Xbox One design: From bulky and rectangular to super sleek and back again

When Sony announced the PlayStation 4, the company made waves by declining to show the physical unit itself. Logically, it seemed like no one should care that much — it would probably be black, roughly box-shaped, and contain a fan or three — but there was global outrage among gamers. People wanted to put on their industrial designer hats and talk about the console they would inevitably be spending their money on in a few short months.

Gamer gripes aside, no one buys a console for design. And yet Xbox design lead Carl Ledbetter said in a recent official blog post, that the Xbox brand has always had something to say with its physicality, far more-so than Sony’s big black box.

The original Xbox (the console formerly known as the Xbox 1) was a chunky green-emblazoned monster that emphasized a distinctly North American aesthetic. It featured an annoying plastic nubbin on top that did an admirable job of toppling any equipment you might have presumptuously tried to stack atop it. The Xbox 360 took this design philosophy even further, adopting the infamous concave shape of an “inhale.” Again, the box was designed to be difficult to incorporate into any sane stack of AV machinery — the 360′s only saving grace in this respect was that the PlayStation 3 was even more annoyingly sloped on top.

The new controller features minor but important upgrades, particularly to the much-maligned D-Pad.

The new Xbox controller

Since the concept of the Xbox One is far wider-reaching than the 360′s, it makes sense that Microsoft would finally design an Xbox that plays nicely with the rest of your home entertainment setup. This is supposed to be the center of your digital world, from watching television to browsing the web to buying and playing games. This goal is evident in every facet of the Xbox One’s construction. Microsoft has spoken about the new design language that’s led them to a “consistent, efficient, and simple form.” Aswe learned last month, this basically translates to rectangle.

The edges of the new Xbox feature a fairly extreme bezel, probably so it can call out the look of a home theater hub without actually being mistaken for one. The front of the unit is divided equally between a matte and gloss finish, a decision that looks distinctive and actually quite pleasing. The top features a similar design, though mirrored, and a slatted vent in place of a solid matte finish. This decision was supposedly to remind gamers of the tiles found in Windows 8 and its mobile counterpart.

Actually, the words “matte” and “gloss” are a bit too conventional for the Xbox One, which incorporates a new liquid black, supposedly the “blackest black creatable.” This was evidently in response to all the gamers who could not focus on Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 with an off-white console right there. Now Microsoft’s console will melt into the background, allowing your flitting mosquito brain to consume its media in peace.

Though it hasn't been officially revealed, the XBox One will feature a power "brick" like that of the 360.

Xbox One will feature a power brick like the 360.

By far the most relevant design features of the XBox One lie outside of the core box itself: the new Kinect and the new controller. Both feature the same liquid black finish as the console itself, and will benefit from it far more. The buttons on the controller really do seem to stand out brilliantly, and Kinect is impressively free of visual noise in the promotional shots.

Microsoft’s new controller is wisely kept quite similar to the 360′s beloved Controller S, with very minor adjustments to shape and button placement. The thumbsticks have a new convex shape, which is sure to provoke all sorts of unwarranted emotion from gamers, but seem otherwise unchanged. The most necessary change is an all-new D-pad, presumably one that works this time, and Microsoft has even contracted a digital barista to give each of the face buttons a “triple shot” of colored resin.

All joking aside, this is clearly the product of an extreme amount of love and attention, even if some of it does seem frivolous. It’s a slick looking box, and if the enthusiasm of the design team is any measure, the Xbox One will be a seriously polished piece of hardware — in every possible sense of the term.

The most important thing? It’s flat on top. The ball’s in your court now, Sony; I dare you to make me balance boxes ever again!

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