Which Xbox One should you buy?

Even if you don't care about voice control or motion-based games, the $500 Xbox One with Kinect is worth considering.

Microsoft's Xbox One.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft's initial vision for the Xbox One was so inextricably linked to the Kinect that the company didn't even consider it a peripheral: if you bought an Xbox One, you had to pay for the Kinect whether you wanted it or not.

That's all changed with yesterday's announcement of a new $400 (£350 in UK) Xbox One that offers exactly the same console without the Kinect peripheral. The cheaper Xbox One is already available for pre-order and comes out June 9, which means prospective Xbox One buyers now have to choose between the $400 and $500 models.

So which one should you get? The answer depends on what you're looking to get out of the console.

The $400 Xbox One: The cheapest way to play Microsoft exclusives

Microsoft Xbox One
Sarah Tew/CNET

One of the narratives leading up to the launch of the new consoles was the Xbox One was charging too much money for entertainment-based features that gamers didn't necessarily want.

With the $400 Xbox One, that's no longer an issue. If you're a gamer that's mostly interested in the Xbox One because of exclusives like Titanfall and upcoming Halo titles, the Kinect-less Xbox One bundle is the best value. Most of the games that require Kinect are fitness- or dance-based, while most other games that use the Kinect can be played with a standard controller.

And in reality, the $400 Xbox One is even cheaper than the $100 price drop indicates. The Xbox One (and Xbox 360) no longer requires a Live Gold subscription to access streaming media apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube, so you're no longer stuck paying a near-mandatory $60 yearly fee to access relatively basic functionality. You'll still need Live Gold for multiplayer gaming, but some gamers will be able to get by without paying anything more beyond the cost of games and the $400 console.

The $500 Xbox One: The Kinect might do more than you think

Use voice commands with the all new Kinect
Sarah Tew/CNET

When most people think of Kinect, they conjure up images of dance games and the ability to bark out commands to change the channel on your TV. And if that's what you're looking for, you'll definitely want to opt for the $500 Xbox One bundle.

But even if you think those features are gimmicky, it's worth considering the more expensive Xbox One package because the Kinect is so integral to Microsoft's vision of the living room. Aside from the camera and microphone, the Kinect sensor is also responsible for firing out remote control commands that allow the Xbox One to control other devices like your TV, cable box, sound bar, and AV receiver.

Cable box control is particularly important, because it's needed to fully take advantage of the Xbox One's TV integration using OneGuide. When it launched, I found the Xbox One's living room experience to occasionally frustrating, but Microsoft has made significant strides toward fixing the early shortcomings. The excellent standalone Media Remote ($25 USD) makes the console much more living-room friendly, and Microsoft is also promising to add direct DVR control in the future, which would fix arguably the biggest frustration with the Xbox One's TV watching experience.

You may still balk at the idea of a $100 glorified IR blaster, but you're going to need it if you buy into Microsoft's vision of having a single interface to access all your entertainment.

Can I add the Kinect later?

Microsoft Xbox One
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're on the fence about whether or not you need the Kinect, you always have the option of buying the cheaper Xbox One and adding the Kinect later. Microsoft hasn't announced how much the Kinect will cost on its own, but at the moment you can buy a used Xbox One Kinect sensor for well under $100 on Ebay. And since Microsoft has confirmed that there are no other differences between the two bundles other than the Kinect sensor, there's no penalty for trying the $399 Xbox One first and deciding whether you want the Kinect after you've lived with the console for a bit.

 

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