Late News on Cortana Voice Control for XBox One

Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant was added to the XBox One game console this past summer.   It seems to make sense, as Cortana was named after the protagonist in the video game Halo which is an XBox exclusive.   Cortana is usually used with Windows 10, but there are also Apps for iOS and Android.  Now, we'll look at using Cortana on the XBox One.

Although Cortana is new on XBox One,  the previous generation Microsoft game console, the XBox 360 already had voice control.  XBox One had it too, alhtough it is now disabled (but there is a way to re-enable it) with the release of Cortana.   Oddly, Microsoft does not mention that Cortana is available for XBox One at their Cortana information page.  I wonder why?

Previously, with the old voice technology, digital voice was processed locally, meaning that it was not sent to the cloud for processing.  As a result, voice commands were quick.  On top of that, the previous wakeword was "XBox, ...".  This sort of made more sense, because, well, you were on an XBox. 

Cortana promises improved understanding of natural language over the older voice technology.  The new abilities being able to answering information queries (because it uses the cloud).   We also expect there to be special support for what this platform does, which is games and entertainment. 

You need a microphone to use Cortana.  You get one with either a Kinnect sensor or a headset.  Microsoft seems intent on phasing out Kinnect, and unless you already have one you might not want to shell out the extra $100.  I have the inexpensive headset which came with my XBox One.  

There are many options for those who purchase a third party solution, most of which are going to be much better quality then the included headset.   This is the same headset used for chat when playing online multiplayer games.

You can have hands-free operation with a wakeword ("Hey Cortana...").  If you are using the headset, the people you are speaking with will hear your voice commands.    

Enable Cortana

Cortana should already be enabled, but you might want to double check.  Double tap the XBox logo button on the controller.  Choose Settings > All Settings > System > Cortana Settings and turn On.  If this is your first time, you might need to tap the A button and you will be guided through the agreements to enable dictation on the console.  You should then be ready to go.

The Results

Cortana on XBox One works pretty good for controlling the console.  You can see if friends are online, you can start games and Apps.  She is not too good with finding movies or other types of entertainment, in my experience. 

You can ask for weather, sports facts and other types of information.  

Sometimes, when textual output is needed, you'll get the Cortana App to show up snapped to the right side of the screen.  It is odd that Microsoft decided to treat it differently here then on Windows 10, where it opens a window on the left side of the screen.  I sort of understand this, because XBox One already has a system menu popping up on the left hand side of the screen, but so does Windows.

Here are some example commands you can use:

  • "Hey Cortana, go Home"
  • "HeyCortana, start Geometry Wars" (or any Game/App)
  • "Hey Cortana, take a screen shot
  • "Hey Cortana, snap Pandora"
  • "Hey Cortana, What is a movie with Tom Cruise?" (opens movie store)
  • "Hey Cortana, Show me a video with Jack White!"  (opens Internet Explorer w/Search results)
  • "Hey Cortana, Tell me a Dirty Joke
  • "Hey Cortana, Play Music"  (play music from Microsoft Groove Music)
  • "Hey Cortana, Who is Donald Trump" (show Wikipedia entry)
  • "Hey Cortana, Who is Arnold Schwarzenegger?" (show Wikipedia entry)
  • "Hey Cortana, watch TV"  (switch to television input)
  • "Hey Cortana, What is the Weather Like?"  
  • "Hey Cortana, What Time is It?"

For control over the XBox One, it does a pretty good job.  For things like information queries, it was not as useful.  For example, although I got sent to the microsoft Store when I asked about Tom Cruise, the top half of the screen listed several versions of Tomb Raider before any movies.  When I asked for movies with Angelina Jolie, it kept on asking me "Which App?".  

Which brings me to another frustration.  It seems to hold state.  So, when you get into a mode where Cortana is asking for Which App to open, you cannot say "Stop" or anything to get back to what you were really requesting.  

Disabling Cortana

You can actually 'turn-back' your console so that instead of using Cortana it uses the previous "XBox, ..." style commands, which are also processed locally and oftentimes faster.  You use the same menu that we previously used to turn Cortana on,  Double tap the XBox logo button on the controller.  Choose Settings > All Settings > System > Cortana Settings and turn On. but instead of enable, we disable it.  

Summary

It is nice that Microsoft has given it's popular XBox One game console a new voice assistant.  It is wise to match it across the organization, so that everybody is using the same technology.  As improvements occur for Windows 10, we are bound to see those improvements spill over onto the XBox One version.  

Compared to the voice assistants for other entertainment set top boxes, Cortana provides strong control over accessing Apps and games.  It is also nice to have hands-free mode.  Something that really is much more convenient than having to press a button on a remote control.  However, the ability to ask for movies about a favorite actor or get information is sufficiently curtailed.

Cortana on the XBox One is not the most powerful version of Cortana around, but it does add a number of commands that make it easier to use this console. 

 

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