Earlier this week, on stage in a tent on Microsoft’s Washington HQ campus constructed for the occasion Microsoft games boss Don Mattrick announced what we’ve all been waiting for for the best part of a decade: the next Xbox.
Simply dubbed the Xbox One, the third generation Microsoft games console is a high-powered machine with a new controller and a new Kinect that’s part and parcel of it, not some optional add-on as the original motion sensor camera was.
“In my opinion, we have designed an unrivalled device...it’s going to be the best in gaming, the best in entertainment,” Mattrick told the hundreds of journalists present as well as the hundreds of thousands of gamers tuning into the livestream.
It’s a gaming Behemoth alright, with some big name titles already lined up (FIFA, Assassin’s Creed, Forza 5 and more), high-end PC-like innards and the potential to play games in 4K resolution - four times the full HD we’re currently capped at.
That was just one aspect of Microsoft’s presentation however: Mattick and his fellow execs spent much of the conference focusing on how the Xbox will become the central command for all your entertainment, from handling Blu-rays to overlaying your TV with live, interactive data, and a big part of that - you guessed it - is watching sports. Make no mistake, the Xbox might not just change the way we watch sports forever, but how we play them too.
You’re the Pundit
If you thought sports analysis on TV was already hi-tech, with player cams, on-screen breakdowns and Hawk-Eye, wait until you see what the Xbox One can do, courtesy of Xbox Live and Microsoft’s cloud computing powers:
As a game plays out, it can update with realtime scores, stats and league standings all snapped into the sidebar on the screen.
“Now...when my player scores you know like Lebron [James], I automatically get an alert that just just pops up on the TV and I can say ‘Xbox, show fantasy’ - and now I get my fantasy [league] players right alongside...in addition, I can go ahead and check out league standings,” Microsoft interactive entertainment boss Yusuf Mehdi explained on stage.
Just think: in a relegation or promotion battle where every point or goal difference counts, you could see minute by minute how things are going to play out.
The Xbox One has the potential to put you in charge of what replays you watch, and that doesn’t just need to be on your TV either: because it works with Microsoft’s SmartGlass technology for phones, tablets and laptops, you can choose what you watch from the sofa, no gamepad required.
It’ll even serve up featured highlights, so you can see replays when you’re out and about or when you get home, or watch them on your phone while the game continues on the big screen so you don’t miss a thing. Understandably, Mehdi’s predicting big things for the technology.
“Can you imagine what we could do with the Super Bowl? Or the Golden Globes, or even with political debates, with this ability to have interactive TV?”
Changing Sports Too
The Xbox One might not just change sports viewing - it could very easily changer how a game is played or evolved, too.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, the first league to announce a partnership with Microsoft on Xbox One broadcasts, think it could do just that.
“Now fans are going to be able to experience football in a way they’ve never experienced it before, because of the Xbox and Microsoft’s technology. But also I think [it’s] going to change the game of football in a way that is just going to be so dramatic, and help us really make the game carry to the next century,” he said in a video statement at the event.
It’s not hard to see the effect it could have on sports themselves. With on-demand replays on your tablet or computer, it could push forward the call for video replays and goal line technology in football; with player by player analysis cheaper and easier than ever, stats fans, coaches and agents could all discover new insights and strategies. Think Moneyball, but on your sofa, with your phone, not a spreadsheet.
Kick off in the UK?
Of course, these partnerships are all good and well for US sports fans, but what about us Brits? While Microsoft has yet to confirm anything, it seems likely that the company will work to cater for global fans, not just American gamers.
In the past two years, it’s gone to great efforts to bring heaps of local video services to Xbox Live in countries all around the world, so when something as universal as the Premier League - broadcast in 212 countries to billions of fans around the world - is involved, it’d be hard to imagine Microsoft overlooking it.
Sky has a long running partnership with Microsoft too - it was one of the first on-demand services to launch on the Xbox 360 in the UK - and it’s not exactly denying it has anything in the works.
"We enjoy a long track-record of innovating with Microsoft on the Xbox platform and will explore any future opportunities offered by Xbox One,” a Sky spokesperson said this week when pressed on future plans on the new console.
Why stop there either? If Microsoft opens the Xbox One up to broadcasters, giving them the APIs (application programming interfaces - essentially the tools to plug in their own app on top of Microsoft’s services), it wouldn’t just be the biggest sports and channels that can use its powers. Every sport could join in.
Imagine watching, say, the X Games, being able to watch replays and wind back stunts on your phone to see just how an athlete pulled it off, or have the name of trick pop up on the side of the screen.
It’s a tantalising prospect, and one that really could make the Xbox One the central hub of any living room just a few years from now - and hey, it plays games too. Win win.