Microsoft’s decision to remove pack-in headset from Xbox One hurts parents, hard of hearing
The story going around yesterday was that Microsoft wouldn't be packaging a headset for voice chat with Xbox One hardware. This story originally came from the Xbox support twitter feed, so we reached out to Microsoft for confirmation.
“Xbox One does not include a pack-in headset accessory. Each Xbox One includes the new Kinect sensor, with a highly sensitive multi-array microphones designed to enable voice inputs and chat as a system-level capability, both in-game and with Skype and other experiences,” Microsoft stated. “For gamers who prefer a headset, we have a variety of offerings that you can find on the Xbox Wire.”
This is disappinting for a number of reasons, especially when it comes to playing around small children, and those with hearing difficulties.
Why headsets are important
To a certain extent, I can control what is said in a game. I know the sort of language I can expect in games rated certain ways, and when I'm playing an M-rated game around the kids I usually retreat into my office or wait for bed time. I suspect many of you are in the same boat.
The problem with using the Kinect for voice chat is that other players' voices will be coming out of my television speakers. I have no clue what they're going to say, or when. When I'm online I can't easily pause the game when a kid walks in, and there is no limit to the sort of racial, sexual, or otherwise idiotic things that people say online.
That filth is safely limited to my own ear when I'm using a headset, but suddenly the whole room knows what XxBongSmokaxX thinks about certain minorities when you use the Kinect and your television's speakers for voice chat. This is not ideal in a number of ways, especially when you share space with a spouse, significant other, children, or Corgis with delicate sensibilities.
Many players also have trouble separating the sounds of the game with voice chat, especially when everything is coming out of the same speaker. I'm one of them, although I don't have any other issues with my hearing.
Especially during scenes with excessive background noise, such as multiple voices and gunshots, it's very hard for me to separate the sounds of the human voices of my teammates or competitors. I've actually tried to pump voice chat through my system's speakers when playing Halo in the past, and I found the experience disorienting and confusing. I've spoken to a few friends with slight hearing loss, and they experience the same issues, only to a much larger degree.
Being able to isolate the sounds of your team and place them close to your ear is helpful, especially when you can turn your television speakers down and the headphone for voice chat up. It's more comfortable and effective for many gamers to keep voice chat in a headset.
And of course that's still an option, the image at the top of this story is the upcoming Xbox One headest, and more audio options will be available at launch, but we'll have to pay more for them. That's bad news for a console that's already $100 more than its competitor, and that competitor is packing in a headset.
This is especially galling because we're not talking about a significant accessory; the mono headset and microphone must only cost a buck or two to produce. The console is already $499.99, they couldn't eat the cost of a headphone to match the Playstation 4 and the launch hardware of their own previous systems?
These issues may not impact everyone, as there are plenty of gamers without children and with perfect hearing, but I don't see a good reason to alienate families and those with hearing difficulties in order to save a few bucks and once again foist the Kinect upon gamers.
Just in case this wasn't bad enough, it looks like all your existing headsets and headphones are now obsolete, and won't work with the Xbox One. It's either use the Kinect, or buy a new accessory. This is bad news all around.