Ratings in depth
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features

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The Xbox One is over six months old now and selling strongly, albeit not quite as strong as the Sony PS4.

Not just a games machine, it's 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.

It launched with the new version of Kinect on board by default, though Microsoft later announced changes that saw the Xbox One become available without it - for a cheaper price - from June 2014 onwards.

The normal Xbox One console can be found for £379 online, while the version without Kinect costs somewhere around the £350 mark - about the same as the PlayStation 4 which also comes without its Camera accessory by default.

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 no longer need to use the gamepad to turn the console on or navigate to your entertainment of choice.

It certainly hasn't been a stellar start for the Xbox One, but nor has it been an unmitigated disaster. Let's see if it's worth your money.

Design

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, either.

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The Xbox One is possibly the biggest console ever made

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.

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You can buy it with or without the Kinect camera 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.

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The OneGuide allows you to play your TV set-top box through your console

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.

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The retro styling is reminiscent of the original Xbox

The HDMI-in can function as a passthrough and let any old HDMI signal in, but this introduces a lot of input lag, making it no good for hooking in another console.

Kinect

You can't talk Xbox One without bringing up the new Kinect. While the system can operate without being hooked into Microsoft's magic eye, you'd be losing a lot of its most unique features and showroom wow factor if you chose to buy the version that comes without it.

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Kinect is much improved but voice commands are still hit and miss

The new 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.

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.

The PlayStation 4 is a lot more tidy in this respect. The Xbox One is down on power compared to the PS4 and it's much bigger too - yet the PS4's power supply sits inside its frame, while the Xbox One comes with a big external power brick.

Setup

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 day one patch. It's around 2GB, and absolutely required before you can even get to the Home screen. 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. Its 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

Game DVR could be the end of gaming tall tales and "you had to be there" stories. With help from Microsoft's SkyDrive service, it lets you easily record and share your personal epic wins.

It's much simpler than third-party recording devices since it's built directly into the system, and can grab your finest moments just after they happen. Simply say "Xbox record that" to Kinect and a 720p recording of your last thirty seconds in-game is saved to the hard drive. You can also get up to five minutes of footage but you have to plan ahead by snapping the Game DVR feature.

Like the recording on the PS4, game DVR cannot record on the Home screen, and developers do have the choice to disable it at certain moments, in case they don't wont spoilers to pop up online.

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

You can also share clips on Xbox Live where they will appear on in your activity feed. Those feeds are rather buried though, so chances are your friends won't see it unless you give them a heads up.

Upload Studio also has a simple suite of editing 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.

While the Xbox One currently has no built-in live streaming capabilities to match the PS4's Twitch and Ustream support, we think players will appreciate having direct access to their clips, which greatly extends the possibilities of editing and sharing.

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.