TECH
08/11/2013 06:00 GMT | Updated 08/11/2013 07:08 GMT

Xbox One Launch Preview: 9 Things You Need To Know Before 22 November (PICTURES)

We've said it before, but now it really is time to get excited: the Xbox One is just weeks away, and we can't wait.

Ahead of its released on 22 November, Microsoft has just taken the wraps off some final details around its new console, including how the OS works, what apps will be available at launch and how its new Xbox Fitness service will help you work off those Call of Duty pounds.

It's even given us another go on some of the best games heading to the platform, including Dead Rising 3, Call of Duty: Ghosts and - yes, really - surprise bear-rearing smash Zoo Tycoon.

So even if you've picked your side in the next-gen wars already, we think it's worth taking a stroll through what the Xbox One offers at launch - and what will be coming in the weeks and months ahead.

Here are the 9 things you need to know.

london skyline

1. The Xbox One Platform Is Great, And Will Get Better

We had our first full preview of the Xbox One platform and operating system at the pre-launch event - and we came away very impressed - both with its day one abilities, and its potential for the future.

When you boot up your Xbox One you'll be signed in automatically, thanks to the new Kinect sensor's ability to distinguish individual players. (Check out how it works in the video tour above).

When you're signed in you'll be presented with the same kind of grid as seen on the Xbox 360, as well as Windows 8 and Windows Phone, but customised for your own profile including your chosen accent colour. The interface is made up of tiles, and each of the tiles is a different app. On the main screen you'll see the last thing you did in the big central tile, you most used apps below and other links to the side. If you swipe left, either with the controller or a gesture, you can seen your 'Pins' or your chosen favourite apps. If you swipe right you see the various Stores - music and movies, games, apps.

At first glance the Home screen looks a little plain, with a straight black background and non-resizeable tiles. But watch it for a moment, and it's clear how 'alive' the experience is. The new 1000 friend limit and "Follower" model on Xbox Live gives you more opportunity to compete in rolling challenges with friends, for example, and that's illustrated in the dashboard.

We also saw the new Kinect in action, and how that ties together the different aspects of the Xbox experience. And it was great to see that the near-instant app switching was just as Microsoft trailed all those months ago back at its original reveal. Skype calls popped up beautifully in the middle of games or TV shows, and as long as you don't say 'Xbox' too often at home the voice controls also worked well.

There are still gaps - you have to load games with their full name ("Forza Motorsport 5") rather than more intuitive shortcuts ("Forza"), while the usefulness of a browser snapped into less than a third of your TV remains to be seen. But overall it's a strong start that - as we've seen on Xbox 360 - is just going to get better.

xbox one

2. Xbox Fitness Is Intense

Xbox Fitness will be available in December for Xbox Live Gold subscribers, Microsoft has announced.

The app is a full-featured way to get fit using the awesome new Kinect 2 sensor, which is roughly ten times as powerful and accurate as the old version - and has the ability to even read your pulse during some exercises.

It's essentially a store full of some of the world's most popular fitness videos and content, including Beachbody’s P90X (Tony Horton), 'Insanity' (Shaun T) and Jillian Michaels. While the videos are not directly interactive in the same way as games like Nike Plus Fitness, the app tracks how you're performing in a separate view to the side. It can suggest ways to improve, knows how hard you're working and tracks your 'Fitness Points' so you can see your progress over time, and compete with friends.

Microsoft said there is enough free content with a Gold membership to do a new workout every week for a year, while new workouts can be purchased for roughly the same cost as a standard fitness DVD.

In our demo it was clear that the new Kinect works really well, and offers big improvements over the old gen. And if working out at home is your thing - and particularly if you're already a fan of the featured content partners - it's likely that you'll find a lot to enjoy from the new service.

3. There Are 13 Day One Third-Party Apps, And Many More Coming

Microsoft unveiled the full list of third-party launch Apps for the Xbox One at launch in the UK. They are:

  • 4oD
  • Amazon\LOVEFiLM
  • Blinkbox
  • Crackle
  • Demand5
  • Eurosport
  • Machinima
  • MUZU TV
  • Netflix
  • NOW TV
  • Twitch
  • Wuaki.tv

Microsoft also confirmed that UK Xbox Ones will include the following first-party apps:

  • Xbox Fitness
  • Xbox Video
  • Xbox Music
  • Internet Explorer
  • Skype
  • SkyDrive
  • Upload

There are obviously a lot less apps for the Xbox One at launch compared to the Xbox 360. Missing apps include Sky Go, for instance, and the BBC iPlayer. But Microsoft said that it was committed to "a pipeline of apps that we'll continue to bring to the platform".

4. This Is How TV Works On Xbox One

At the preview event, Microsoft demoed how Sky TV (and other HDMI sources) can be "passed through" the Xbox One, so you can incorporate your current main content source into the experience. It works very simply: you just plug an HDMI cable from your Sky Box into your Xbox, and from the Xbox One to your TV.

At that point live TV will be viewable by switching manually to it ("Xbox Show TV"), as well as from the platform Hub and as a "snapable" app you can watch during games. It's very easy, there's no loss of quality, and being able to swap quickly between games, TV, apps and Skype is extremely impressive. Using an IR blaster, you can also control the volume and mute buttons with Kinect commands.

Microsoft also detailed its "One Guide", a programme listings app which currently populates with videos from the apps you've downloaded, but which will eventually incorporate TV channels too. That's not available in the UK at launch though, and you won't be able to use it to directly change Sky channels or use your DVR.

5. 'Zoo Tycoon' Is Brilliant

Look, if you're a Call of Duty obsessive we get that 'Zoo Tycoon' - Microsoft's launch-day animal theme park sim - might not be for you. But it should be, because after a demo with the game we're convinced it's one of the most fun experiences you can have on the console at launch.

It looks gorgeous, for one thing, with amazingly lifelike and detailed animals, and beautiful fast zooming from park level views down to eye level. The sim looks deep enough for adult players, with lots of tasks to complete from building new enclosures and keeping animals happy to breeding new creatures with players around the world. But it's also incredibly cute and fun for kids. We can see this being a big hit on the family couch this Christmas - if you just give it a chance.

For us, being able to build a theme park full of twelve kinds of bear is enough.

6. 'Call of Duty: Ghosts' Is Fast And Looks Great

We haven't yet spent enough time with Call of Duty: Ghosts on Xbox One to offer a full review - and in truth the game is basically the same as the Xbox 360 version which we've discussed elsewhere.

But in our latest hands on with the game one thing was clear: discussion of frame-rates, resolution and performance aside, it looks really, really good. It's smooth, fast, clear, and an obvious visual upgrade over the Xbox 360 version. No, it's not light years ahead - yet. But the signs are there that the Xbox One is soon going to outstrip the old gen, and you probably don't want to be left behind.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Forza 5 and FIFA 14 all look stunning, too.

call of duty xbox one

7. 'Kinect Sports Rivals: Preseason' Shows Off The Kinect 2 Well

In our latest demo of Kinect Sports Rivals: Preseason we had a go on the first minigame to be released for Microsoft's all-new motion gaming suite, out in full by Spring 2014 - wave racing. On one level this simple racing game is very familiar - just race around the track, using jumps and boosts to gain speed.

But it's also clear how much better the new 1080p Kinect really is. You can now accelerate just by clenching your fist. Turning only requires small, precise movements not giant arm waves, and you can also play sitting down and next to friends with no confusion or frustration. The jetski demo will be free to download at launch, and we have big hopes for the full game once it's out next year.

xbox one

8. 'Upload' Works (Just Not Yet With YouTube)

Microsoft gave us a quick demo of the new 'Upload' app, which will let you share clips of your in-game exploits. You kick off proceedings just by saying "Xbox Record That" during a game, and can capture up to five minutes of video. By jumping into the Upload suite you can then trim the video, apply effects and filters, record a "picture in picture" (really picture side-by-side) commentary and upload it to the community.

The downsides are that currently there's no way to get that clip on YouTube (watch this space, says Microsoft). But it's slick, and we can see ourselves using it often - at least to produce a sizzle reel for our mates who don't have an Xbox One to sit through when they come round to play it.

9. 'Dead Rising 3' Is Hilarious

In our latest full hands-on demo with Dead Rising 3 we spent a merry half an hour crafting ludicrous weapons out of traffic cones and chainsaws, mowing down more than 4,000 zombies with a flame-thrower motorbike and generally causing havoc in the apocalypse. It's abundantly clear from the number of zombies on screen and the level of graphical fidelity that this wouldn't be possible on the Xbox 360, and as a whole the game is slick and impressive. We'll have to wait and see whether the single-player campaign is engaging enough to keep us involved outside of short stress-busting bursts. But it's a huge amount of fun and - if you're in a bad mood - pretty irresistible.