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Get the most out of your Xbox One with these tips

The Xbox One is a remarkably different system than it was when it originally launched in 2013. Its user interface has been completely overhauled, allowing users to quickly navigate its menus, but the console still comes with a bit of a learning curve for anyone not used to Microsoft’s ecosystem. What are these “Pins” and how are they different from what’s on Xbox 360? Where is the settings menu? Can you really use the system optimally without Kinect?

The Xbox One might not be sentient (yet), but there is most definitely a process of learning to communicate with it. Even if you strip Kinect voice commands out — which has become standard now that it is no longer offered with most bundles — there is still a lot to figure out as you ring the various bells and blow the various whistles. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your Xbox One, check out these tips.

Further reading

  • The history of the Xbox
  • Xbox Series X: Everything we know about the next-gen game console
  • Learn how to change your gamertag on an Xbox One in just a few simple steps

Getting to know your Xbox One

Before you jump in…

Prepare to sit patiently for a little bit the first time you turn on your Xbox One. After you do the initial setup — connecting the console to the internet, etc. — you will need to update the console to the newest version of the operating system. It may take a while, but just go with it.

If you plan on running your cable box through the Xbox One to take advantage of the console’s TV overlay, you should do that right away as well. It’s extremely easy: You’ll need your ZIP code, your cable provider’s company name, and the manufacturer/model of cable box you’re using. Just follow the steps on the screen; it’s all laid out very clearly. Getting your remote code set can be a little tricky with certain older model cable boxes, but just keep tinkering with the automatic and manual setup commands. For the cable box, you should find the model name/number on a sticker on the back. Everyone has a different arrangement at home, but the Xbox One setup is built to be user-friendly and universal.

Once you get to the dashboard for the first time, don’t immediately dive in and start gaming! Sure, you can if your heart is really set on it, but know that your setup isn’t quite finished. There are certain apps that you might not need to use the console, but you’ll probably want to install before it’s time to use them. Download the apps for all of your streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, as well as “optional” apps like the Blu-ray Player and Upload Studio apps, which both relate to core console functions. 

Get through menus in a hurry

Clicking the directional pad or flicking the analog stick over and over again can be a pain when you’re trying to sift through pages of menus to get to your favorite game or just get from the top of the Xbox One dashboard to the bottom, but there is a much faster way to quickly navigate nearly every menu on the system. Just pull the left trigger and you’ll automatically be sent to the top of your current page, while the right trigger will send you to the bottom. If things seem to be slow on the Xbox dashboard, you can even refresh it by holding down both triggers as you press the Y button.

Keep your space tidy

Every game, even if you bought it on a disc, needs to be installed on the Xbox One before you can play it. You may be able to start playing after only a few minutes when the progress is as low as five percent, while the game continues installing in the background. This also goes for downloadable games; you should be able to start playing most of them by the time they reach roughly 50-percent download completion (sometimes less). Don’t get too excited, though, while every Xbox One game can open before its installed, in many cases launching them early simply opens a new in-game loading screen.

Xbox One systems come in two different storage sizes: 500GB and 1TB. This isn’t a ton of space given that some game files are pushing 100GB on the system already, but Xbox One makes it quite simple to not only uninstall any games you’re not currently using, but also to reinstall those you want to play again.

You can uninstall games and apps at any time by highlighting the game, then Menu > Manage Game. You’re then free to uninstall the game file itself, as well as any DLC that could be eating up space. Clicking Uninstall All will get rid of the game and DLC at the same time, but don’t worry about losing your save data — it’s automatically stored in the cloud, so you don’t need to worry about accidentally erasing it unless you choose the Delete from Cloud option.

All digital games you have purchased will be available in the “games” section of My Games & Apps, with those not currently on your system listed in Ready to Install. Simply click the menu button on any of these games and choose Install. If you have any extra DLC packs that you also want to install, you can do so by selecting Manage Game and checking the game’s Ready to Install section.

Between freebies, demos, beta tests, and purchased digital games, your collection visible in the Ready to Install section will get pretty large over time, easily pushing 100 or more titles. To make the clutter easier on the eyes, you can hide games from the list that you won’t be playing anymore. Just press the menu button while highlighting a game you want to hide, and select the option to hide it. To bring the hidden games back, press the left and right bumpers while also pressing X.

Play your free Games With Gold games

If you’re an Xbox Live Gold subscriber — a requirement for playing multiplayer titles — you automatically get access to four free games a month. Two of these are Xbox One titles, while the other two are for Xbox 360, and all of them are playable on your Xbox One for as long as you keep your subscription.

Claiming your free games is a relatively painless process. Sign in to your Xbox One and, on the dashboard, you should spot a tile labeled “gold.” Just click on that and you’ll see your free games, of which there are three available at any one time. You can also use the official Xbox One smartphone app to claim your Xbox One games, but not the Xbox 360 titles.

If you want to have your games ready to download when you get to your Xbox, you can claim them using a web browser. Sign in on the Games With Gold page and you’ll spot all three games down below under “now available.” They’ll automatically be added to your “ready to install” section of “My Games & Apps” on your Xbox One.

Learning to live with (or without) the Kinect

Communication breakdown

The Xbox One’s Kinect is a divisive device, but it’s capable of truly streamlining your user experience in several different ways. While the Xbox One does have some in-game uses, such as shouting in-game voice commands without a headset, and a handful of dedicated Kinect games, its primary function is to take the hassle (and the controller) out of navigating the Xbox One’s menus. It also works as a convenient hands-free Netflix remote, letting you quickly rewind and pause without ever having to grab your controller.

Voice commands are the new “button” in your Xbox One control scheme. An ideal setup sees you browsing around on the console using the One controller and your speaking voice in concert with one another. Here’s the thing though: Kinect’s ability to recognize commands is somewhat limited. There are some extremely useful voice orders you can issue to your Xbox that aren’t at all obvious. Here are a few you should definitely keep handy:

Xbox: Just say “Xbox” at the dashboard to bring up a list of global console commands covering basic navigation and interaction. Saying “Xbox” also tells Kinect to get ready to listen for a follow-up command, as a pop-up in the top right corner of the screen indicates. You can tell the mic to stop listening for a command – say, if you accidentally say “Xbox” in error – by simply saying “Stop listening.”

Xbox, select: Possibly the single-most useful unexplained command, saying “Xbox Select” at the dashboard or any of its sub-menus brings up an overlay that allows you to speak the name of the on-screen tile you want to select.

Xbox, turn off: This is the voice command for turning your console off. “Xbox, off” doesn’t work, even though “Xbox, on” does. You’ll also have to say “Yes” once the pop-up appears to confirm your desire to shut down the console.

Xbox, start a party: Use this command to quickly bring up the party menu.

Xbox, use a code: Kinect can read your redemption codes with this command, provided you get them on a card that also includes a QR code. If you get a code without the QR – say in an email or on a retail receipt – you can easily convert the 25-character alphanumeric string to a Kinect-readable image. Simply head to qrcode.littleidiot.be (or any QR code-generating site), type in the code there, and convert it. It’s best to do this with a smartphone, tablet, or even a laptop, since Kinect can read off of those screens. Take note that you may need to dial down the brightness on whichever screen Kinect is reading.

Xbox, go home: Use this command anywhere to immediately send yourself back to the Xbox One dashboard.

Xbox, go to settings: This is the easiest way to access the Xbox One’s settings menu. You can also get there by hitting the Menu button (where the 360’s Start button used to be) at the dashboard and selecting Settings off the menu that appears.

Xbox, help: Self-explanatory, right? Brings up a voice-activated help menu.

Xbox, watch [channel name]: Assuming you’ve got a cable box connected with your console, the Xbox One keeps track of your local TV listings and channel numbers. You can use voice commands to switch to any channel, but you don’t need to remember the number. You can simply say things like “Xbox, watch ESPN” or “Xbox, watch History Channel” and the built-in IR blaster handles the rest.

One added note: when Kinect is listening for a command, any text you see on the screen that uses a green font denotes something you can select simply by reading it out loud.

Alexa

Although Microsoft has removed Cortana, you can still find a more natural voice command system with Alexa. Xbox has made it easy to set up your Alexa devices with the system, giving you more control with less work. To set up Alexa, press the Xbox button and open the guide. From there, go to Profile & System > Settings > General > Power Mode & Startup. Then select Instant-On from the Power Mode dropdown menu. You’ll then need to enable digital assistants. To do this, you go to Profile & Settings > Settings > Devices & Streaming > Digital Assistants > Enable Digital Assistants. Then simply sign in to your Xbox account.

All Alexa voice commands can be activated by saying the wake word, “Alexa,” into the microphone. Below are a few common Alexa commands.

Alexa, tell Xbox to turn off: Alexa will turn off your system. Saying “turn on” or “start Xbox” will have the opposite effect.

Alexa, tell Xbox to launch (example): Alexa will select one of the items available on-screen.

Alexa, ask Xbox what I can say: Alexa can help you in figuring out what commands it understands.

Alexa, tell Xbox to turn up volume/tell Xbox to turn volume down by 5: Alexa lets you command the volume of your game.

Making do without Kinect

When the Xbox One launched in 2013, every unit came bundled with an upgraded Kinect sensor capable of using voice commands as well as motion control elements to navigate menus and quickly pull up particular applications. However, Microsoft has since made the sensor an optional accessory, and most users opted to go back to traditional controller-based inputs for navigating the console’s menus. Here are some easy shortcuts to compensate for the Kinect commands that help the most.

Pulling up the quick-menu: To pull up a menu with party information, your friends list, and recent achievements, simply double-tap the “home” button on your controller during any game or application you’re running.

Taking a screenshot: From the quick-menu, you can also quickly tap the Y button on your controller to take a screenshot of your game. If you prefer to save the last several seconds of the game you’ve been playing as a video, just press X instead.

Using download code: Instead of saying “Xbox, use a code” to enter a 25-digital key for downloadable content, go to the Xbox One’s dashboard and navigate to the store using the right bumper. Go to the Games > Use a Code.

Have an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4? Use one headset

After the Xbox One launched in 2013 with a proprietary headset port that required an adapter to use standard 3.5mm cords, Microsoft did an about-face and began including the 3.5mm port on all its controllers. This makes finding a compatible headset a breeze, and one particularly affordable headset from Sony — the PlayStation Gold Wireless headset — is compatible with both systems, so you don’t have to purchase a second one.

Though the Gold headset uses a USB dongle and digital surround sound on PlayStation 4, it’s limited to stereo audio on Xbox One. Just plug the included cable into both the headset and your Xbox One controller, and you’ll be able to not only chat, but also hear game audio. Your television won’t mute its volume by default, so make sure to turn it down before using the headset.

More ways to streamline the Xbox One

Stream without other players hearing you

There are very few things more annoying than hearing a random player in a multiplayer game talking to no one in particular during a match. With the popularity of streaming service Twitch, it’s more than likely that these players are broadcasting their games to an audience — an audience that isn’t playing with them.

To cut down on the chance the other Xbox One players hate you, there’s an extremely simple solution to this problem. When you begin broadcasting with your Kinect microphone or a dedicated headset, simply create an online party in which you’re the only member. Your game and voice will still be broadcasted to your viewers on Twitch, but since your Xbox One believes you wish to communicate only with other party members, your teammates and enemies won’t be able to hear you.

Accessing Achievements

Xbox One achievements are located in a separate app now. On the Xbox 360, you could press the Guide button whenever you unlocked a new Achievement to bring up the Cheevos list and see what you did to earn the Gamerscore bump. It’s a little more complicated now. You need to hold the Guide button when you see the Achievement notification, then press A to select said Achievement from the menu that pops up. This opens the Achievements app which, in turn, tells you what you unlocked. You can also double-tap the Xbox button to see the achievements you have earned for an individual game, but this is only available if the game is still running in the background.

From the dashboard, you can also see a much more detailed list of your achievements. Select your profile in the Xbox One and select Achievements, and you’ll be given a list of the games you’ve played in descending order — the most recent are on top — and above that, a leaderboard showing which of your friends has earned the most achievement points in the last month.

When you’re in the middle of a match and earn a new achievement, you might be greeted to a diamond symbol and a twinkling noise in place of the usual Xbox achievement “ping” sound. This doesn’t mean you earned any extra points, but it does mean that you’ve earned a “rare” achievement only unlocked by a small portion of players.

It’s an Xbox party

Cross-game party chat returns from the Xbox 360, but it’s a little different now. For one, party invites aren’t considered “messages” anymore. They appear in your notifications list, which you can access by clicking on the purple box with the globe icon in it, located at the top-left corner of the main dashboard screen. Once you join or create a party, you’re not quite done yet. Take a look at the menu items in the party window. Make sure that party chat is turned on so you can hear other players. An icon will light up in your party menu to indicate that your microphone is being used.

Put a pin on it

Pins are similar to what they were on the Xbox 360, but they’re more front-and-center now. Any pinned app or game is essentially tagged as a favorite, which means it’s accessible from the dashboard’s Pins menu, located to the left of the main screen. The act of pinning something isn’t immediately obvious, however. To create a pin, find the app’s tile in the dashboard, likely buried somewhere in My Games & Apps. Highlight the desired item, press the Menu button and select Add to Pins from the menu that pops up.

It’s not TV, it’s everything else

Just because there’s a voice command that allows you to “Watch TV,” that doesn’t mean you have to pass your cable box signal through your Xbox One. Sure, you won’t be able to do stuff like change channels simply by saying “Xbox, watch ESPN,” but with more and more tech-savvy individuals cutting the cord on cable TV, that’s really no great loss. In the absence of a cable box, you’ve still got that handy little HDMI pass-through on the back of the console. What else can you plug into it? Anything (with an HDMI out)!

PlayStation 3? Sure. PlayStation 4? Have at it. Nintendo Switch docks? Absolutely. Laugh in the face of console exclusives. Turn on your Xbox One to load up Super Mario Odyssey. Get your work done on your PC, and reward your progress throughout the day by quickly switching over for a couple of pickup matches in Killer Instinct. You’ll have to live with a tiny bit of lag, but this is the price we must pay for having the ability to play The Last of Us 2 on a Microsoft console.

Xbox One S tips

Changing your “home” Xbox One

If your Xbox One S is a replacement, you’re still free to play any games in your digital library — even Games With Gold titles — if you’re still signed into the account that purchased them. Should you lose internet access, however, your games will only be available on your “home” Xbox One, which is typically your original system. Luckily, making your Xbox One S your “home” Xbox is a piece of cake.

Turn on the Xbox One you wish to use as your new “home” console. You don’t have to do anything with the original one, as it’s no longer your “home” console. Go to Settings, which can be accessed via the quick-menu as well as the Applications folder.

Select All Settings > Personalize, and you’ll see an option for “My home Xbox.” Select Make this my new home Xbox. That’s it! You can now play digital games on the system even when there is no internet, and you can even let other users access your library.

Get a free Kinect adapter

Since the Kinect no longer comes with new Xbox One bundles and the device has become an optional accessory, Microsoft decided to nix the Kinect port in its updated Xbox One S hardware. It is, however, still possible to use a Kinect camera with your Xbox One S, and if you’re upgrading from the VCR-esque system to the S and already own a Kinect, you can get an adapter for free, instead of paying $40 for an adapter.

Visit the Xbox One support website and you can use the Kinect Adapter fulfillment form to request a free adapter — in our experience, the process only took about a week from start to finish.

You’ll need to sign in with your Microsoft account and fill out your address information. You will also need the serial numbers for your original Xbox One, your Xbox One S, and your Kinect camera. For the consoles, the serial number is located near the ports on the back of the device. The Kinect’s serial number is on the bottom of the sensor.

Once you receive your adapter, you’ll notice it’s a little more complicated than the original. It comes with its own power supply that must be plugged in separately from your Xbox One, and the bundle of cables it comes with will clutter your shelves a little more, but your Kinect will function identically to how it did on the original Xbox One.

Install a vertical stand

The Xbox One S features a small, streamlined design that looks wonderful sitting on a shelf in its traditional horizontal position, but unlike the original Xbox One, it can also be positioned vertically. It isn’t recommended to do this without Microsoft’s official stand, which provides stability as well as a little extra space for the vents. You can purchase the stand from Microsoft for $20.

To install the vertical stand, ensure that your Xbox One S is unplugged and flip it on its side so that the Xbox symbol is facing down. On the right “black” side of your system are two little slots that will connect with the stand. Just slide the stand into place from the side and you’re ready to game vertically!

Enable HDR

Though the Xbox One S doesn’t support 4K gaming (it does feature a 4K Blu-ray player) a few of Microsoft’s games support high-dynamic range, or HDR, on the system. This enhanced setting will make colors pop more, with blacker blacks, whiter whites, and extraordinary lighting.

By default, your HDR10-enabled television should automatically support HDR on the Xbox One S, but if it isn’t doing so, this setting can be altered. Go to Advanced Video Settings, which can be found under the Video Output section, and make sure that Allow 4K and Allow HDR are turned on.

The Xbox One S only supports HDR10. If your HDR-enabled display only supports Dolby Vision, it will not work.

Current Xbox One games with HDR support include Gears of War 4, ReCore, Forza Horizon 3, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, and Final Fantasy XV.

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