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Xbox One launches amid hoopla, hardware jitters

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Scenes from a launch event at a Microsoft store (Credit: Getty Images)

The last of the big three next-gen consoles is here.

Xbox One hit the streets last night with special midnight-launch events in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as a massive event at London’s Leicester Square. Videogame fans camped out, stood in line, and in some cases dressed up as game characters as the long-awaited console finally made its way into users’ hands.

Industry watchers are keeping their eyes peeled for the first signs of difficulty in the console’s rollout. There’s much at stake: Microsoft and Sony (whose rival console, PlayStation 4, released a week ago to massive sales) have been locked in mortal combat over dominance of the new generation, ever since the unveiling of both consoles at the E3 gaming convention last June.

[ Related: Gallery of Xbox One launch games ]

The last time Microsoft released a console, it was plagued by hardware problems. The Xbox 360’s dreaded ‘Red Ring of Death’ crippled innumerable systems, and it’s been estimated that the total failure rate for the 2005 console was as high as 54%.

Given that dubious track record, and the high stakes in the battle with Sony, Microsoft execs are surely eager to see a smoother rollout for the Xbox One. So far, it looks like their wishes are being answered – with a few notable caveats.

A number of day-one users are reporting errors with the system’s disc drive – either an inability to read discs, and/or a terrifying grinding noise audible upon disc insertion.

Also, a global outage Thursday afternoon of the website stoked fears that the console’s online functionality (including the multiplayer Xbox Live service) could be down on launch day. These fears don’t seem to be completely allayed: around 11:30 PST the official Xbox support site posted a Service Alert listing "Social and Gaming" as "unavailable," but as we write this, it's been changed back to "up and running."

Other complaints are more subtle, such as reports that the Kinect voice recognition software is buggy and unreliable. This was already a known issue before launch, mentioned in many system reviews, including our own.

At this point, it’s too early to determine a definite trend in either hardware or software outages on Xbox One. The most spectacular hardware failures (like that grinding disc drive) seem to be limited to anecdotal reports from a small percentage of users. Site outages are potentially more large scale, and more troubling. We’ll keep you posted as more information rolls in.

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of tweets from those who have acquired an Xbox One:

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