Xbox One: what it means for Windows PCs

Microsoft has unveiled the Xbox One console, sporting an interface that should look immediately familiar to anyone with Windows 8. However, that’s not all the Xbox One has in common with today’s Windows PCs.

The Xbox One actually runs three operating systems. A small host OS boots the console and launches two other virtual machines, one dedicated to apps and the other to games. The apps VM uses the same Windows NT kernel used to power Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Indeed, Dave Cutler – the so-called “father of Windows NT” – was drafted in to create the virtual environments that will allow Xbox One users to switch instantly from games to apps.

Using the Windows NT kernel means it should be possible for Xbox One app developers to work from the same code that they use to power Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps. That may help to boost the number and quality of apps in the flagging Windows 8 Store, as developers will be able to target multiple platforms with largely the same code.

Kinect controls

Microsoft announced a revamped Kinect controller for the Xbox One, which according to a report on The Verge will also be made available for Windows PCs. Microsoft released the Kinect for Windows SDK last year, but we’ve yet to see any PCs ship with a Kinect sensor or full integration of Kinect gesture controls in Windows 8.

The new Kinect sports a wide-angle 1080p camera that captures video at 30fps. Microsoft claims the sensitivity of the motion sensor has been improved to such an extent that it can detect slight rotations in your wrist, or even your heartbeat while exercising. The voice detection is now capable of identifying which user is speaking.

Many of the Kinect applications for Xbox could easily be adopted on Windows 8 PCs. The Xbox One will, for example, offer picture-in-picture video calls during games or television viewing, so that you can talk to friends while you play or watch a football match. As with the current Xbox 360, users can open apps or search the web using voice commands.

With the ability to detect users via video or voice, it’s also conceivable that the Kinect could be used to identify Windows 8 PC users, providing a more secure form of authentication than passwords or picture passwords.

Xbox SmartGlass

Microsoft will continue to support the SmartGlass concept on the Xbox One. This allows you to turn a Windows 8 tablet – or indeed an iOS or Android device – into a sophisticated remote control for the Xbox console.

Xbox One interface

The current implementation of SmartGlass for the Xbox 360 is a little disappointing, offering little more than a means to browse multimedia apps and few advantages over the regular Xbox controller. We hope that Microsoft will continue to develop SmartGlass, so that you’ll be able to get a video preview on your tablet before changing TV channel on the Xbox, for example, or even providing a secondary display for games. Imagine being able to use your Windows 8 tablet as a rear-view mirror in driving games, for instance.

Media sharing

The Xbox One is being pitched more as a multimedia set-top box than a dedicated games console. There’s already tight integration between Windows and Xbox multimedia apps – you can start to watch a movie on your Xbox console, and pick up where you left off on your Windows 8 laptop – and we expect such cross-platform apps to become even more common in the future.

However, the days of the Xbox serving as a Media Center Extender appear to be over. Microsoft deprecated Media Center to a downloadable add-on with the launch of Windows 8, and made no mention of Media Center Extender facilities in the Xbox One launch last night. If you prize this capability, it might be wise to hold onto your Xbox 360.

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