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The Xbox One Is About to Become Even More Windows-Like

Your Xbox One is about to talk back to you, but in a good way — or at least a slightly better one. Let’s clarify, especially for those who bought the Xbox One without Kinect, Microsoft’s optional motion-control sensor that’s also a microphone into which people can bark voice commands to make things happen.

Today’s Xbox One is a language desert, a place where you can issue just a few dozen two- or three-word phrases as shorthand for functions you’d otherwise perform by tapping buttons on a gamepad or traditional remote. We’re talking stuff like turning the Xbox off, signing into the Xbox Live network, launching a game or movie, jiggering the volume and so forth.

Tomorrow’s Xbox One—which is to say literally this week’s Xbox One if you’re in the Xbox Preview program, where the feature is due imminently—will let you do that using Cortana. As in Windows Cortana, the semantic voice recognition feature bundled with Windows 10 and named after the fictional artificial intelligence integral to Microsoft’s Halo video game franchise. Cortana is essentially Microsoft’s answer to Siri for Windows, which means you’ll soon be able to have a quasi-nuanced conversation with the black box sitting by your TV.

Better still, where Xbox One voice control required Kinect, Cortana will work with either Kinect or your garden variety headset. You’ll still need Kinect if you want to ply the Xbox One’s mostly-off-but-listening mode, where you can say “Xbox on” and wake it up. But it sounds like everything else will be headset-ready. This is phenomenal news to those who sacrificed voice control to buy the Xbox One without Kinect to save a pile of money.

How nuanced this iteration of Cortana will be we don’t yet know, and Microsoft makes reference to developing Cortana’s features over time. I read that as not feature parity with the Windows version, perhaps because the Xbox One’s interface is comparably basic, or because of the box’s processing limitations. But if more natural voice control means anything to you, you can’t do it with Sony’s PlayStation 4—or any other console at present.

The update includes other features, like a Facebook friend finder, better Windows 10 integration and some tune-ups for existing features. But they’re all tweaks compared to what’s effectively the arrival of the world’s first console-bound, semantic voice recognition persona.

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