Five unanswered questions about the Xbox One

Just like the PlayStation 4 and Wii U, our first look at the new Xbox leaves us with more questions than answers.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read

Watch this: The all-new Xbox One

With the pre-E3 announcement of Microsoft's next living room video game console, the parlor game of speculation about all the missing details can begin. As with the Nintendo Wii U and Sony PlayStation 4before it, the new Xbox's first foray into the public was a carefully choreographed tease, with just enough information to get industry watchers and game fans on the hook for the next step in the long rollout plan.

The following step will no doubt be an expanded preview at the annual E3 video game trade show in June, although even then, important price and availability details may be left out. For now, we know that the new system -- Microsoft's third Xbox console -- will be named Xbox One. It will, like the Xbox 360, be firmly rooted in games, but also will have a huge multimedia and family entertainment footprint, with streaming services, apps, and a bundled-in version of the Xbox Kinect motion-control camera.

For full details on what we already know about the Xbox One, read our initial impressions here. The following are the most important things we still don't know.

How much will the new console cost, and how many versions will there be?
So much has changed since the last round of living-room game consoles were released in the mid-2000s. Fully featured touch-screen laptops are available for less than $600, and game-playing Android tablets are under $200. Can a standalone game console, no matter what extra features it offers, entice gamers at $499 or above?

The current business model seems to be to have a basic model, with less storage space and fewer features, and then a "premium" console, for at least $100 more. But, the less expensive versions, especially in the case of Nintendo's Wii U, seem to be there just to hit a set price, and the premium version is a much better deal on paper.

The final price and bundle specs for the Xbox One may come at E3 2013, or may come at some point after that, but $399/$499 seems to be a smart bet.

When and where will the Xbox One be released?
We don't have a final release date yet -- that may come at E3 2013 in June -- but some preorder information bouncing around online points to November 30, 2013.

In a welcome change from past console releases, we're not seeing a teaser glimpse of new hardware, then told to come back in 12 to 18 months for the final product. Hardware development cycles are faster than ever, and with consumers expecting new products to be available shortly after being announced (if not the same day), you can't get away with telling people to wait for the 2014 holiday season for the next Xbox or PlayStation.

How big a part will streaming games play versus retail discs?
Unlike Sony, Microsoft made no mention of the future of streaming games, either as downloads, or more importantly, as directly streamed experiences (as with OnLive or Gaikai, the latter now owned by Sony).

But, the conventional wisdom says that the old model of putting a $60 plastic disc in a box and driving it to a store to sit on a shelf is on the wane, and with its interest in streaming video and entertainment, one would hope that Microsoft is planning for the future.

Will nearly every online experience required a paid subscription to the Xbox Live service?
The current Xbox Live requires a paid $59.99/year subscription for access to many of its online services, including online multiplayer games. You also need to be a paid member to use other services you already pay separately for, such as Netflix and HBO Go. There's no reason to think the new Xbox Live will be any different, including the impressive-looking interactive sports features, but exactly which features and functions are behind the paywall is still unclear.

Which cable/satellite providers will enable live TV viewing on Xbox One?
The example used at the Xbox One press conference was Comcast, and the current Xbox Live service has live viewing apps from Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and others. To fully compete as essentially a cable box replacement, and your main device for interacting with your TV, a large majority of Xbox One owners will need to be able to access their subscription cable services from within the Xbox One environment.

Bonus questions:

Will there be any way to play my old games?
While not mentioned during the Xbox press conference, we're now told that the new Xbox One hardware will not be backward compatible with Xbox 360 game discs, because it uses a different (AMD x86-based) architecture (Sony faces a similar problem with the PS4). But, will there be some workaround for existing games? Possible options include case-by-case software emulation for older games, or new Xbox One versions offered as digital downloads (although importing your saves would be yet another technological hurdle).

How often does the Xbox One need to connect to the Internet?
After months of rumors about the next-gen Xbox requiring an always-on Internet connection, that appears to not be the case. But, it's unclear if the system needs to "check in" online regularly, even to play single-player games. Rather unhelpfully, an official Microsoft FAQ says, "It does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet." And there are conflicting reports right now of whether that means a once-per-day log-in or something else entirely. Whatever the answer is, it's a safe bet to say that Microsoft would prefer to be in constant communication with gamers.

Will used games work on the Xbox One?
It's no secret that every major video game company would like used games to go away, largely because they don't get a cut of any of those resale dollars. The Xbox One gives Microsoft a chance to reboot the idea of how game sales work and the company clearly has big plans to limit the resale and trading of games, but isn't giving up any details yet, saying only: "We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We'll have more details to share later."

With the confirmed requirement that some part of a disc-based game's data be installed on the Xbox's hard drive, that allows Microsoft to include some kind of digital signature locking a specific game to a specific user account, and possibly collecting a payment of some kind to transfer ownership of that digital content. It all sounds very Big Brother-ish to be sure, but honestly, that's no different from how a PC service such as Steam operates today.

See our full Xbox coverage here. We'll be updating this page with new questions, and any answers we find, so check back, and add your must-answer questions in the comments section below.