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Microsoft is dumping the voice interface that it uses for the Xbox One in favor the Cortana assistant it already uses on PC and smartphones. And after hating the way it works at first, I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Cortana is out now on Xbox One as part of the preview program that enables console owners to test out new features before they roll out to everyone. The new voice-control program will hit every Xbox One this summer. I tested it out and have found that it has quite a few annoying quirks, but it may also still end up as a significant improvement over the previous Kinect voice interface that gave headaches to so many people.

I’ve used Kinect to control Xbox One with my voice just about every day since I first got the console. Most of the time, that manifests as “Xbox, on” or “Xbox, mute.” I have come to really appreciate that since I run all of my video media through my television. That includes cable TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, my digital film collection on a Plex server, and YouTube. With Kinect and voice controls, I know that “Xbox, pause” will always work. I don’t need to fumble with a controller or remote — even if I’m in the kitchen.

When Microsoft updated my Xbox One to start using the “Hey, Cortana” command, my first reaction was dread. I thought this was the beginning of the end for consistent voice commands in my home. I broke the news to my wife, and her take was, “I hate it.”

But, y’know what? I think that Cortana is an improvement when it comes to getting what I want when I talk to my Xbox One.

When I first used Cortana on Xbox One, my biggest fears were confirmed. I said something like, “Hey Cortana, go to Netflix,” and it gave me a Bing Maps route to Netflix’s headquarters. But since then, Microsoft has done some tuning in the background, and everything is working a lot better.

I’m most impressed at what seems like improved accuracy and improved understanding of natural language. I only ever used a few commands with the previous Xbox One voice controls because I only knew a few that would work most of the time. Now, I’m finding myself talking to Cortana a lot more because she understands me far more often.

The biggest example of Cortana’s bigger brain when it comes to speech is in understanding the name of games. Previously, to open something like Star Wars: Battlefront, you’d have to say “Xbox, go to Star Wars: Battlefront” exactly. Now, I can say, “Hey Cortana, open Star Wars.” That’s a huge leap forward — especially when you want to go to an app you use infrequently that might have a name you don’t remember. I can just say, “Go to Hulu” instead of “Go to Hulu Plus,” and that’s going to help keep a few of the hairs on my head from going gray for at least another few years.

As a result of this, I’m finding Cortana more useful than standard Kinect voice controls ever were, and I’ll keep using my Xbox One as my primary media device.


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