Initial Reaction to Xbox One

Microsoft held their launch event for their next-gen Xbox, dubbed the Xbox One today. I, for One, am very excited!

Most who know me know that I'm not excited much by Microsoft announcements, at least when they pertain to anything PC or tablet related and usually when it's phone-related, as well. But Xbox? That grabs my attention.

While I haven't been able to see any video from the event yet (and simply followed The Verge's liveblog), I've still come away impressed.

Physically, it's actually not much to look at. While it's not terrible, it's not great either. It definitely reminds me of a TiVo. I currently have the Xbox slim, which I think was a huge improvement over the original generation. The One retains some of the visual cues of the Slim albeit with less sexy. I like the two-tone finish but this device doesn't scream "look at me!" As someone who sometimes obsesses over aesthetics, it's a little disappointing that there isn't more "va-va-voom." That being said, this thing looks like a BEAST! This looks like a high-powered device and based on the presentation, it has the internals to back that up.

Microsoft is really trying to take over the living room and they're not hiding it. The One is capable of bringing live TV that's overlays a Microsoft-designed guide over your cable box's GUI. Microsoft has packed a Bluray drive in as well, conclusively showing the end of HD-DVD (not that there was really any doubt.) With an improved ESPN app and new interactive features from the NFL, they're really trying to go after the sports market. I'm not sure they're going to completely crack the code here, but I'm excited to see what happens. Sports have been the biggest thorn in the side of potential cord cutters. The box has an HDMI pass-through that takes the output of your cable/satellite company's box and feeds it into your Xbox. I really like the idea of one set top box that runs my entertainment center. While this eliminates the need for my standalone Bluray player, unfortunately it sounds like I still need to have a cable box. I can't wait until one day that's no longer necessary.

Microsoft also highlighted the role of Kinect and how much it will be used with the One. First, Xbox now comes with Kinect, a big change considering you have to spend around $100 to buy it for the current generation. The new Kinect has 1080p detection, can recognize individual people and even track a user's heartbeat for use in fitness/sports games. Skype will also come in the software for HD group video chats! You can use Kinect to do split screen functions like snapping in live TV while you're doing something else, or pulling in fantasy sports scores while you're playing Madden or watching the NFL or ESPN apps.

Transient

One thing that is slightly bothersome is that Kinect is always on and listening. I'm not sure if it's watching too, but having a device in my living room listening to all of my conversations is a little weird. It's primarily done so that the One can turn on when I say "Xbox power on." But I don't know if I like it constantly listening. Additionally, I've got a setup with a surround sound receiver and other devices and a Harmony remote that I paid good money for. So how is this supposed to integrate with all of that?

We'll find out about games in a few weeks so I won't touch on that. I could write more but ill just wait until we maybe get some more details about it. In any case, I'm pumped. Will I buy one right away? Unlikely, I still feel like there's a lot of good use out of my 360 to be had. Additionally, I had to buy the Slim because my Pro was out of warranty and bit the dust just afterward so the Slim still feels very new to me, even though I've had it for a few years. I'm sure Microsoft will sell a few of these and it looks more compelling than the PS4. I'll get one eventually but not at launch.

REVIEW: Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories"

Since Daft Punk's latest album "Random Access Memories" became available for streaming on iTunes last week, I've been listening to it almost every day. To say I was excited for this album would be an understatement. I've been trying to read any piece I could find on it and watching nearly all of the interviews with the album's collaborators, whom Daft Punk have featured on the album's website.

I've been a longtime DP fan going back to the days of "Discovery," arguably their best work. I've had the pleasure of seeing them live (a surprise, no less) when they helped Phoenix close out a tour at MSG in 2010. I even have a Guy iPhone wallpaper set on my iPhone. I basically went to see and bought Tron: Legacy because of them. There's a lot of love for the robots around these parts.

Transient

So that's why it's hard for me to say that I don't completely love this album. It's a very mixed bag. There are some outstanding tracks on here, to be sure. "Get Lucky" and "Lose Yourself to Dance" are the two standout winners. Others, like, "Give Life Back to Music" and "Doin' It Right" are also enjoyable. These tracks really epitomize what they said they were trying to do in every interview- which is to reimagine something they might have created with computers and synths with a live band. And those tracks do a perfect job of doing that. They're super funky and exactly what I think of when I think of DP and their earlier work.

In their interviews, DP have said that's what they were trying to go for and that's the expectation you have when you know "Get Lucky" is the headlining single and you see them wearing sequins and glittering in their Yves St. Laurent outfits

But outside of these, things fall flat. Everything about this album screams dance- and yet half the tracks are downtempo and bizarre. Of course, not every track can be a hit single (and I doubt you'd find ANY artist who had an album where every track was a hit), but it just doesn't seem like there are enough pure dance hits here.

I've seen people posting in comments sections that "Get Lucky" is going to be a club banger. Really? While I love it, I rarely hear Daft Punk played at clubs. If I have heard them before, it's almost always in a remix, but never on their own.

"Giorgio by Moroder" is essentially some beats laid over an interview with Giorgio Moroder- the exact same interview that's on the RAM website in the Collaborator's series. That's the song? Really? Or "The Game of Love" or "Within" which are extremely downtempo such that you just can't understand how they're on the same album. And "Touch?" What was that?! It sounded like it was straight out of a Broadway show. I mean, I can understand it from some new artist without much experience who is trying to show off his or her versatility. But Daft Punk? The group whose every move is carefully calculated? It just doesn't seem right. Every song on this album could have been epic. I mean, it's not like they didn't have enough time. Sometimes I feel like they think they can release anything because they've become so big.

It seems like the entire world has been waiting for this release and proclaiming it to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. While I like it, I just don't think it lives up to expectations. I think many people out there like the idea of liking Daft Punk, rather than actually liking them. And DP themselves have played no small part in building up the hype for this album. It's been almost textbook really:

  1. Wait years and years before releasing anything, building up massive anticipation.
  2. Announce a who's-who of collaborating artists.
  3. Start leaking bits and pieces of the album
  4. ?
  5. Release and profit.

So overall, it's an OK album and some of the tracks are great, but I feel a bit let down. Guys, just do more of what works, like "Get Lucky" and "Lose Yourself to Dance." While this is my own opinion, I'm willing to bet that that's what most everyone else wants. It's what works. It feels like they were really trying to take a gamble here for the sake of taking a gamble and I'm not sure it has paid off. Is it the hottest thing out right now? Yes. Are people losing their freaking minds over it? Yes. But when compared to the work they're capable of and what they built this up to be, does it really measure up? I don't think so.

You can blame it on the media or posts like this that have talked it up and in some sense you'd be right- there were thousands of five-star reviews on iTunes before the album was even released. I certainly did my part by posting my excitement on Facebook and Twitter. But this was also a highly calculated media blitz by Thomas and Guy, themselves. I saw posters all over NYC, they dropped not one, but two SNL commercials, and they've given more interviews than they usually give, so you can't say it's just everyone else who has been hyping this album up.

Will I continue to love Daft Punk? Of course. But for the first time, the robots seem Human After All.