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Microsoft announces ‘Xbox One’, due out worldwide later this year

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Microsoft's Don Mattrick showing off the Xbox One (Credit: Microsoft)

The next-gen console war is on.

Putting an end to weeks months years of rumor and speculation, Microsoft formally pulled the wraps off its Xbox 360 successor during a media gala at its Redmond HQ on Wednesday. It’s called the Xbox One, and according to the company, it’s an “all-in-one home entertainment system” aimed squarely at taking over your living room. No specific release date or price was announced, though it will be available worldwide later this year.

"What if a single device could provide all your entertainment, what if it could turn on your TV and talk to all the devices in your living room?," said Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s president of interactive entertainment.

[Related: Sony unveils PlayStation 4]

Headlining the new system’s expansive feature set is its ability to support live television. A redesigned Kinect camera -- one comes packed with every console -- lets users control their television with verbal and gesture commands, including the ability to start up the system simply by saying ‘Xbox On.’ A built-in guide will display local TV listings and can also be navigated with voice commands.

Consumers will be able to switch instantly between games, TV, music, movies and other kinds of entertainment options, while a PC-Like ‘Snap Mode’ will let users run multiple programs alongside one another. A redesigned traditional game controller was also demonstrated.

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Xbox One console, controller and sensor (Credit: Microsoft)

[Related: See more images of the Xbox One]

The system boasts plenty of potent tech under the hood, including an 8-core CPU, 8GB of system memory, and a 500GB hard drive. That hard drive will also function as a game DVR to save and upload game video and content, though it’s unclear if it will also be used to record television.

Confirming countless rumors, the system will go head to head with Sony by packing a Blu-ray drive. According to Wired, the Xbox One will also feature pass-through HDMI, which allows users to hook up a cable box or satellite directly to the system.

Unfortunately, the new system architecture is bad news for Xbox 360 owners. The Xbox One will NOT be backwards compatible with the current console, Microsoft's Marc Whitten told The Verge.

The company also announced plans to beef up its industry-leading Xbox Live online service, increasing the number of servers from the Xbox 360’s 15,000 to over 300,000 for Xbox One. User content will, unsurprisingly, be stored in the cloud.

Of course, the system will also play video games. Microsoft announced a handful of titles, including four EA titles (‘FIFA 14,’ ‘Madden 25’, ‘NBA Live’ and ‘UFC’), ‘Forza’ 5’, a new franchise called ‘Quantum Break’ and Activision’s blockbuster-to-be, ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’. An impressive 15 exclusive games are planned for the system’s first year, 8 of which will be brand new franchises.

[Related: First screenshots of 'Call of Duty: Ghosts']

And while a new ‘Halo’ video game has yet to be revealed, the company did announce a live-action Halo television series, to be executive produced by none other than Steven Spielberg.

Microsoft’s new machine will go head to head with Sony’s recently announced PlayStation 4 later this year -- and the game industry could use the excitement.

The game industry has undergone a massive transformation since the 2005 launch of the Xbox 360. The rise of more affordable gaming options, particularly in the mobile space, has publishers scrambling. Gamers have been less and less willing to fork over $60 per game, as evidenced by steady declines in retail software sales. Nintendo’s Wii U, launched in November of last year, has thus far failed to catch on with gamers in North America. Microsoft and Sony are under a great deal of pressure to convince consumers that investing in dedicated gaming consoles is still a worthwhile spend.

Many gaming insiders believe there’s still plenty of life left in the home console market, however.

“I believe that console gaming is going to explode on the scene of consumer electronics with this next generation of consoles,” former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello wrote in a lengthy screed on Kotaku.

“We think that investor confidence is well-placed, and expect the next-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony to impress and delight consumers,” wrote Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities in a client note last Friday.

Though Nintendo’s Wii shot out of the gate to take a commanding sales lead in the last console generation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 proved to have far more staying power. It’s ruled consoles sales charts for the past two years, giving the company pole position in the next-gen console war.

Both Microsoft and Sony will have a chance to prove their cases in just a few weeks during the game industry’s annual E3 trade show in Los Angeles.

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