Microsoft is on a roll at the moment, with the Xbox One April Update showing promise along with nearly everything that could get better for the system being talked about if not worked on. With the console already a truly impressive all around/all in one media device with its Kinect Sensor able to control everything just by using voice commands or hand motions, on top of the Media Remote that is available at specific retailers for extra choices when it comes to how you want to experience media. The Xbox One is also not doing to bad in the area it was initially made for which is gaming, as Microsoft is currently very pleased with the sales and feedback from the recently released Titanfall shooter (check out our review here).
Titanfall was released by EA, but developed by the fairly new Respawn Entertainment which includes staff that were once partly responsible for changing first person shooters forever. I am talking about when they were part of the Infinity Ward with Vince Zampella when they developed the well known ‘perk system’ with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007. With GDC just behind us Microsoft had a lot of announcements regarding the Xbox One, in terms of games, there was great support when it came to Indie developers with the announcement of the ID@Xbox project where 25 games were shown off at GDC. You can view the full list of the games and the developers who have created each of them here and you can view information on the first wave of ID@Xbox games releasing here. This also gives me an opportunity to remind everyone that the Xbox Games With Gold feature that allows Gold members to download 2 free games a month for the Xbox 360 is feature that will eventually come to the Xbox One.
When it comes to other updates coming to Xbox One the first and foremost would have to be the April Update which some members have already had a chance to preview which also have let us know how it is, including things not officially mentioned by Microsoft for whatever reason. The April Update will bring back the notification that lets you know a friend has signed online among much more which will be gradually rolled out week by week. Not only is Microsoft paying close attention to what can improve the Xbox One, but they are literally taking the most requested features from the community and just making them happen no questions asked. Here are the official updates included in it:
- Game and app saves and updates. A game save progress bar will show you the status of your game saves. You will also be able to easily tell what games and apps are being updated or have been updated recently.
- Friends improvements. Notifications will be added to see when favorites and friends sign in to Xbox Live. This actually was one of the most frequently requested features from the first preview wave and we made it a priority to include it in the April update. Also, friends who are in multiplayer will be identified in the friends list. We’ll also add the ability to view friends’ most popular apps.
- Blu-ray 50 Hz video output support for content recorded at 50 Hz will resolve video playback issues some Xbox Live members in Europe are experiencing.
- Kinect voice and motion improvements will continue to fine tune the quality and reliability of Xbox One commands.
- Improved GameDVR video quality through compression algorithm improvements.
- Updates to Xbox One device management to address issues controlling TVs, set top boxes, and receivers that our customers have reported.
- New audio settings to tune how much volume is lowered when Kinect is used in communications.
Now aside from the above updates we have heard from members with the preview already that the console update has generally made everything quicker, especially eliminating any lag in between going from app to app, everything is apparently more responsive with animations being more fluid. The above mentions an update to the quality of the Game DVR, which will catch 30 seconds of gameplay when saying the command “Xbox Record That”and an actual look at just how much better the quality is can be seen here, uploaded straight from a member with the update. I would say that it has gone from crappy or watchable to high quality. Apparently the activity feed area is also quicker with no more lag.
The preview which some users are currently running does not have the friend/favorite notification feature yet, showing you when they sign on. Hopefully that will come with customization options like the rest of the new features have. The sound and chat mixers added, are what allow you to adjust the audio balance between Main area on screen when using Snap & the Snapped area of the screen with whatever app or game in either area. We even have a few rough images of what these new features will look like above. You can also set the console to reduce the volume of other sounds by 80% or 50% while using the Kinect to chat so it will pick your voice up easier without catching the sound coming from the TV, Game or whatever is coming out of the speakers connected to you Xbox. The mixer is obviously in the Settings area from the images. That said you can also see exactly what was meant in terms of seeing when a game has recently been updated (COD: Ghost Pic) in the My Games area and we also can notice a small silhouette of a controller next to your friends name which lets you know if their game is joinable, again in an image above.
In addition to the April Update for Xbox One as well as other updates mentioned above, at GDC, Microsoft went ahead and announced the next generation of the DirectX graphics software which was a bigger deal that normal because they also mentioned that the Xbox One would be taking advantage of the new Direct3D 12 in 2015 (though no official release date is announced for Direct3D 12). Direct3D 12 will be able to run on all Microsoft platforms and is part of the plan in which Microsoft would like to to run the same Operating System on all of their platforms, mainly the PC, Smart Phone and Xbox One. During GDC, Turn 10 was able to show a demo of what the new DirectX can look like using a limited port of Forza Motorsport 5, which was converted to showcase DirectX12’s capabilities (Forza 5 ran at a smooth 60 frames per second on a PC equipped with an NVIDIA graphics card). No matter what it may have looked like or what came out of the special event at GDC, the new Microsoft technology is apparently “the most significant leap for Windows game graphics in years”. Direct3D being an application designed to run 3D graphics in a high performance environment, such as a real-time video game. When it comes to the Xbox One at least, developers will be able to do more with less needed once the new DirectX is available next year, while it seems like next holiday season may be when it is available or maybe even when games will be released with the capability to take advantage of it. Lastly, Microsoft claimed that the overall CPU utilization has been halved when compared to DX11, with workloads better spread across CPU cores which is a major deal. Check out some of the images from the event, along with some pics of power-points on the presentation below.
There is constantly new updates for the Xbox One though it seems. Even though I personally think the voice commands work fine so long the environment is right (like the rooms acoustics or making sure there is not loud noises/sound), but Microsoft will continue to keep improving the way the Kinect registers your voice commands or picks up your gestures until they are seamless. Microsoft is really taking the peoples feedback seriously when it comes to the Xbox One with the feature for getting a notification whenever a friend signs online was one of the most requested features when Microsoft received feedback from the the last update and in the very next update (April), they are making it happen. There is also a lot of talk about an external hard drive from the community since just installing around 4 or 5 games can can fill the Hard Drive half way with Apps installed (not to mention there is a decent portion of the space already in use right out of the box). Microsoft is already hearing everyone and already has the issue to release an External Hard Drive on the drawing board, as this will be the only way to have to more space without deleting games. That said, the Playstation 4 has ALL the same issues.
Xbox One has also had an issue where not all games are being seen at 1080p even though they should be (playing at somewhere over 720p), apparently this is a problem that will eventually fix itself as time goes by. Members are automatically given a Reputation like on the Xbox 360, however 0n the Xb0x One we make see s0me kind if rewards for keeping a good reputation. Since the algorithm is different then the 360 version, it can not only track better, but if you are consistent in being a negative kind of player online, you will see a change in the way it matches you with other negative 0layers online.
Microsoft has already mentioned they have more to reveal at PAX which is the next game convention, with GDC barely behind us, as well as other conventions or events to come. The other day happened to be a day when the Xbox One had the most members 0nline at once yet, certainly with the Titanfall release and the ability to broadcast it online through your own stream, certainly playing in a role in having so many people online on top of a recent $50 price drop sale 0n Xbox One Bundles at various retailers (Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon). Microsoft Studios corporate VP Phil Spencer has assured fans that this year’s E3 Xbox press briefing will be heavily focused on new game content. Apparently Microsoft is having a hard time trying to fit everything they want into the hour and a half limit they have on their Press Conference during the week of E3 2013, which takes place from June 10th-12th. So with all the next-gen consoles recently released with tons of news on updates on firmware already announced, it seems like Microsoft will have a lot of games to announce for the Xbox One. Whether they are a lot of exclusives, or Microsoft just has dibs on announcing a lot of new games for multiple platforms first… either way it’s good news, with slim pickings for both the PS4 as well as Xbox One right now. Microsoft does have a history of holding their press conference before Sony and Nintendo hold theirs (more so Sony); not to forget that Microsoft purchased the franchise rights for Gears of War from Epic Games, plus we saw a lot of games announced last year at E3 with some consisting of not much more then the title of the game on screen. Star Wars: Battlefront was one of those along with the next Kingdom Hearts while some games just keep getting pushed back, like Rainbow 6: Patriot Games. There is also Doom and we cannot forget about the return of Halo to make its Xbox One debut, while it was a big deal last year when Microsoft got Steven Spielburg to take part in a Halo Show, to be aired right on the Xbox, unless that somehow fell apart without us hearing.
Microsoft has also announced that it will be available in 26 additional markets in September this year. The are listed below: