Microsoft touts Xbox One as all-in-1 entertainment

Thursday - 5/23/2013, 12:24pm EDT

Associated Press

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) -- Microsoft thinks it has the one.

The company unveiled the Xbox One, an entertainment console that wants to be the one system households will need for games, television, movies, sports and other entertainment. It will go on sale later this year, for an undisclosed price.

For the past two years, Microsoft's Xbox 360 has outsold its rivals. But it's been eight years since that machine came out, and Microsoft is the last of the three major console makers to unveil a new system. In those eight years, Apple launched the iPhone and the iPad, "FarmVille" rose and fell and tablets began to threaten desktop computers, changing how people interact with games and beyond.

Now, the stakes are high as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all using their latest machines not only to draw gamers but also to command the living room. The goal is to extend their reach beyond loyal legions of hardcore gamers and to become as important to our lives at home as smartphones have become to our lives on the go.

Don Mattrick, Microsoft's president of interactive entertainment business, said the company has spent the past four years working on an "all-in-one home entertainment system."

At an hour-long unveiling at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters on Tuesday, Microsoft executives used voice controls to switch back and forth seamlessly between watching live TV, listening to music, playing a movie and browsing the Internet -- all while running apps for stuff like fantasy football and Skype chats on the side of the screen.

"It really extends the home entertainment experience," Gartner analyst Brian Blau said.

He said the console seems to appeal to "more than just a core gamer in the family" and should be of interest to all types of audiences, from sports players to TV viewers to those who are "social and want to share things."

The Xbox One unveiling follows Nintendo Co.'s launch of the Wii U in November and Sony Corp.'s tease in February of the upcoming PlayStation 4. Each of the new consoles has shifted away from simply serving as gaming machines, as they incorporate streaming media apps and social networking features.

People will be able to connect their cable or satellite set-top box and watch TV through the Xbox One. It will have its own channel guide and allow viewers to change channels by voice command.

Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated how the console switched quickly between channels after saying show names such as "Mary and Martha" or commands like "watch MTV." His voice command of "What's on HBO?" brought up the channel guide for HBO.

"No more memorizing channels or hunting for the remote control," Mehdi said.

The interface for the TV goes well beyond the functionality in the Wii U, which still requires users to press buttons to change the input source on the TV. Xbox One seamlessly flipped between games, movies and TV shows with voice commands.

In addition to the console, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its camera-based Kinect system with better motion and voice detection, including the ability to recognize faces, tell if you're smiling or talking and gauge your heart rate. In a demonstration, the new sensor detected up to seven people in front of it. Microsoft said the new Kinect will be included with the Xbox One and is deeply integrated into the system, but it won't necessarily always be watching users in their living rooms.

"There's the ability for you to manage the privacy settings so you can turn it off," Marc Whitten, Microsoft's chief product officer of interactive entertainment business, said in an interview in his office after Tuesday's presentation. "Just like the 360, the biggest thing for us is that you are in control of your privacy."

The company also introduced a more ergonomic Xbox controller, with a slightly different layout from the Xbox 360 controller and trigger buttons that vibrate. The new console will also add the ability to play Blu-ray discs, matching what Sony has in its older PlayStation 3.

The Xbox One won't require a constant connection to the Internet, but having it will be useful for many of the gaming and entertainment features. The Xbox has been popular largely because of its Xbox Live service, which lets users play games online with other players with annual plans that cost as much as $60 a year.

"The box wants to connect to the Internet," Whitten said. "That said, we understand the Internet is flakey. It doesn't always work. We want to make sure you can still play your games, watch movies and watch TV if the Internet is down."