The new Xbox that emerged at launch was both traditional and under-featured, a disappointment borne of a company reeling from the negative reaction to its original vision and trying to offer something else in a short space of time.
In a now infamous u-turn, Microsoft scrapped plans for the always-online revolution that would have allowed for disc-less play, easy game sharing on other owner's consoles, mandatory system scans and an end to second-hand purchases as we know them.
The Xbox One is not just a games machine, it's also a clever and powerful media hub designed to sit at the centre of your digital home – or at least it would be, if Australians had access to many of the features that overseas Xbox users are currently enjoying. Microsoft has finally announced that its TV service OneGuide will soon Australia.
Regardless, the last year has seen the situation improve for Australians in many ways, and not just in terms of streaming media content. That's not to say that the console can rest easy – there's still a long way to go until we see Xbox One's full potential.
It's quite the legacy to live up to. For long stretches of the last console generation, the Xbox was king. While the Wii was everywhere, and millions of gamers and AV enthusiasts eventually picked up a PlayStation 3, for a while there the phrase "let's play some Xbox" was almost interchangeable with "let's play some video games."
It was the console that brought Xbox Live into maturity, setting the standard for the online experience on a gaming console. It taught couch gamers to tolerate the tech support look of a headset in exchange for voice communication, and that you get what you pay for: a year of Xbox Live Gold might have cost as much as a game, but the service was more robust than Sony's PSN.
The original Xbox One release date was 22 November 2013, launching with the new version of Kinect on board by default. These days of course, Microsoft is offering a Kinect-free option, which has proven popular because of the bundle's cheaper price and higher performance. The standard Xbox One console can now be purchased for about $499, while the version with Kinect costs about a hundred dollars more.
Make no mistake though, Kinect is baked deep into the Xbox One experience, with voice and gesture controls at the heart of everything should you choose to use them.
So if you're not going to play a game, you don't need to use the excellent gamepad to turn the console on or navigate to your entertainment of choice.
We've gone a full calendar year without Microsoft making any major tweaks, fixes, or modifications to the Xbox One's initial design, barring a single special edition with a larger hard drive.
Companies like Nyko, PDP and Power A have come along to offer additional products like intercoolers and clip-on charging stations, but Microsoft's rock-solid design has stood the test of time so far.
The first thing you'll notice about the console when you get it out of the needlessly elaborate packaging is what an absolute beast it is. It measures 274 x 79 x 333 mm, making it longer and taller than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox 360.
You don't need a tape measure to figure that out though, the thing just looks huge and it's not exactly a looker when you see it up close, either.
Its size and girth harkens back to the original Xbox, an imposing black plastic beast covered in black plastic ridges. Microsoft seems to be throwing back to that design, bringing back the all black and the ridge-covered aesthetic.
Its massive size and black rectangular construction evoke a stereo tuner from the nineties. Its imposing bulk begs to be hidden away, with just its slot loading disc drive exposed, little white Xbox logo glowing in lonely TV cabinet darkness.
For a console of this size, you would at least expect for the power supply to be built inside the unit. But as with the Xbox 360, that's not the case. The external power brick is large and contains its own fan. This, at the very least, offers a quieter console unit than Sony's competing console.
It does, however, make the PS4 look even more elegant, which is a lot smaller despite having an internal power supply.
Flip the machine around and you'll see a plethora of ports. It has all your standard nodes: ethernet, HDMI out, power, S/PDIF (commonly used for optical audio), dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR out.
Additionally, there are two proprietary ports, one for hooking in the Kinect, and a HDMI-in, which is how you feed the Xbox One a TV signal from a set-top box. There's also a third USB 3.0 port found on the system's right side.
The HDMI-in can function as a passthrough and allows any old HDMI signal in, but this introduces a lot of input lag, making it no good for hooking in another console. So if you were thinking of running an Xbox 360, PS3 or even a PS4 into the Xbox One in order to save HDMI ports in your TV... forget it. That's not what it's for.
What's in the box?
An Xbox One purchase gets you the console, a power cable and adapter (aka the power brick), a decent headset, the headset adapter, a HDMI cable and controller with batteries. You'll also get a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live Gold.
Depending on your choice of edition, you may or may not get a Kinect in there too. This isn't always explicitly clear on the packaging, so make sure to read up on your options if you do want one. Your bundle may also pack-in games such as Sunset Overdrive or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. So far there have been two special edition coloured consoles, white and a gunmetal grey (with squiggly decals), with more expected in the coming year.
The Xbox One's setup is more involved than on the PS4, but it's still not terribly complex. If you bought a Kinect, you'll have to connect its proprietary cable along with power and HDMI.
If you plan to watch TV on the console, you'll need to supply a second HDMI cable, through the system's HDMI-in port. Soon, Australians will be able to run the OneGuide's setup, which isn't too complex, but until then it's just a standard tuner device. We'll get into that in the OneGuide portion of this review.
Kinect 2.0 began as a statement, one of Microsoft's many challenges to the existing console model. However, as the Xbox One itself reneged on its promises of always-online functionality, the Kinect began to look more like a boondoggle, a remnant of a discarded design philosophy.
Ultimately, Microsoft seems to have agreed, ditching the console camera/microphone/box of magic from new models of the console. On the whole, that's a shame, as the Kinect is a truly fascinating, if frustrating, piece of kit.
From design perspective, the Xbox One's version of Kinect is a whole lot bigger than its predecessor. It's also designed to sit in front of your TV, rather than perched on top of the screen like the PlayStation Camera. That's because its field of view is now so large that it doesn't need to sit up high, meaning you no longer have the original Kinect's unnerving habit of moving to find you across a room.
Just like the system itself, it has a white light up logo on its right side. Dull red lights from its IR blaster intermittently glow when it's active.
The underside of the Kinect has rubber feet that provide a firm grip. It's not going to fall off your entertainment center any time soon. It can also tilt up and down, with enough range of motion that there shouldn't be any trouble finding the right angle for your living room.
But, given that Kinect has been dumped as an intrinsic part of the console, why mention it at all? While it's no longer deemed necessary, Kinect's still woven into the fabric of the UI. In fact, its built-in voice commands are probably the best way to navigate the console at this point (more on that in "interface", below).
Games themselves use it sparingly at this point (although a couple of upcoming indie games, Fru and Nevermind, look to be using the peripheral in some hugely inventive ways), but on the whole I'd recommend those with an extra chunk of change indulge in one.
In terms of set-up, the camera takes around five minutes to calibrate, finding the right angle and learning both your voice and performing a sound check. After that, the system becomes spectacularly good at recognising users, even signing in anyone who's tied their face to an account as they enter the room. Its ability to recognise gesture commands (used to swipe between menus or act as a cursor) is a little spottier, however.
In terms of vocal commands, the Kinect will recognise TV noise, but if there's background chatter, it will start to struggle to hear what's being said. For British readers, it's also worth pointing out that, initially at least, anything other than received pronunciation may prove incomprehensible to the software.
Commands are hugely varied. Saying "Xbox" is the prompt for Kinect to begin listening for a command, after which you can switch the console on and off, navigate menus, activate and Snap apps or control individual functions of programs, such as controlling media players. They're also strict on what needs to be said to do perform any of these functions. You "go to" games rather than "play them", and saying "Xbox on", but "Xbox turn off".
I wouldn't holding out much hope for Microsoft instituting a more accommodating list, but if you learn the existing one well enough (the console has an exhaustive tutorial page) it becomes a truly useful feature, alongside the added extras of having a built-in mic for online play, a camera for streaming and access to some of the stranger games coming to the console in future.
Xbox One's central menu has all the hallmarks of Windows 8's Metro UI, a mosaic of reactive tiles separated into four broad sections: pins, home, friends and store. Home is what you'll see when you switch on your console, or return to when you press the menu button on your controller.
Dominated by a tile of the app you last used, still running (even if you've turned the console off, given the console's standby mode default), it's surrounded by a series of recently-used programs, your games & apps library, featured adverts and the Snap start-up function (more on that below).
Swipe left and you'll find your pins, apps you want to keep permanently accessible. This functionality runs deep: you can pin individual shows or a TV channel.
Swipe right and you'll find the relatively new friends section, which gives easy access to your own profile, a friends list, recently played games, an activity feed (updated to allow for comments on other people's achievements or shared clips) and a Gamerscore leaderboard.
Finally, the store panel offers fairly cluttered access to games, apps, movies and more, which, in sadly now-traditional Xbox style, prioritises huge adverts over easy navigability.
All of these screens are simplified to the point of being unhelpful. It's a UI so clearly built around access to Kinect that buying a console without one actually makes finding the things you need actively difficult.
"Settings", for example, is hidden within the games & apps menu. If you can't just bark "Xbox, go to settings", you need to go to the home screen, hit games & apps, then navigate to the apps page, scroll over any number of downloaded content to get to it, before actually doing what you wanted to in the first place.
All of this may soon be moot however, as there are rumours of a full UI redesign to come in tandem with the release of Widnows 10, which will interact more closely with Xbox One. But for the buyer right now, it's worth realising the difference Kinect makes.
You can't accuse the interface of being sluggish, however. The console turns on extremely quickly, because it rarely fully turns off, rather going into standby mode, allowing for background downloads and multitasking to continue.
Loading times are a question only of your own internet connection speed, even when switching between whole apps, or running two simultaneously with Snap. It may be flawed in design, but in performance it can hardly be faulted.
Snap is perhaps Xbox One's standout feature, letting you use a third of your screen space to run a second app in tandem with your main focus. Either say "Xbox, snap [app name]" or double-tap the controller menu button and press up on the D-pad, and you'll be able to choose from many of the console's apps that would otherwise require fiddly switching to get working.
TV or streams, Twitch broadcasts, Skype, achievements and parties can all be viewed, set-up and organised as you play a game or watch something else on the remaining section of the screen. The resulting black bars that come from retaining main screen resolution are an unfortunate necessity of how Snap works, but you will come to ignore them.
Most interestingly, certain developers are now making games that can be played fully in Snap mode. Mobile smash Threes! and the Pac-Man like Nutjitsu can both be run on the small side of the screen.