With the release of Titanfall, Microsoft's console-exclusive first-person sci-fi shooter, the Xbox One got a nice sales bump this spring, but it hasn't been able to overtake the PS4, which has outsold the Xbox One at a rate of around 4 to 3.
Not surprisingly, that ratio's not so different from the price delta between the two game consoles, with the Xbox going out of the gate at $500 (Kinect peripheral included) while the PS4 selling for $400, sans camera accessory. Oh, and to use most of the Xbox One's extra features, you had to sink another $60 on a yearly Xbox Live Gold subscription, so the real total was more like $560 compared to $400.
Well, on June 9, Microsoft will level the playing field with both a new $400 Xbox One (£350 in UK) and a revamped Xbox Live Gold package that's more in line with Sony's $50/£40-a-year PlayStation Plus subscription service.
Here's a quick guide to everything you need to know about the changes.
What's the difference between the $400 Xbox One and the $499 Xbox One?
From a hardware standpoint, the only difference is that you don't get the Kinect, the high-resolution camera peripheral that brings added features to the console. By the end of the year, you'll be able to purchase the Kinect separately, but Microsoft has yet to specify the price.
What do I lose without the Kinect?
You'll lose the ability to play games that require the Kinect -- but that's such a short list of titles, we doubt anyone will care. However, the lack of a Kinect comes into play in a big way with the console's TV and media-control features. Because the Kinect doubles as a microphone and an IR blaster, you'll lose the ability for any voice control and any motion-control input. You'll also lose the ability to change channels on your cable box and adjust the volume on your TV. You should also expect the $25 Xbox One Media Remote to lose some functionality (again, like TV volume control). Looking forward to the enhanced DVR controls that Microsoft has been touting for later this year? Too bad -- none of them will work without the Kinect. The same goes for log-in via face recognition or any other Kinect-dependent nicety.
Do I still have to buy Xbox Live Gold to access most of the console's extra features?
To do any multiplayer gaming, you still have to buy Xbox Live Gold (just as you have to purchase PlayStation Plus to do any multiplayer gaming on the PS4). But on Xbox One and Xbox 360, you'll no longer need a Live Gold subscription to access streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and HBO Go. A Live Gold subscription will also not be needed for some premium services on the Xbox One, such as OneGuide, Internet Explorer, and Skype. That's a big change.
What is still exclusive to Live Gold subscribers?
There will still be some services that are exclusive to Live Gold subscribers, including the "Games with Gold" program, cloud game saves, and Game DVR. To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Games with Gold, Live Gold subscribers will receive an additional free Xbox 360 game in June. Additionally, Microsoft announced that both "Games with Gold" and "Deals with Gold" will come to the Xbox One in June.
What is Games with Gold, and how does it work?
When you subscribe to Sony's PlayStation Plus service, you can add certain games to your digital locker for free (as long as you're a subscriber, they remain in your locker, available to download when you want to play them). Each month, Sony serves up free games for the PS3, PS4, and PlayStation Vita, some of them former AAA titles.
Microsoft's Games with Gold works in much the same way. In its current Xbox 360 incarnation, you're allowed to keep the game "no matter what." Microsoft is currently serving up two free games a month (until the end of the year), one on the 1st of each month and one on the 16th. The program is coming to the Xbox One in June.
What is Deals with Gold, and how does it work?
PlayStation Plus subscribers can buy certain game titles at a discount -- usually a small one -- each month. These games you get to hold onto even if you stop subscribing to PlayStation Plus.
Microsoft's Deals with Gold works in the same way. It's currently available for the Xbox 360 and will also hit the Xbox One in June. Some game discounts are exclusive to Gold subscribers, while others are also open to Xbox Live Silver subscribers (the free tier). For a look at the latest deals and other Xbox One news, you can always head to the Major Nelson blog, run by Larry Hryb, Director of Programming for Xbox Live (his gamertag is "Major Nelson").
How does this all affect current Xbox One and Xbox 360 owners?
If you're a Xbox Live Gold subscriber now, you'll get access to both Games with Gold and Deals with Gold on June 9, just as any new subscriber would. Also, if you're not a Gold subscriber, you'll suddenly have access to all those apps -- Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and so on -- that were behind the Gold wall before. (Of course, any separate subscription fees for each service will still apply.)
What about the PS4 -- does it make a price drop likely for that too?
It's unclear what Sony will do, if anything. But if PS4 sales slow, expect Sony to find a way to make the PS4 look more appealing for the money. But we'd expect a game bundle more than a price drop at this point.
OK, so which of these Xbox Ones should I buy?
Some people love the fact that they can fully control their TV with their Xbox One, whether it's using the Xbox One controller or the voice- and motion-controls via the Kinect peripheral, (it not only has a built-in microphone but a built-in IR blaster for controlling your cable or satellite box). If you're in this camp, stick with the $499 version.
On the other hand, if you're just about the games and apps, and you don't want or need the Xbox One to be the lord of your home-entertainment system, go for the $400 version. You can always buy the Kinect later.