Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) showed off a new version of its Xbox game console along with a roster of new games at a media event Monday during the annual E3 convention in Los Angeles.
Xbox head Phil Spencer kicked off the event by noting the tragedy in Orlando, telling the crowd that "the gaming community mourns with you." It was a classy move that led into a now-typical over-the-top video that showed off the new Xbox One S, a slimmer version of the console.
"We welcome the smallest Xbox device yet to the Xbox family starting this August," he told the audience and the people watching the live stream. The new console costs $299 -- the same as the current entry-level model.
The media event, while impressive, was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that it came on the same day news broke that Microsoft planns to buy LinkedIn for over $26 billion. Still, even though that move marks the company's biggest purchase ever, it could not entirely steal the thunder of the company's over-the-top Xbox event.
A closer look at Xbox One S
Xbox One S uses the same hardware as the original Xbox, but the new "robot white" console is 40% slimmer. It also has a built-in power supply, and it can be placed horizontally or vertically with an optional stand, while the original version had to be used horizontally. In a blog post from Xbox General Manager Matt Lapsen that went live during the media event, the company also noted that the Xbox One S offers more than just a trimmer design.
"We also worked hard to add some exciting new features for video and gameplay," he wrote. "You'll now be able to watch Blu-ray movies and stream video in stunning 4K Ultra HD video...Xbox One S also offers High Dynamic Range (HDR) support for video and gaming, so you can experience richer, more luminous colors in games like Gears of War 4 and Scalebound. With a higher contrast ratio between lights and darks."
The company also moved one of the device's three USB ports and the pairing button to the front of the console "for increased accessibility." In addition, it removed the Xbox Kinect port, making it so anyone wishing to use the motion controller will now need to use a USB adapter (which the company is offering free to anyone who currently owns a Kinect). In addition, the device has an "IR Blaster," which ties in with the available media remote, which makes controlling television and movies easier on the device.
In addition to the $299 500GB version, Xbox One S is also being offered in a $349 1TB versions as well as a limited-quantity $399 2TB "launch" edition. The new console will be fully backward-compatible with the earlier versions of Xbox One.
Xbox Live is making changes, too
Xbox Live, which works with Xbox consoles as well as Windows 10 devices, will have a number of new features starting with the fact that it's coming to Android and iOS devices. Microsoft is also adding the ability to listen to background music as well as language region independence, which lets gamers choose any supported language regardless of their location, and Cortana, the company's voice assistant.
In addition, the company will be offering new tools allowing Live users to create clubs -- groups of people that play together -- as well as a new "Arena" which allows for tournaments. There will also be a "Looking for Group" feature that allows users to find like-minded players to find each other in order to play together.
The Arena will also allow publishers to host their own tournaments and Microsoft announced that Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) would be bringing its popular sports titles to the platform. The only title specifically mentioned was EA's FIFA soccer, and no specific release date was named. In theory, the new gameplay would work well for EA titles including Madden football and its UFC mixed martial arts games.
Xbox has another console on the way
In addition to announcing the Xbox One S, Microsoft also showed a video about the next generation of the gaming system. That system will offer true 4K gaming, 60 hertz rendering, uncompressed pixels, and increased support for virtual reality.
The device will have eight CPU cores and six teraflops of GPU power. Dubbed "Project Scorpio," the console will be released "next year," and Spencer called it the "most powerful console ever built."
Spencer also noted that the new device will be backward-compatible with all other Xbox One models. "Nobody will be left behind," he said.
It was not just about the consoles
In addition to the Xbox console changes, Microsoft also brought out a number of new games to show off along with new features for some existing titles:
Gears of War 4: The sequel to the popular title is one of the first offering the new Xbox Anywhere program, which allows consumers to buy it for Xbox and get the Windows 10 version for free. The game also contains a new "hordes" mode along with new characters who battle in a new environment with improved weather backgrounds which impact gameplay. The game, from Microsoft Studios, is an Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive. The game comes out Oct. 11.
Killer Instinct: The fighting game also offers cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10. At E3, the company announced that it would be adding Gears of War's General Raam to the game exclusively on Xbox and Windows 10.
Forza Horizon 3: The popular racing series launches a new version set in Australia offering an open world taking advantage of the various types of terrain in the country. The game also offers four-person synchronized play, a first for the series.The game will be released Sept. 27.
Minecraft: in addition to showing off cross-platform play across iOS, Android, and Windows 10, Microsoft also showed off an number of new add-ons for the game which will begin releasing in the late fall.
Other titles introduced included the latest chapter in the Final Fantasy series, Tom Clancy's The Division Underground, Gwent, Tekken 7, State of Decay 2, Halo War 2, and Battlefield 1.
What does this mean?
Essentially the slimmer console does not mean very much. It's cooler-looking than the previous box model, but it's hard to imagine that Microsoft was losing sales because of that. Basically this is just a refresh designed to keep the console fresh in the absence of a major advance. The Xbox Live features are more important as they could increase the ability for people to connect with friends on Microsoft's platform. That could lead to more in-game purchases, and even push people to buy an Xbox One if they got hooked on a game via Windows 10, or even an iOS or Android device.