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The Xbox One is now a full year old, and its sales record would be looking fairly healthy if it wasn't for that pesky PS4.

Over six million gamers have bought into the Xbox One philosophy so far, a number that would be really quite impressive were it not for the PS4's frankly incredible record-breaking tally of 13 million.

But don't let that distract you from the fact that the Xbox One is a superb living room machine that offers super speedy performance and media features you won't find on any other (next gen) console.

Because 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, offering a slick, unified interface for your choice of Sky, Virgin, BT, Freeview and Freesat TV services alongside music and movie streaming options, Skype chats, catch-up TV and more.

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 found online for about £310, while the version with Kinect costs a bit 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.

xbox one
Make no mistake, the Xbox One is a big console

Design

We've gone one full calendar year without Microsoft making any major tweaks, fixes, or modifications to the Xbox One's initial design. 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 earliest test of time.

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.

xbox one
You can buy it with or without the Kinect peripheral

It's 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 makes the PS4 look even more elegant, which is a lot smaller despite having an internal power supply.

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Standard ports are joined by an HDMI-in port for set-top boxes

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 an 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.

A third USB 3.0 port sits on the side of the console
A third USB 3.0 port sits on the side of the console

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.

Kinect

If the Xbox One leaves behind one memory in gamers' minds, it will likely be of the Kinect. Some love it. Some hate it. Others still don't get what it is and why it was necessary.

No matter what camp you fall into, Microsoft has given you a choice whether you want Kinect in your home. Starting in June, the Kinect became an optional peripheral rather than a mandatory pack-in.

But you'd be losing a lot of the One's most unique features and showroom wow factor if you chose to buy the version that comes Kinect-free

kinect
Kinect is much improved but voice commands can be hit and miss for some people

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 it's field of view is now so large that it doesn't need to sit up high.

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.

controlpad
The Xbox control pad remains one of its very best features

What's in the box?

What a pile. An Xbox One purchase gets you the console and a Kinect, a power cable and adapter (aka the power brick), a decent headset, the headset adapter, an HDMI cable and controller with batteries. You'll also get a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live Gold.

Xbox One setup is more involved than on the PS4, but it's still not terribly complex. Along with power and HDMI, you'll also have to connect the Kinect through its proprietary cable.

If you plan to watch TV on the console, you'll do so with an HDMI cable, through the system's HDMI-in port. You'll then need to run the OneGuide's setup, which isn't too complex. We'll get into that in the media portion of this review.

When you first switch the system on you'll be met with a setup wizard which will get you connected to the internet for that initial patch. It'll be a sizeable initial download and is absolutely required before you can even get to the Home screen. Be prepared to make a cup of tea and cool your heels for a while as the updated is downloaded and applied.

There's been quite a few firmware updates since launch, too, so expect your first patch to take a while depending on your internet speed.

Xbox One review

Snap

The Xbox One's tiled Home screen is a dead giveaway that the interface shares some DNA with Windows 8 and it's not a radical change from the Xbox 360 design either.

Its essentially brought one of the unique features of the Metro UI to your TV screen in the form of app snapping.

Snapping lets you run two apps at once, giving a third of the screen to one app off to the right, and the rest to your primary engagement. It's a good way to do a little Internet Explorer browsing while you wait for a friend to join your game, but beyond that it can be straining on the eyes unless your TV or projector screen is very large.

Kinect makes it easier, allowing to simply say "Xbox snap Skype" to get the side by side feature working. It's also much easier to just say "switch" for toggling between the two rather using the controller.

Xbox One review

Game DVR

Being able to record native gameplay, without the use of an added peripheral, is something new to this generation of consoles. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are able to record, edit and share their favorite moments with their friends, but only on Xbox One will you be able to use Upload Studio to send files directly to the cloud.

That may not sound like a big deal, but having the ability to manipulate the raw video file on a PC instead of having to edit inside a half-baked video editing software makes a world of difference to wannabe YouTube stars and anyone interested in starting their own "Let's Play" channel.

If you'd rather have a simplified video editing interface, Upload Studio has a simple suite of tools, and allows you to record a voice over commentary. You can even use Kinect recording to place yourself in the video, picture-in-picture style.


However, getting raw gameplay footage is tricky. Unlike the PS4, which keeps a running archive of your last fifteen minutes of gameplay, the Xbox One is not constantly recording.

At any point in time, you can say "Xbox record that" to Kinect and a 720p recording of your last thirty seconds in-game is saved to the hard drive. Or, if you plan it out ahead of time, you can also get up to five minutes of footage by snapping the Game DVR feature.

Whether five minutes is too much stage time or not enough largely depends on what you need to do with it. But one feature that is unique to Xbox One is that games can be programmed to automatically engage the DVR. Battlefield 4, for example, records when you rank up or earn an achievement.

Xbox One review

At one point, about two months ago, the only way to see this plethora of video content was to see friends' shared clips in your activity feed. Those feeds were rather buried though, so chances of finding your friend's footage won't be likely unless they give you a heads up of what to look for.

Now you're able to embed your favorite gameplay clips directly into your gamer profile, in what Microsoft is calling your "showcase." Showcases contain clips, achievement or pictures that you find to be the most representative of your personality and works as a great differentiator between the all-too-similar profile pages we're used to seeing.


The last feature worth pointing out in regards to video capture is live streaming, a capability the Xbox One was missing one short year ago. Setting up a stream is as simple as it is on a PC, and only requires you downloading the Twitch app and connecting it to your account by signing in.

Once paired, you'll be able to stream gameplay and use the Kinect sensor as a quasi-webcam for users to be able to see and hear you.

Smartglass

Xbox One review

Smartglass is the Xbox's second screen experience. It was introduced on the Xbox 360 and lets you navigate menus and see system information on your tablet or smartphone.

The app is back for Xbox One, and does have improved functionality. You can now launch apps from the second screen, and several games now have companion apps. Dead Rising 3, for example, lets you use your device in lieu of the in-game phone for ordering attacks and calling for back. You can even view the in-game map.

The best service Smartglass provides is a keyboard that's easier than the console's on-screen option. It's a great way to read and respond to messages. You can also type in URLs and operate Bing search this way, which is an excellent way to multitask. You can also use the OneGuide on Smartglass for TV control.

The Windows 8 Smartglass app has its own special features. You can throw a browser page from the console directly onto the screen of your W8 device.

Also, its online requirement, which threatened to lock up the system without a daily server ping, has been dialed way, way down. Out of the box, your Xbox One will need to download a day one patch before you even arrive at the homescreen. After that, you can cut the ethernet cable or smash your router; there's no further online connectivity needed for single player gaming.