After years both of the previous consoles slowly changed and adapted to the users using them. Expensive video game machines were no longer going to cut it without a few other features to entice customers to keep buying new consoles and using their current ones. Soon each consoles online menus became packed with apps allowing a whole host of streaming content including movies, music, sports, and more. Now that we've moved onto a new generation video games are again not the full focus and each machine hopes to keep users stuck in their seats instead of juggling inputs and remotes to get their entertainment needs.
A week late but still with its own bag of tricks the Xbox One was delivered promptly at noon by a UPS driver on a golf cart hauling packages on a small trailer behind him. After feeling around the menus for a bit while waiting for a game to install I eventually checked out the many features I'll be using while I don't have a controller planted in my hands. The Xbox comes with every bell and whistle you'd expect a modern console to come with but also includes the camera/microphone add on that the PS4 didn't come with, the Kinect. This camera and the entertainment add-ons may be enough to sway you into ignoring the $100 price difference the Xbox has with the PS4.
Let's start with the menus and Kinect. Both modern systems have simplified menus with the Xbox in more need of some clean up and an overall redesign. The menus look similar to the Windows 8 panel design which works to incorporate more items into more space without a cluttered feeling. The main screen shows what's running right now, and keeps it running while you're navigating menus, stores your pins to the left, and has the usual store go-to like games, apps, and movies. The breath of fresh air comes in with the Kinect voice commands. With a few learned sayings you can quickly go from game to Netflix, Netflix to TV, and TV back to game without ever touching a remote or controller. Not having to search a room for a lost remote is near futuristic in feeling and leaves you with a somewhat surreal feeling when a complicated electronic accomplished it's set task. That isn't to say there aren't some complications and the occasional hitch. For instance the Kinect sometimes doesn't like repeated phrases and the few casual conversations I had around it sometimes caused it to frequently pop up the "listening" menu.
With the voice commands in your arsenal it makes getting to entertainment options much easier. Like with the 360 the Xbox One has a litany of them that you want/need when purchasing a living room device like this one. Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, Crackle, ESPN, hulu plus, and many more are available and add on the Blu-Ray you'll have a lot of choices when it comes to something to watch. Unlike the Playstation Network however you'll need Xbox Gold to access some of these but more than likely you have that already and if you don't it almost parallels PSN's perks. Where the Xbox sets itself apart is the TV pass-through. In the back of your Xbox One you'll find an HDMI in port where you can plug in your cable or satellite box. With only a minute of set-up (inputting your zip code and cable provider) you'll be instantly watching your normal channels except through your Xbox. For those of you who have traditionally suffered with slow and unruly cable menus and guides this is a miracle of technology. You can voice control the guide and volume, add your own favorite channels, and do almost everything you can on your regular cable box. A big glaring missing piece however is the DVR. While the Xbox can pause, rewind, fast forward, and do other things like your home DVR if cannot record, set recordings, or play recordings from your home DVR.
Lastly comes the 'snap' feature which allows a user to pop another form of entertainment onto the TV screen. While watching something on TV you can snap onto a Netflix movie, highlights from ESPN, or even a game. You can switch between the two if something more interesting happens on the other and allows multiple entertainment options on the same device. Unfortunately the option feels mostly clunky and both the voice and controller inputs feel un-intuitive and unnatural. I never know what to say or press in order to get the snap function to behave in the way I want. Would pressing 'B' close the snap feature or back me out of my TV? When I snap during a game to watch football will I be controlling the game still or the snap section? How do I switch from the snap to the game and back again for quick control? Nothing is outright explained when using the feature and right now I feel more inclined to use my PC as my backup source of entertainment than the snap feature.
Overall the Xbox One experience feels incomplete but bigger and more ambitious than the PS4 one. Entertainment feels like an afterthought for Sony whereas it seems like a main focus for Xbox, almost too much so. The focus seems split between allowing you to easily switch between apps or "snapping" apps. The menus and voice commands take just a split second longer to load and think about what it's doing than the PS4 did. The Xbox One feels like a future tech one minute and an unwieldy the next. For some it works beautifully and for others not at all. For me it's been all worth it to wake up and say "Xbox On" without having to dig for a remote. It combines all my entertainment into one thing and means I'll be using much less of my cable remote and much more of my new Xbox.