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The Xbox One is back -- without a Kinect, and for $100 USD cheaper.
That, in a nutshell, is the pitch for the new $400 (£399 in the UK) Xbox One, which goes on sale on June 9. The new price matches that of its archrival, the Sony PlayStation 4 .
It's a huge reversal for Microsoft, which had previously talked up the $500 (Â£399 UK price) of the Xbox One with the bundled Kinect 2.0 to be the undisputed ruler of the living room, combining home theater control with compelling interactive entertainment. Of course, customers will still have the option to purchase the Kinect/Xbox One bundle for $500. Microsoft has said Kinect will also be sold as a separate accessory later this year, but we don't have any definitive pricing on that.
The other big change to the Xbox platform, also effective June 9, is that Xbox Live Gold is no longer required to use basic media apps (like Netflix, Watch ESPN, Hulu Plus, and the like). That means you only need the Gold plan (about $60 per year) if you're interested in online multiplayer gaming and Xbox's subscription game plan. This, again, brings the Xbox world (including 360 owners) more in line with Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription plan.
In other words, the Xbox One is now more affordable than ever before. But is it a good enough deal to finally take the next-gen plunge -- especially versus the still tantalizing PS4? I examine those very questions below. But if you're interested in a deeper dive of the Xbox One platform, check out our original review of the $500 first . (We'll update both soon after the E3 show in mid-June.)
Let's start things off simply. A $400 Xbox One is obviously more competitive than a $500 one. Now that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can both be had for the same amount of cash, it puts pressure on the lists of exclusive software and out-of-the-box functionality for each system.
Add in the removal of the onerous "Xbox Live tax," and it's safe to say that Microsoft has done a solid job of removing our two biggest complaints about the system.
Fans of Xbox franchises like Halo, Fable, Forza, and of upcoming titles like Sunset Overdrive and Quantum Break no longer need a $500 investment to secure the right to play those titles.
Microsoft has also upped its Games with Gold program (which requires Xbox Live Gold) that offers a limited amount of free games on both Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It's a noble effort, though it still doesn't match PlayStation Plus' similar program, which offers a much larger library of free games.
Then there's the exclusive non-gaming content worth mentioning. Microsoft has made content creation deals with production companies that will bring reality shows, comedies, and other programming to Xbox -- most notably a Steven Spielberg-produced Halo TV series.
Independent gaming is another uphill battle for Xbox, but with the introduction of the ID@Xbox publishing program, Microsoft has declared its support for the indie scene, but whether or not it fleshes it out is still unknown.
As much as I ripped the Kinect for not working some of the time, there's still an interesting amount of technology that has potential. The problem for Kinect is that there isn't a killer app that needs to be played or experienced. The only exclusives for Kinect are fitness apps or titles like Kinect Sports Rivals (which isn't very good).
Then, of course, is living room control, which has a breadth of limitations and annoyances, all of which I outline in the $500 review . You can buy an Xbox One Media Remote that smooths things out a bit, but it's still an incomplete package.
Like I stated in my Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reviews, the new generation console war is an evolving battle that changes every day. Just look at the changes the Xbox One has gone through in just six short months.
When you cut out the Kinect, things really boil down to console exclusives, independent games, and what each company promises the future will bring.
For example, at the moment Xbox doesn't have a clear cut plan for backward compatibility, or a least nothing like PlayStation Now, Sony's streaming gaming service coming this summer.
When it comes to cloud computing, Microsoft has help from over 300,000 servers worldwide, while Sony doesn't mention the technology much.
One thing's for sure, you can't deny the fact that most multiplayer games appear to perform better and run in larger resolutions on the PlayStation 4. Ironically enough, though, Xbox One developers will have access to 10 percent more of the console's GPU once an update hits the software development kit this summer. This reason for the bump in power? Not having Kinect in the equation.