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Microsoft shows its Xbox One controller testing lab

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

Following today's reveal of the Xbox One, Microsoft invited press into its controller testing lab on the company's Redmond, Wash. campus to show how it's aiming to create a reliable game pad for the new console.

The tour began with a look at a video showing a prototype of the new controller being dropped four feet onto concrete to test its durability. Those tests don't happen in this lab, since the space is too small, but the video showed the first of many tests that Microsoft is putting the new controller through.

Next, Microsoft director of hardware test in the accessories group Bob Brown took the tour to what he calls the Antenna Chamber, a 10-foot tall enclosed space that looks like a bank vault with spikes of styrofoam padding pointing towards a controller in the middle. Brown's team uses this to test the antenna in the new Xbox controller, to make sure the signal is strong enough not to be interrupted by a player's hands or battery pack.

Across the room, a similar contraption — the RF Chamber — helps the team test interference on the antenna, simulating a dorm or apartment scenario by pumping in noise, voices, etc. to test the firmware.

While the RF Chamber simulates controlled tests, as Brown calls them, he says the team also uses a house away from Microsoft's campus that it fills with wireless signals, computers, games, and competitors' consoles to test in a "random" setting.

The fourth stop on Brown's tour of this lab proved the loudest, with a wall of machines repeatedly pressing buttons on a group of the new controller prototypes. These machines will eventually press every button on each of these controllers around two million times, to simulate what could happen over time when a player has a controller at home. In this setup, Microsoft has the controllers plugged in and producing data so if any of the button presses don't register, they can file a report and figure out what went wrong. Taking this a step further, Microsoft has a high speed camera filming this setup at 250,000 frames per second to go back and check why a mistake may have occurred — if the machine failed, or if the button got stuck or pressed at the wrong angle.

The team will use this data to both test the controller up-front and make sure the design works as intended, and once samples come in from manufacturing facilities to judge their reliability. Brown said the setup is approximately one year old, and can be adjusted to include accessories like steering wheels down the line.

Next to the controller wall came the final stop on the controller testing lab tour, with a machine Brown called "the robot." It's a mechanical arm holding the controller, waving it around and shaking it, to test if any of the buttons accidentally press when the player doesn't touch them. Brown said Microsoft hasn't had any trouble in this particular area in the past, but wanted to test for this given the new controller. In the same room, another device flicked the analog sticks on the controller to test their consistency.

Given Microsoft's troubles with Xbox 360 console reliability, this tour may have been a way to show that it's working to avoid those issues this time around, though no one from the company mentioned that specifically and the tour focused only on the new controller.

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