review: Microsoft Xbox One Review, Adam Rosenberg, Nov. 19, 2013
The Microsoft Xbox One in various bundles receives thousands of user reviews at Amazon.com. As is the case with the Sony PlayStation 4, feedback here is marginally positive, though there are a handful of 1-star reviews that are worth noting.
Review: Xbox One Consoles, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2014
More than 2,800 owners review the Microsoft Xbox One at retailer BestBuy.com. Here it receives an overall score of 4.6 stars out of 5, and feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Reviews are brief compared to those at Amazon.com, but this is still a solid, complementary source of user reviews.
Review: Microsoft -- Xbox One Console, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of March 2014