Hands-on with Microsoft's new digital assistants feature on Xbox One

Xbox One
Xbox One (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft is letting gamers use their Alexa or Cortana enabled devices with the Xbox One, taking advantage of all the old Kinect-based voice commands that used to use before Kinect was shoved to the side. Now, you can use them again, all thanks to a new skill Microsoft is releasing for Cortana and Alexa.

Related: Best Alexa and Cortana voice speakers for Xbox One

We've gone hands on with the new feature, which is currently in testing with Xbox Insiders. From our initial impressions, it works rather well. Although, it is somewhat slower than if you were using the commands natively on the Xbox One console with Kinect back in the day.

How the voice commands work through the digital assistants feature is the command is sent up the cloud and back down to your Xbox, acting as a passthrough rather than sending the command directly to the Xbox using a mic or Kinect. This is why it's a bit slower, but all the commands you could use before still work.

There is one additional step in saying voice commands now however. Instead of just saying "Hey Cortana, launch Halo: The Master Chief Collection," you now have to say "Hey Cortana (or Alexa), tell Xbox to launch Halo: The Master Chief Collection." It's an additional step, which is rather annoying. The trade-off is that you can now launch a game even when your console is an off state, since the Xbox doesn't need to be switched on to receive commands.

Overall, this early implemtation of the new digital assistants feature is pretty cool. I wish it was faster, and I also wish it'd work 100 percent of the time. I often find it'll forget that I've already setup the feature, and ask me to set it up again. Re-asking the command usually works though. Of course, it's still in beta, so when it launches to the public fully, hopefully, it'll have a bit more polish behind it.

What do you think of this new functionality? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Interesting, could be faster though. Guess it'd be with time.
  • Your article seems to suggest that Xbox commands ceased to exist some time in the past when Kinect stopped being sold, this is rubbish as I still use them (With Kinect) rather than using Cortana as I don't like saying "Hey Cortana" and having my Xbox One X Surface Pro 4 and 950XL all answering.
  • Meh, I'll keep using Cortana.
  • She really wants to Party with Jez LOL!!
  • I asked to turn off Xbox and it said I can do that...then proceeded to shut down my PC.
  • Key words "Tell Xbox"
    If you don't say them before the command, Cortana will try to use the command on the PC/Device instead.
  • Voice commands through the Xbox 1X are really bad compared to the previous generation. I stopped using them all together because for some reason the more powerful console is so much slower using Cortana.
  • Same experience here unfortunately.
  • If msft would just allow us to record whatever commands we want and set those as specific commands for Cortana/Kinect/Alexa to use, it would reduce the likelihood of Cortana 'Not getting' what we said. "Hey, Cortana, "Pew, Pew, Pew!" "Launching StarWars Battlefront 2" or "Hey Cortana, I want chicken wings!" "Launching PUBG."
  • If this worked with Google Home/Assistant you could do this. To be honest this is the most frustrating part for me. I've already bought Google Home, while inexpensive I don't want to have an Alexa as well so hopefully they'll open this up to Google Assistant in the future. As there is (I assume) some sort of new API I wonder if eventually this could be tied into IFTTT, I'd love to setup a workflow that downloads games with gold everytime the new monthly newsletter arrives in my inbox.
  • Additional Notes... When enabled, since it is a 'Skill' it will automatically just work on all your Windows 10 PCs/Tablets Since it is Cortana, these features also work with WM10 Phones - A good use for an WM10 phone you aren't using to bring Kinectlike voice features to your Xbox.
  • Should also work with Cortana on Android and iOS.
  • Provided you keep your phone connected to the same network that your xbox is on.
  • No GA, no thanks
  • No GA, that means I may actually use it.
  • Hey @Zac, please try out the commands on Alexa too, you will find that Alexa commands support more flexible triggers than Cortana, and when you have already interacted with the console, you typically don't even need to say 'tell Xbox' or 'on xbox' for things like pause/play/stop/next/previous. They are faster on Alexa too. "Alexa launch Rocket League"
    "Alexa go home"
    "Alexa go to settings"
    "Alexa watch BBC America"
    "Alex pause"
    "Alexa play"
    "Alexa mute xbox"
    "Alexa turn the xbox volume up"
    etc. You figured out that "leave the party" is not yet supported, nor is "see who's online"...but remember you can suggest things you'd like to do with voice using "tell Xbox I wish I could leave parties with my voice" and you can also get the full list of existing commands with "ask Xbox what can I say". It is worth noting you are using a US English skill with a UK English accent, so do expect some speech recognition errors. Lastly the issue you saw with Cortana repeatedly taking you to invite Jez to the party was a bug specific to Cortana where she kept context from previous commands. That has been resolved and is rolling out soon.
  • Hei, Cortana. Slå på Xbox.
    Hei, Cortana. Hvordan er været i dag?
    Hei, Cortana. Legg til kalender, møte på skolen klokken fire på mandag.
    Hei, Cortana. Vekk meg klokken åtte i morgen?
    Hei, Cortana. Skjønner du hva jeg sier? Did you get that? No? Neither did Cortana...
  • I just wish they'd again start selling the Kinect adaptors so that I can use my DayOne XboxOne Kinect on my X. That, and I wish msft would just allow us to record whatever commands we want and set those as specific commands for Cortana/Kinect/Alexa to use. Doing so would reduce the likelihood of Cortana 'Not getting' what we said. "Hey, Cortana, "Pew, Pew, Pew!" "Launching StarWars Battlefront 2" or "Hey Cortana, I want chicken wings!" "Launching PUBG." or "Hey Cortana, Lets go to Bolivia!" "Launching GRWL" You get the point
  • SLOWER THAN WITH Kinect? So goes from frustrating to pointless?
  • It's actually not slower. I timed it. Sometimes Alexa was faster than Cortana on the Xbox doing the same thing with the same command. Remember that the Cortana commands using Kinect *also* go up to the cloud for processing. It could be that Jez is comparing it to the much older "xbox on" voice commands before they introduced Cortana a few years back. Cortana is definitely slower than those older commands too, but since the commands don't have to be exact, I personally prefer the Cortana on Xbox commands over the older Xbox ones. The one thing that is *always* faster when using Alexa is turning off the Xbox, because there's no annoying verification question.
  • Dammit, started playing your video and ended up with three devices responding "sorry, I didn't get that" - maybe a warning before you start a video with "Hey Cortana" next time? lol