We now have a $399 Xbox One on store shelves that on some level undermines the vision that Microsoft shared with users at its Xbox Revealed event back a year ago. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how users feel about the Kinect sensor.
Originally, the idea behind the Xbox One was simple: Microsoft wanted to create a console that the entire family could use.
In this new world that Microsoft unveiled last year, Xbox One, entertainment apps and services were just as much of a priority as video games. At the core of the system was a processor and graphics hardware that rendered games in stunning detail. Coming along with that console came software, entertainment apps and a Kinect sensor that made the Xbox One just as easy and feature filled for enjoying Netflix and Hulu Plus as it was for playing titles like Titanfall and more.
Since that Kinect 2 sensor came with every console, developers had an even footing to develop their games on, and every Xbox One was just as approachable with or without a controller.
Then, 2014 happened, and Microsoft announced monumental changes to the whole Xbox One strategy. Starting in June 2014, all Xbox One users will be able to stream video from Netflix and other apps with an Xbox Live Gold subscription. That’s huge, as Microsoft’s consoles were the only ones on the market that required users to pay for both a console subscription and for each individual service they use. Microsoft also officially kicked off the Xbox One’s Games With Gold program and announced that users would effectively be able to get two recent Xbox One games a month as long as they maintained their Xbox One subscription. That’s another huge win for Xbox One gamers, specifically if they’d been considering switching to the PlayStation, since it uses that exact same model to get users buyers to sign up for PlayStation Plus.
Despite all of that, all of the hoopla made over being able to access apps and services with Xbox Live Gold, and the this new Games With Gold program, absolutely nothing is a bigger deal than the $399 Xbox One. That’s because the $399 Xbox One marks the end of Microsoft’s unique initial vision. Sure, users will still be able to purchase the more expensive $499 Xbox One, but in giving users choice Microsoft has put the final nail in the coffin of a ton of high-profile features. At least, for those buying the cheaper version of the console.
Live Television & Entertainment
Users should absolutely not purchase the $399 Xbox One if they’re looking to use the console’s live television functionality and that stems from the way the system was initially designed. Last year, Microsoft made it very clear that the Kinect sensor on the Xbox One was totally integrated into the user experience. Later on it decided to not require the sensor to be plugged in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if Microsoft has made any changes to the hardware that’s included in the $399 Xbox One. In short, the IR blaster that’s needed to communicate with user’s television, cable box and audio equipment is still built into the Kinect that $399 Xbox One buyers won’t be getting.
Ironically, the loss of Kinect in that bundle will extend to other features too. The SmartGlass app, which had allowed users to adjust their volume while playing a game, won’t be available without the console either.
Of course, a lot of gamers keep their console in a designated room that only they regularly visit. Many more will put their Xbox One in a family room where everyone can enjoy it. The Kinect 2 sensor removes all the pain from the family gaming experience. It instantly identifies users and logs them in. This made logging in for households with more than one game as easy as its ever been. It also ensured that young children always logged into their child account where parental controls were active and parents could hide certain material.
The $399 Xbox One kills that advantage too, meaning families are more likely to go back to accidentally or purposely using the same accounts or forgetting to login to the account they are supposed to. The $399 Xbox One won’t be able to tell who has a controller in their hand, either, meaning gamers will have to be extra careful that the controller they’re using is logged into their particular Xbox Live account.
Skype & Other Extras
There were other benefits for the Kinect 2 sensor included inside the Xbox One, too. $399 Xbox One users will need a chat headset for anyone and everyone who they plan on using voice chat with. Luckily, it appears Microsoft will continue to bundle at least one headset with the console. Still, users will likely need a separate one if more than one family member regularly plays at the same time.
Then there’s Skype, an app so important to the Xbox One experience that Microsoft decided to give users a year’s worth of Skype calling at absolutely no charge. Buying a $399 Xbox One will still let users chat with that included wired headset, however the Kinect 2 sensor is the only way that users will be able to video chat with their friends and family.
To be clear, a lower price tag is a lower price tag. Without Kinect holding up the Xbox One’s price, Microsoft should be able to move more consoles and get them into the hands of what it apparently sees as the only demographic it cares about right now: hard core gamers. $399 Xbox One owners will be able to buy the Xbox One’s Kinect sensor separately sometime later this year, though for how much remains a mystery. Microsoft will continue to sell a version of the Xbox One that includes the Kinect 2 sensor for $499.
The Xbox One Standard Edition without Kinect is available for pre-order from Amazon now.