I have seen the future of the living room computer, and it has a Microsoft logo on it. No, I'm serious. Stop laughing. Really.
I'm talking about the Xbox One, which was finally unveiled this week after literally years of teasing and the slow drip of feature upgrades to the now 8-year-old Xbox 360. Technically, I haven't seen it -- I've only read about it. In fact, all the people who wrote about it were seeing a canned Microsoft demo, where everything always looks good. But the Xbox One sounds megacool, if also a little unsettling -- more on that last part in a bit.
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Microsoft has been down this road a few times, to be sure. There was its $425 million purchase of WebTV in 1997, which resulted in, well, nothing. Once for a brief period in the mid-1990s I had a Gateway Destination Windows PC-TV in my living room. It was a $4,000 monstrosity that came with its own 200-pound 31-inch CRT. I think they delivered it with a forklift and had to remove part of my roof to take it out.
Microsoft made a huge push to out-TiVo TiVo with XP Media Center in the early 2000s, though the company essentially gave up promoting it by the time Vista came along. Over the years there have been numerous other attempts to foist Windows PCs, Windows landline phones, and Windows home control systems onto a public that really didn't want them.
The one-of-a-kind Xbox One
This time, though, is different. Xbox One is not Windows. Sure, it has Windows 8's don't-call-it-Metro tiles, but the similarity ends there. The original Xbox is barely even a Microsoft product. It emerged from a skunkworks project more than a decade ago and has been kept at a safe distance from Stevie Ballmer's Flying Chair Circus throughout most of its life. Aside from the Red Ring of Death debacle, it's the least Microsofty product Microsoft has ever made. That means it actually has a shot of succeeding where all the other Microsoft attempts have failed.
Like the current Xbox, the One incorporates living room entertainment; you can play movies on disc; watch Netflix, Amazon Video, cable TV, and so on; and just plain game on it. It also employs the Kinect camera-based motion-sensing interface Microsoft unveiled in 2010. I've used the Kinect in the past, and I have to say I was impressed. It works so well you'd never think it was made by Microsoft.
The new Kinect does even more; not only can it be controlled by voice and simple hand gestures and recognize your face when you enter the room, it can also measure your heartbeat while you're jumping around in front of your couch. Whether it can also alert the paramedics if you have a heart attack has yet to be determined, but I wouldn't be surprised.