In 2013, the original Xbox One was bundled with the futuristic voice-assisted Kinect camera, which allowed you to control your TV via the console's IR blaster while incorporating voice navigation across the entire OS. The bungled bundling inflated the console's retail price, however, leading Microsoft to eventually drop Kinect from the package, and later, from development altogether.
One of the most frustrating things about the death of Kinect was the loss of voice commands for those who upgraded to an unsupported Xbox One S or Xbox One X and weren't fast enough to snap up the now-discontinued Kinect USB adapter. Thankfully, we're getting some of that functionality back, starting today.
Xbox, Alexa, Cortana and you
As we exclusively revealed, Amazon Alexa and Cortana devices, such as the Amazon Echo and the Harman/Kardon Invoke, will now be able to receive and send voice commands to your Xbox One console. Although it'll only be available for a subset of Xbox Insiders in the U.S. for the time being, it should roll out more broadly as we head towards the next major OS release, or "Redstone 5," this fall.
Xbox integration with Alexa and Cortana is simply a skill you can activate on either of those platforms. Once you have signed in and set it up via your Amazon account, it automagically connects to your Xbox console over the internet. While it probably won't be as speedy as the 2013's native Kinect voice commands, it will at least be supported and give users a wider range of options for interacting with their consoles. And you won't need a pricey Alexa or Cortana speaker to get this working; you'll be able to use it via the associated mobile phone apps on Android and iOS, or a Windows 10 PC. It should even work on Windows 10 Mobile.
The new skills actually have a few tricks that even Kinect didn't have, since they don't require the Xbox to actually be turned on to work. Standard things like adjusting volume, launching apps, taking screenshots and clips, and starting Mixer broadcasts, will all function as you would expect. However, moving beyond even Kinect's capabilities, you'll be able to say "Cortana, start Rocket League," and your speaker will boot up your console, sign in, and launch the game from a powered-off state. For some commands, it seems that you'll have to say "Alexa, tell Xbox to" as the initial command, to avoid overlapping commands like "turn up the volume."
How can you get it?
The features will remain in beta so Microsoft can work out the kinks and bugs, but if you're an Xbox Insider and you want to get started, here's how. Microsoft says it will roll out gradually for Insiders over time, likely starting with the Alpha ring.
Xbox voice support for Cortana
Just follow these steps:
- Head over to here to activate the new Cortana Xbox skill for your Microsoft account.
- Now, you should be able to begin issuing commands to any Cortana device that shares the same Microsoft account.
- Say "Hey Cortana, ask Xbox what can I say?" for suggested commands.
Xbox voice support for Alexa
Just follow these steps:
- Head over to here to activate the new Alexa Xbox skill for your Amazon and Microsoft account.
- Alexa should then attempt to discover your Xbox, follow the instructions on the skill's page to get set up.
- Say "Alexa, ask Xbox what can I say?" for suggested commands.
A long time coming
Why it has taken this long to bring this functionality back to Xbox is bewildering, but at least it's here. Cortana support for Xbox was announced a couple of years back, but it finally looks like Microsoft is actually capitalizing on making the feature useful, while enlisting the help of Amazon to bring voice commands to devices you may already own. Our previous information seemed to indicate Google Assistant support was on the way too, but for whatever reason, it hasn't made it into this release. For Google Assistant fans, a Microsoft spokesperson responded to let us know that the company is always evaluating additional features, and will listen to user feedback.
You can grab an Alexa-powered Echo Dot for as little as $49 on Amazon, and the pricier, but more powerful Harman Kardon Invoke clocks in at around $100 via the Microsoft Store. If you're a Sonos fan, the Alexa-powered $200 Sonos One will also work and is a great option.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!