WASHINGTON – Microsoft is hitting the reset button on the Xbox, unveiling a new version of the console Tuesday that the company is aiming at rivals old and new.
Microsoft portrayed the third-generation Xbox as a device that could take a central position in the entertainment lives of consumers. That space has become intensely competitive with similar consoles unveiled recently by traditional game makers Nintendo and Sony as well as an array of games, movies and other content from Amazon, Netflix, Google and Apple that can now be displayed on living room TVs.
Microsoft’s latest console can stream live television, though officials were coy on the details. It will make video calls over Microsoft’s Skype service. And it will offer new, exclusive content — including a TV series produced by Steven Spielberg, based on the company’s popular “Halo” video game series, and a partnership with the NFL that will provide fans with live access to their fantasy football stats.
Even the device’s name, the Xbox One, indicates the company is moving beyond the gaming sphere, said Forrester analyst James McQuivey.
“They’re trying to make it clear that this is a restart of the whole category,” McQuivey said. “It makes it about blending gaming with everything else that you may want to do in your living room.”
Microsoft’s current gaming console, the Xbox 360, consistently outsells competing devices from Sony and Nintendo and is one of the firm’s more important products. The entertainment and devices division, which includes sales of the console, accounted for about 13 percent of Microsoft’s revenue last year.
The Xbox One’s wider focus also nods to the fast-growing preference among consumers to do their computing and gaming on smartphones and tablets. For example, Microsoft has added interactive smartphone and tablet features to the console, such as displaying a football player’s stats when he scores a touchdown during a live game.
“It’s not just about the Xbox One, but about how your entertainment spans across devices,” said Ron Pessner, a product manager for Microsoft’s Xbox Live entertainment platform.
In a presentation at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the company highlighted user-friendly features such as the ability to switch quickly between games and other media with a quick gesture or by saying a command like: “Xbox, watch TV.”
Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Securities, said that this may be the first console that nongamers could want for their homes.
“They were pretty strategic about pandering to the mainstream audience today,” he said.
That’s not to say that Microsoft has neglected its gamers. It made several changes to the system, including adding more memory and improving the sensors in its Kinect motion-controller to detect even subtle movements, such as the angle of a player’s wrist. The company said it would release the console’s price and release date next month.
But Microsoft’s key strategy with the Xbox One is to make it the central device for music, movies, games and television, which Phil Spencer, a vice president at the company, said in the presentation “remains the most relevant and important screen in the home.”
McQuivey said the strategy makes sense, given the competition coming from other tech giants such as Apple and Google. The television, he noted, still commands users’ attention for more than four hours every day.
“You have to try for the TV,” McQuivey said.
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