November 22, 2013, 6:00 AM —
For the past month or so, I've been doing these Friday next-gen console news wrap-ups. I guess this will be the last one, though, and it makes me kind of sad. The Xbox One launched at midnight last night, bringing this gamer holiday season more or less to an end.
To be sure we don't yet really know how the Xbox One launch is doing and I'll probably report on it, but for now all the secrets are out and all the hardware is on the shelf (theoretically at least) for all to see.
Time to start speculating on the PS5 and the Xbox Two! (I kid, I kid.)
This last update will be pretty Xbox One-heavy, but let's talk about the PS4 first. Sony announced that they sold 1 million Playstation 4s in 24 hours; without a doubt an impressive number. Over the weekend there was a lot of speculation about failure rates and some bloggers (and fans) seemed to be determined to sell the idea that failure rates were very high, mostly based on a bunch of 1-star Amazon ratings.
I held off on reporting this story since my personal experience indicated it was overblown. I knew about a dozen people who got the PS4 at launch and none of them was having any issues. While I don't think Sony is completely out of danger yet (we won't know long-term reliability of either the Xbox One or the PS4 until the machines have been available for a while, after all) the fuss seems to have died down by now. Yes, nearly 800 1-star reviews on Amazon (the number at the time of this writing) is initially alarming, until you think about that 1,000,000 consoles sold number. And that assumes all 800 1-star reviews are legit; though I'm sure many are, I'm equally sure some of them are fake.
For the record, Sony's official statement is that less than 1% of PS4s have had problems. That's a pretty good number, if accurate.
We also saw a spate of articles (originating at AllThingsD) talking about what it costs for Sony to build a PS4: $381. Reporters not familiar with the videogame industry seemed vaguely horrified by this, while those of us who remember that Sony lost a couple hundred dollars on each PS3 sold at launch see it as a vast improvement over last gen.
But this is why I'm dubious of Steam Machines; Sony (and Microsoft) can sell consoles at a loss because they make it up in game licensing. When you buy an EA game for the PS4/Xbox One, Sony/Microsoft gets a cut of that sale. How will that work when some third party manufacturer is making a Steam Machine? Anyway, sorry for the side-track.
Via Twitter, EA reported that in 5 days PS4 gamers logged 140 million minutes playing EA games. That time was spread over 5 million online gaming sessions.
Last night Sony launched a contest, First To Greatness, for PS4 owners. To enter you have to record specific gameplay events across a variety of games, and upload them to Facebook. It's a nice way to promote that Share button, I guess.
Gamestop says (via Bloomberg) that it has 2.3 million people on its "First to Know" list for the PS4. Mind you, that's not 2.3 million additional pre-orders, it's 2.3 million people who want to be notified when a PS4 is available. Not all of them will purchase of course, but it still indicates a pretty strong demand for the system.
And really, that's all the big Sony news I have. We're in some kind of post-launch calm. Let's move on to the Xbox One.
If you're a sports fan, you might be interested in this quick trailer on using the WatchESPN app on the Xbox One:
Speaking of apps, earlier this week Microsoft surprised us with the news that there will be a YouTube app on the Xbox One at launch after all. This had been a glaring omission from the selection of streaming apps available (and still is a glaring omission on the PS4).
In an earlier update I mentioned that the Xbox One would feature achievements for media. This week Xbox Wire detailed some of these media achievement that can be earned via the Machinima app. I'm honestly not sure what the point of these are, but if you watch 1,000 Machinima videos you can earn the "TV Rots Your Brain" achievement. Or you can just install the Machinima app to earn the "License and Registration" app. Remember these achievements won't impact your gamerscore.
There was some bad news this week. It turns out gameplay streaming won't be available on the Xbox One at launch, but will be coming in 2014. I still don't really see the appeal of watching someone play a game (I always say, if I have the free time to watch someone play, I'd rather just play myself) but streaming seems to be a popular feature on the PS4, making this news seem like a bigger issue than it probably is.
On the other hand, when it comes to recording gameplay clips, the PS4 is pretty limited. You can only share them to Facebook, of all places (ugh). On the Xbox One you can upload your saved clips to your SkyDrive and from there do whatever you want with them on a PC. That seems like a much better solution than what Sony offers. The one downside is that Xbox One clips are limited to 5 minutes whereas on the PS4 you can save 15 minute clips. It also sounds like the Xbox One's onboard editing tools are much nicer than the very rudimentary ones offered on the PS4 (which are limited to trimming and adding a description). Xbox Wire has more on this "game DVR" feature.
If you hit a midnight launch event last night, I'm hoping your Xbox One already has the Day One patch installed. And for the rest of us getting our consoles later today, I hope Microsoft's servers hold up to the task. Yesterday Azure was having some problems, taking both Xbox and business services off-line intermittently.
I'm a little annoyed at Microsoft over this patch. On Wednesday a few sites were reporting that we could download that Day 1 patch onto our PCs, load it onto a USB stick and apply it to our Xbox Ones, same as we could do on the PS4. (Joystiq is one example.) That was awesome news to me, but I hesitated, and by the time I went back to download the update on Thursday, Microsoft had yanked it. Apparently they REALLY don't want you to be able to update your Xbox One if you don't have Internet access for some reason (or if their service is down). And remember that without the Day 1 patch the Xbox One won't even play a disk-based game. Here's Joystiq's follow up and yes, Microsoft removed that update from their support site intentionally. It's like the bad old days of Microsoft momentarily resurfaced!
OK there's more bad news coming but let's break it up with this Ryse launch trailer:
So here's the next bit of bad news: the Xbox One doesn't ship with Dolby Digital support. It's another feature coming after launch. Microsoft's Albert Penello said (on Neogaf) that this shouldn't matter to those of us using a receiver since the Xbox is suppose to pass the audio signal through unmolested, but if you're using headphones connected to the Xbox One the best you'll get (for now) is simulated surround.
If you're going to pass a TV signal from your cable box through your Xbox One, you'll also want to turn on beta support for digital surround as described here. Otherwise your Xbox One will convert the surround signal from your cable box into a stereo signal. Which seems to contradict the last paragraph, doesn't it? Perhaps something is getting lost in translation.
Look on the bright side. All of these 'coming soon' features for both consoles means we early adopters have a lot to look forward to!
Here's a blog post about the Xbox One's party system. It all sounds pretty great except this section:
If you see the perfect match and the party is open, you can simply join if there is room for more players in the match, and the game thinks you’re a good fit using Smart Match (in terms of skill , playing style, etc.) you’ll be offered a slot automatically.
Emphasis there is mine. I'm hoping this is only for parties with random matches and that I won't be prevented from joining a friend's match because Smart Match determines I'm a bad fit. Or at least I hope that sort of filtering is optional.
GameInformer had a post on a topic I haven't seen covered elsewhere. They say the Xbox will worry about how full your hard drive is so you don't have to. You have 1 click uninstall/re-install of the games in your library and when you re-install a game the Xbox retrieves your game saves from the cloud automatically. It'll be interesting to see how well this works in practice. Sometimes things get a little too automated for my tastes.
That's the launch trailer for Dead Rising 3. We've seen a bunch of reviews of the launch titles for Xbox One and DR3 seems to be the game with the best actual gameplay out of the bunch, but reviewers say it isn't as pretty as other games. Forza Motorsport 5 is getting pretty good reviews. It's gorgeous and is a great driving game, they tell me, but has fewer cars and tracks than the previous Forza game did. So it feels a little thin. Ryse is supposed to be gorgeous but otherwise just OK, and the gore is a little bit over the top.
Plenty of sites have reviewed the Xbox One console as well. I read a bunch of them until they were all starting to blur together in my head, but my favorite was Engadget's. They seemed most balanced to me. Too many of the reviews (I thought) approached the XB1 more as a media hub than as a game system. We'll know more once regular old gamers like me get our hands on them.
Last night Microsoft held a huge launch event. In New York the event took place in Time's Square and was complete with exotic cars (Forza tie-in) and Zombies (Dead Rising tie-in). The last hour before launch was televised and streamed but was pretty much devoid of any real content. We learned that McDonalds will be giving away Xbox Ones in December and got a brief look at the NFL app, and the rest was Microsoft trying to put on a Hollywood event.
And then the Xbox One was launched. Good luck to everyone trying to get their hands on one today! I'll be waiting for UPS to deliver mine!
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.