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Latest Xbox One update finally brings back Avatars

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October update also introduces support for Alexa, Cortana and Dolby Vision HDR

new Xbox Avatars - man in blue tank top, woman in purple tank top and man in red T-shirt
Microsoft’s new Xbox Avatars in action.
Microsoft

Microsoft’s October 2018 update for the Xbox One is here, and it’s a big one, headlined by the return of Xbox Avatars in an upgraded form.

The update, which began rolling out Thursday, introduces what Microsoft refers to as “new Xbox Avatars.” Their arrival is a year late — the company originally unveiled its revised Avatars during last year’s E3, with a launch planned for fall 2017 at the time. Instead, Microsoft delayed the release and started beta-testing the new Avatars with members of the Xbox Insider Program this past June.

Microsoft designed the new Avatars to be much more inclusive than the original ones, with customization options such as gender-neutral clothes and diverse body types. The Avatar editor also allows people with disabilities to represent themselves, offering items such as wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. And users can customize each element of an Avatar, including skin, hair, clothes and accessories, with more than 16 million colors. Of course, Microsoft also sells additional options, such as designs themed to franchises like Halo and Gears of War, in the Avatar Store.

The new Avatars will show up across the Xbox One interface in places like profile pages, activity feed posts, Gamerscore leaderboards and friends’ posts. But anyone who prefers the old Avatars, which originated on the Xbox 360, can still represent themselves that way.

Xbox One - Dolby Vision in Advanced video modes menu Microsoft

Technophiles are sure to love two of the other major features in the October update. It introduces an Xbox skill for both Cortana and Alexa, the virtual assistants from Microsoft and Amazon, respectively. Now that the Xbox One Kinect is officially and fully dead, customers can turn to Cortana and Alexa for voice control of the console — e.g., “Alexa, launch Sea of Thieves” — if they have, say, an Amazon Echo smart speaker.

In addition, Microsoft is offering a limited-time deal starting Oct. 12 in the U.S.: While supplies last, anyone who buys select Xbox One S or Xbox One X bundles at Amazon will receive a free Amazon Echo Dot — and it’s the new third-generation model, to boot.

Finally, the October update adds Dolby Vision support to the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, although there’s a caveat: It’s just for streaming video apps, not 4K ultra HD Blu-rays. At the moment, Dolby Vision works only in the Netflix app (and only for customers who subscribe to the $13.99-per-month Premium plan). In an Xbox Wire post about the October update, Microsoft said other apps will start supporting Dolby Vision “in the coming months.”

The feature gives the Xbox One a leg up on Sony, since the PlayStation 4’s support for high dynamic range (HDR) color is limited to the HDR10 standard. And it completes the Dolby duo; Microsoft already added support for Dolby Atmos spatial sound to the Xbox One in late 2017. (Only two other streaming devices, the Apple TV 4K and Google Chromecast Ultra, are compatible with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, according to The Verge.) To enable Dolby Vision, head to the Xbox One’s Display & Sound menu and then go to the Video Modes option under the Advanced section.

Update (Oct. 12): The Xbox One’s Dolby Vision update is selective — it only works with newer televisions that support the latest version of Dolby Vision. We ran into this when we applied the October update to an Xbox One X hooked up to a Vizio P50-C1 4K TV from 2016: The 4K TV Details section of the console’s Display & Sound settings displayed a warning message saying, “Your TV supports an older version of Dolby Vision that isn’t compatible with Xbox One.”

The Xbox Wire post announcing the October 2018 update links to a PDF on the Dolby website that lists all the TVs on the market that are currently compatible with Dolby Vision on Xbox One. Right now, the list includes a smattering of TV models — just over 30 of them in all — produced in 2017 or 2018, with only LG, Sony and Funai represented among the manufacturers. That leaves out Dolby Vision-compatible TVs from major manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, TCL and Vizio.

Xbox One X ‘4K TV details’ screen under ‘Display & sound’ menu - older version of Dolby Vision
Yes, a good deal of light comes into my living room in the morning, even with the blinds closed.
Samit Sarkar/Polygon

Asked for further information on the situation, a Microsoft representative told Polygon, “There is a newer version of Dolby Vision which supports game console devices that leverages the consoles [sic] processing power to render on the box before sending to the TV. Some TV [manufacturers] are in the process of adding support for Dolby Vision on game consoles. For questions, please reach out to your TV [manufacturers].”

In an Xbox Wire post published earlier in October, Microsoft provided additional details on the limited TV support for Dolby Vision on Xbox One. Katie Slattery, program manager for Xbox Media, explained that Dolby and Microsoft “developed an implementation tailored to game consoles” that doesn’t leave the processing of Dolby Vision rendering to the TV.

“When TVs were originally enabled for Dolby Vision, gaming consoles weren’t part of the HDR ecosystem,” Slattery added. “Since then, some TV manufacturers are working to implement support for Dolby Vision on game consoles, and Dolby is working with TV OEMs to update TVs currently in market.”