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Xbox One not up to the hype

I’m branching out from my usual sports reporting tonight to offer my opinion of Microsoft’s next-generation entertainment system: Xbox One.

I’ve been a loyal fan of Microsoft’s gaming consoles since the original Xbox hit the market. I was wowed by then-ground-breaking graphics that were put to shame just a few years later with the release of Xbox 360.

While the 360 had its problems (I consider myself lucky to still have two, working, WHITE 360s and have never encountered a “red ring of death”) it was infinitely better than Sony’s Playstation 3, which was released almost a year later and never really recovered outside of the niche already carved out by its predecessors.

Suddenly I find myself questioning if I made the right choice staying with Microsoft. I’ve had the Xbox One since Christmas, which has given me plenty of time to test it out.

On the one hand, Xbox finally comes with a built-in Blu-Ray player. The graphics are unbelievably crisp and clean. For those of you thinking, “so what? It’s supposed to be better.” You have no idea. I thought the same thing at first, as did my best friend who has beaten every Halo co-op with me. Then he borrowed my new system to play Call of Duty while I was at work. I came home to him marveling at how clear the screen images were compared to his 360 version.

It’s also nice not having to power up the controller every time you want to do something. I don’t know how many batteries I wasted on the 360 because I wanted to watch a movie and either forgot or was too lazy to turn my controller off after pushing play.

Unfortunately, there is a long list of things I am not happy about.

For starters, the voice control is problematic. I can be sitting right in front of my tv, speaking very clearly, and yet the device cannot understand the basic command of “Xbox, ON.” I don’t like repeating myself when talking with live human beings, so you can imagine how much I must loathe repeating myself to a machine that isn’t listening.

I also don’t like how certain commands MUST begin with “Xbox.” For example, when properly setup to control your TV, you can turn volume up or down with voice commands. However, there is no command to set the volume at a certain level. Each command raises or lowers the volume by one to three points (i.e. from 8 up to 11). To raise or lower it more, the command “Xbox, volume up/down” must be repeated until reaching the desired volume.

Commands must also be precise. You have to say the complete name of any app or game in order to open it. “Assassin’s Creed” is not an acceptable title. You must say, “Xbox, go to Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.” What’s going to happen as longer titles get released?

My biggest disappointment comes in the fact that Xbox has repeatedly lost connection with my cable box and TV. The only solution when this happens is to power cycle EVERYTHING – the TV, the cable box, and the Xbox. Easy enough with everything plugged into the same power strip, but annoying when it seems like I’m doing it every week.

Last week Microsoft rolled out their first big software update. After getting over the “it’s about time” feeling, I looked forward to several problems being fixed. Unfortunately, a new one has now appeared. One of the few games I have for the new system is Madden 25. Until last week the game worked almost flawlessly. The most noticeable glitch being Tony Gonzalez dropping open passes (obviously a problem with programming). Now attempting to open Madden causes the system to lose picture. The only solution that works? Power cycle the Xbox.

Supposedly the new update includes a battery indicator on the home screen, but if it’s there it’s well hidden.

Lastly, there are very few games or apps available and we’re already four months since launch date. This wouldn’t be a problem if modern consoles were backward compatible. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. That means the most recent Xbox does NOT have Halo, which has been the flag bearer since Xbox was first launched in 2001. A Halo for Xbox One was announced last May at the Xbox Reveal, but a release date has not been confirmed other than “TBA 2014.”

One of my favorite apps on Xbox 360 was HBO Go. Now it is non-existent, meaning I have to rely solely on Netflix for my movies and TV Shows. It’s not bad, except that Netflix isn’t setup very well on Xbox. I mentioned the problems with Xbox voice commands, well Netflix takes the annoyance to the next level. To browse movies without a controller requires repeating “next page” until finding the category or movie you’re looking for. You also cannot search for a movie using voice commands. You have to manually type the movie title in after getting to the page (which can be selected by voice, but only if it’s on the screen and highlighted in green).

Social media is huge these days. Yet Xbox One does not currently have apps for Facebook or Twitter, and with their hesitancy to open up the marketplace for third-party developers it may be awhile before your favorite social networking site is available.

Xbox One may eventually make good on Microsoft’s promise to revolutionize the entertainment experience, but for now it is lacking.