Xbox will always be about games, but it’s also about movies, music and now television.
Yusuf Mehdi, the vice president of marketing and strategy for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, admits he believes there will be a moment when people will be purchase an Xbox One not as a gaming console, but for “non-gaming uses.” Maybe not right away though.
“In the beginning, I think probably the vast majority of sales will be made by people who are gamers.” In an interview in his office, he lays out a strategy that will lead to a tipping point: It’s built on the addition of content options like the Steven Spielberg produced live-action Halo series, the NFL partnership and “other types of content” yet to be announced.
Don Mattrick, the Vancouver executive who heads up Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, called the new console “the all-in-one system for every living room” and in revealing it, Mr. Mattrick and Microsoft have completed the transformation of Xbox from a gaming to a home entertainment brand.
Microsoft isn’t looking to replace the cable box, however. “We want to work with what you have today,” said Mr. Mehdi. “We just want to take whatever you’re doing today and make it better.” Users will feed their existing television signal from the source to the Xbox One, which will then output to the screen. Mr. Mehdi said Microsoft intends to support all possible digital connections, including HDMI, over-the-air, and even net tuners. And the Xbox One will ultimately work with any and all television providers.
(Check this amusing supercut of all the references to TV in Tuesday's Xbox event.)
Mr. Mehdi also did his best to tamp down one of they key controversies in this generation of consoles: The Xbox One does not need an “always on” broadband Internet connection. But it’s better if you have one: as Mr. Mehdi admits, an Internet connection is required to take advantage of all the features of Microsoft’s new home entertainment console.
“We designed for a future state which assumes a connected world,” said Mr. Mehdi. “And just like your cellphone or your 4G wireless tablet assumes a connection we designed Xbox One in that way.”
So while there are regions of Canada where people don’t have a persistent Internet connection, Microsoft expects that at some point in the future everyone will. “We assume,” said Mr. Mehdi, “there will be instances where the Internet goes down or you temporarily run out of connectivity and we’re going to be smart about allowing you to do things.”
Mr. Mehdi said that users without an Internet connection will be able to watch Blu-ray movies and play games in single-player mode. “To do the many great things that we can do like Skype call someone, stream Netflix or Hulu, play multiplayer gaming, all those things will not work without an Internet connection,” he added.
(Click here to read even more of Xbox’s carefully worded answers to your burning questions.)
Mr. Mehdi also took pains to reassure users who have had rocky experiences with the older verson of Kinect controller.
Earlier in the day Mr. Mehdi had been on stage at the intimate event Microsoft hosted at its campus in Redmond, just east of Seattle. He was demonstrating how the gestural and voice commands enabled by the Kinect interface, which is built into every Xbox One, can be used to control live television.
The redesigned Kinect that Mr. Mehdi was using has three times the precision and fidelity of the existing technology, said a spokesperson. In a demonstration, Kinect was able to resolve the facial hair on one volunteer, and could track three different people as they were switching positions.
A Microsoft spokesperson said that the new Kinect works better in smaller rooms, and can accommodate up to six users at a time. A new infrared feature means that Kinect can be used in rooms that are pitch black, too.
But while the Xbox One was designed to encourage users to take advantage of the voice and gestural interactions possible because of Kinect, Mr. Mehdi said that controlling the television will also be possible with cellphones and tablets, including those made by different hardware manufacturers, as well as the new Xbox One controller.
By enhancing the TV viewing experience using Xbox One, Microsoft seems to be challenging more than gaming hardware rivals Nintendo and Sony. Mr. Mehdi wouldn’t mention Apple by name, but he did agree that his new console would compete against “more mainstream product offerings.”
If the strategy is to compete against other streaming media boxes – from Roku to Apple TV – price could be a vital factor: a $300 TV add-on would be too steep. Thus far, Microsoft has remained mum on any pricing details. Any doubts from critics haven’t dented the confidence of the Xbox team.
“We think we have something that is pretty unmatched,” Mr. Mehdi said.