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Xbox One review: For gamers, yes, but you'll like it too

Jason Cross | Nov. 21, 2013
Microsoft's audacious assault on your living room is delightfully innovative yet unrefined.

Game DVR is neat, and terribly flawed
Microsoft's "Game DVR" feature is fantastic. Just say "Xbox, record that" and it grabs the past 30 seconds of gameplay (which is really the past 5 minutes of gameplay automatically trimmed to 30 seconds, but you can extend it to 5 minutes easily).

The best part is the way this feature is integrated into games. The games I played would often surprise me by saying that a game clip had just been created, right after I did something cool. "Oh yeah," I'd think, "that would be a really cool clip!"

The problem is, the quality is awful. The problem is not the resolution or frame rate of the recorded clips (720p, 30 frames per second). It's the bitrate and encoding parameters. The road in Forza Motorsport 5 turns into a blur of artifacts. Every ounce of detail from a Killer Instinct match disappears. I've been told that the bitrate is somewhere around 1.5 megabits per second, but the clip I saved to SkyDrive was about 30 megabytes for a 1-minute clip, or about 4 megabits per second. Microsoft desperately needs to change the encoding settings for this feature—it's making the games look like garbage.

A world-class controller
The new controller—which takes the well-loved design of the Xbox 360 controller and refines it further—is terrific. It's a little smaller, with more-precise and more-responsive sticks, a vastly improved D-pad, and buttons that are a little closer together and easier to press. The triggers have their own rumble motors, which is really effective in some games and gimmicky in others.

Unfortunately, there's no obvious way to learn how much charge your controller has left. That seems like it would be good information to have. The good news is, I played all weekend—easily 20 hours—on the included pair of AA batteries.

The new headset is better, too. It's more comfortable and adjustable, with better sound quality. It clips to the bottom of the controller via a proprietary plug, and although the connection seems annoyingly large at first blush, it's a godsend. The plug has large, unambiguous mute and volume buttons that you can't miss in the middle of a heated gaming match, yet it stays entirely out of the way of your grip.

That HDMI input
I tried plugging the HDMI-output cable of my DirecTV box into the Xbox One's input, and then setting it up as my cable provider in the settings screen. I also have an Onkyo receiver between the Xbox One and my TV.

I can walk into the room and say "Xbox, on," and the Xbox One will wake from its low-power slumber, turn on my TV, and turn on my receiver. It will automatically recognize me and log me in. If my fiancée walks into the room, it automatically recognizes her and logs her in, too.

 

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