Update: a lot has changed for the Xbox One since day one. We've updated the Performance section of this review to reflect the changes to the system's interface, and added a Games page to showcase the best games currently on the system. Happy gaming!
The Xbox One, Microsoft's one console to rule it all. Video games, TV, music and movies, everything you do in the living room short of sitting down.
It's a plan of great ambition, and possibly fractured focus. Is Microsoft taking on too much with one system?
That was the general reaction at E3 2013 when the Xbox One's cable TV integration and always on Kinect were revealed, all for a price tag that turned out to be $100 heavier than the PlayStation 4's. Sony went on to arguably win the show with some excellent counter-programming.
On November 22 the Xbox One pushed through the bad buzz with a launch lineup padded with installments from familiar franchises. Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dead Rising 3, Assassins Creed: Black Flag IV and NBA 2K14 made sure the early adopters lined up at midnight would have something to play.
The real question is this: can the Xbox One overcome the mixed messaging, the now-canned 24-hour online dependence and the other potholes that had it stumbling out of the gate, and allowed Sony to win E3 2013 with some sharp PlayStation 4 counter-programming?
And can it live ip to the legacy of the Xbox 360? 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.
Now the Xbox One has been in stores and homes for a few months. Is it yet time to pick up Microsoft's latest system, or are gamers better off being prudent, waiting for a few more hit titles trickle onto shelves? And what is the state of Xbox Live, the Xbox One's still evolving interface, and is the whole thing really better with Kinect?
The first thing you'll notice about the Xbox One 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.
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.
When you first take the Xbox One out of its box, you'll notice an eyesore of a sticker next to the Blu-Ray drive, asking you to kindly not move the system while a disc is inside.
A good warning, as that can damage a spinning disc in any system, but an ugly sticker - luckily it comes off nice and clean. We also have a hard time imagining that gamers will be moving their hulking Xbox Ones very often, especially since the system is also not designed to stand on its side.
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.
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 your cable or satellite signal. 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 let any old HDMI signal in. There is a slight input delay though, which puts the kibosh on dreams of playing PS4 or Wii U games through the Xbox One.
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.
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. It's too big and, presumably, delicate for that.
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.