Xbox One S: The Upgrade Nobody Should Buy

Daniel Perez hasn’t given a final verdict yet, but has a review in-progress of the new Xbox One S that is out today:

When the original Xbox One was revealed, there was quite the uproar as to its size and design. Microsoft didn’t change the overall shape of the Xbox One S, but what it did change makes it look less like my grandmother’s VCR. It’s smaller, white, and offers an interesting use of textures to various parts of its body. While the holes located at the front of the console appear to be for aesthetics, the holes surrounding its perimeter are obviously for venting purposes as I can spot smaller vents that aim directly into them.

It also finally did away with the infamous Xbox power brick as its power supply has been squeezed into the new console’s body. Without a power brick to weigh it down, the Xbox One S feels more portable than ever when combined with its reduction in size and weight. It also has done away with a dedicated Kinect port, which we’re sure won’t surprise many considering how Microsoft has been slowly steering away from motion-based gaming.

It also displays 4K UHD Blu-ray discs as well as upscaling games and other videos to 4K if you have the appropriate display. It sounds like a good upgrade, until you realize that the other new Xbox, codenamed Scorpio, will be out next year with a healthier tech upgrade that actually has more powerful guts than this Xbox One S.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility

The four most interesting announcements at the Xbox E3 press conference were the Hololens demo with Minecraft, Microsoft’s new Early Access-esque program for the Xbox One called Game Preview, and Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. The fourth most interesting announcement was a lack of any Call of Duty exclusivity. That torch was passed to the Playstation this year, on a Treyarch-running-Call-of-Duty year, it’s clear that Activision knows who can butter their bread with money.

Backwards compatibility came across as an insurmountable goal that didn’t make sense anymore. Who buys a new generation of consoles to play old games? As a marketing goal it didn’t make enough sense to support the engineering effort when interest in games that are from the Xbox 360 isn’t as high as newer games and with no new 360 releases Microsoft wouldn’t generally see a dime from licensing costs. The only direct financial upside for Microsft could be from a very temporary boost in console sales and in purchases of Xbox 360 games online for download through their store.

One more knock against backwards compatibility was the high technical effort. The Xbox 360 was a powerful enough machine with a different enough processor (PowerPC on the 360, x86_64 on the One) that it would be too demanding. Even Sony didn’t attempt it as their switch in console architecture was similar and they had acquired Gaikai and OnLive’s patents so they could offload the task to server-rooms full of Playstation 3’s streaming their video signal to the Playstation 4 at a high price ($180/year for access to 350 PS3 games.)

Almost two years after the launch of the Xbox One, against all of the technical and business hurdles, Microsoft announced backwards compatibility available immediately in an invite-only beta program with a short list of games and more to be added towards the end of 2015 when the feature launches properly for everyone with an Xbox One.

How does it work, and is it any good in this early stage? Eurogamer’s John Linneman has answers.

 

Unlike the spotty backwards compatibility available on Xbox 360, which required a custom wrapper for each individual game, Microsoft has taken a more extensive approach through the use of a virtual machine that runs on the Xbox One as a game in and of itself. This virtual environment includes the Xbox 360 OS features, though they remain unavailable to the user, enabling the software to behave as if it is running on original hardware. The Xbox One then views this “Xbox 360” app as its own game allowing features such as screenshots and video sharing. The emulator supports both digital downloads and original DVDs, though discs simply act as a key, the core data downloading over the internet via Xbox Live.

Even considering its current flaws, the state of the virtual machine’s capabilities is remarkable: those precious few moments when performance actually exceeds the Xbox 360 gives us just a bit of hope that in the long run, we may actually end up with an improved experience in some games.

If I were going to purchase a console today, the backwards compatibility available on the Xbox One might be a deciding factor if it weren’t for one more thing. There was a lot of turnover towards the end of the last console generation with publishers and developers going out of business and spawning many smaller indie developers. With Microsoft putting the burden on developers to approve their games for backwards compatibility, how many are still around to do that and if they are wouldn’t they rather do a re-release to get more money instead of giving it to used-game retailers who will sell old games for pennies? We’ll find out later this year. Even Microsoft announced a Gears of War 1 remake at the same press conference.

Dongler

The Xbox One controller is getting an update. It’ll have a 3.5mm headset jack and better bumpers. More importantly, Microsoft is finally going to release the wireless dongle for computers to accept connections from XBone controllers. Previously you could connect it with a USB cable, it’ll be good to stop using the one from my Steam Controller.

I’ve got the wireless dingus for 360 controllers to connect to PC, but those adapters are not as easy to find anymore and the newer XBone controller is superior to the aging 360 pads in most ways. Hopefully this also puts an end to the days of people trying to use 360 play-n-charge kits to connect their gamepads to a computer. That never worked because the play-n-charge kit delivered power without a data signal.

There’s no release date yet for the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows other than “this fall.” It’ll cost $25 when it is released or $80 in a bundle with the updated controller.

The new controller will be available on it’s own much sooner, on June 16th for $60, to coincide with a new version of the Xbox One that includes a 1 terabyte hard drive at $400. That’s $50 more than the 500 gigabyte Xbox One. The hard drive will still not be user-replacable on either version of the console because Microsoft:

  1. Doesn’t trust their users to swap hard drives
  2. They don’t understand the value of designing that functionality
  3. They want to give people a reason to buy new consoles.

Pick one. Any way you look at the hard drive situation on the Xbox, it’s insulting to users.

You could take this to mean that Microsoft just wants to be ready in case Valve’s Steam Controller gains more of a foothold. You might be right, but I don’t take that this latest push from Microsoft to mean much. They’ve pretended to care about Windows gaming before.