Microsoft's Next Xbox: Your essential speculation handbook

Rocky Apr 11, 2013

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    Just weeks away from its reveal, CVG looks through the most credible and incredible Durango speculation and a vacuum of facts will always be filled by speculation and Microsoft's next Xbox is a marvellous example of this.

    It's quite a staggering feat that a project of this size still remains a relative mystery when so close to its big press conference reveal, all off the back of a twelve-month storm of rumour and conjecture.

    Some facts, however, have slipped the net. If you haven't been able to catch up on all the speculation over the past year, and indeed are not sure what to believe, CVG offers a handy guide that analyses all the credible rumours ahead of Microsoft's big reveal.

    Remember, nothing has been confirmed, plans can change, but some forecasts seem reliable. Here are the key issues


    The short of it:

    Microsoft will likely reveal the Xbox in May


    Microsoft and Sony have been drawn into a tactical game of pre-announcement Hold 'em ever since Larry Hryb, the director of programming for Xbox Live, posted a shrewdly ambiguous E3 countdown timer on his personal blog back in January. Despite what the ticker suggests, Microsoft has always intended to show off its new console before E3.

    In the first three months of 2013 there has been some wonderful legerdemain and bluffs from both companies. None were more bare-faced than when Sony CEO Kaz Hirai publicly stated that PlayStation would wait for Microsoft to make the first move while, privately, the company was of course finalising plans to get in first.

    Even now there is speculation that Sony will host a second major pre-E3 press conference in April, but this is unlikely - and possibly another card trick forcing Microsoft's hand. The absence of the next Xbox (publicly, at least) at events such as GDC has given Microsoft fewer options to pitch its next-gen philosophy to the wider industry.

    But the company is no doubt preparing a press conference extravaganza, with multiple announcements lined up on the road to E3. When will it all kick off? The word initially was end of April (CVG was told April 26 by a trusted and connected source), though it is now speculated that Microsoft has delayed its showcase.

    US reporter Paul Thurrott, well known in technology circles for his Microsoft contacts, says the Next Xbox event date will take place on May 21.

    Technology website The Verge has also said the May 21 reveal date has been earmarked by Microsoft.


    Hardware Spec

    The short of it:

    The Next Xbox hardware will likely come close to PS4 standards


    Details on the innards of Microsoft's next console have leaked for more than six months now, with fresh devkit data routinely revealed on games news publications. The trouble is that the ever-evolving nature of hardware development means that not everything is fixed nor certain.

    Most reports, however, corroborate the rumour that Microsoft's Durango features a 1.6GHz AMD CPU which is arranged in two sets of quad-cores. It is also believed to carry a custom 800MHz graphics processor with 12 shader cores providing a total of 768 threads.

    Some say this will give the PS4 a raw computational advantage. VG247 reported in January that the next PlayStation will have a run-capability of 1.84 teraflops while the next Xbox will achieve 1.23 teraflops. It is unclear whether this remains accurate today.

    The most uncertain element, however, is the memory. In January it was reported that the PS4's RAM measured to 4GB of super-fast GDDR5, but Sony decided to double that capacity at the eleventh hour. In an interview with VideoGamer, Just Add Water CEO Stewart Gilray explained:

    "We were told [PS4] was 4GB originally and we first knew it had 8GBs when Sony said so at the PlayStation Meeting [in February]. We'd had kits at that point for a good while."

    Interestingly, throughout this whole period there has been one single claim about the next Xbox's memory - that it will carry 8Gb of the slower GDDR3 and reserve about 3GB of that for the operating system. While Sony has stated that the PS4 can move data around at a remarkable 176 GB per second, it is believed that the next Xbox's "move engines" can achieve 100 GB/s.

    But what's clear is that, during this period of flux in the games hardware arms race, Microsoft may perform a last-gasp upgrade to its memory specs to better match the PS4.

    In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Ubisoft Montreal exec Yannis Mallat said that Microsoft's next console will be "aligned with what Sony announced".


    The Controller

    The short of it:

    Microsoft wants to stick to the design principals of the Xbox 360 pad


    For more than a year it has been speculated that the next Xbox pad will not differentiate too much from the 360's. In early April, Kotaku claimed that the next Xbox controller "doesn't have any major new input interfaces".

    It added: "No new buttons and certainly no added screen like the Wii U controller has nor a baked-in touchpad like the PS4's."

    There has been no suggestions to contradict that Microsoft wants to stick to the design principals of its Xbox 360 controller. Considering that the features of the Next Xbox pad would be known to so many developers working on the system, indeed it is the lack of information which suggests that there will be few surprises regarding the controller layout.

    That's not to say there will be no sense of evolution when it comes to Next Xbox interface. Microsoft will of course take a second look at its SmartGlass technology - which allows some game components to be accessed and controlled via nearby tablet.


    Kinect 2.0

    The short of it:

    Microsoft's next-gen motion controller comes as standard, will undergo significant improvements, and will be mandatory


    Publishers today face a key issue when investing in a Kinect-only game for the Xbox 360: Doing so will limit an addressable market of 70+ million Xbox customers to an audience of 24 million Kinect owners. That is precisely why there hasn't exactly been a groundswell of support for the divisive camera technology. And it's why the next Xbox will come packed with a new version of Kinect as standard.

    In fact, according to Kotaku, the next Xbox will not function unless Kinect is calibrated. The next edition of Kinect is also said to be capable of tracking up to six people simultaneously, along with specific details and features such as faces and fingers.

    The latest speculation is that the technology is so advanced that it can detect the user's eye position. Citing "multiple sources familiar with the company's Xbox plans", The Verge reports that Kinect 2.0 can track the eyes and pause media content when a user looks away from the screen. Whether this is an R&D experiment or a finalised commercial feature is one key detail that, for now, is missing.


    An alleged comparison of the tech, provided by VGLeaks, is published below:


    Always Online

    The short of it:

    It's hard to stomach but unwise to ignore; the next Xbox will likely tie some services to constant internet connections


    It seems stranger than fiction. Inside sources talking to the likes of Edge, Kotaku and Paul Thurrott have each claimed that the next generation Xbox will require an always-online internet connection.

    How many times can this be marked down as a wild rumour before it becomes an unbelievable, extraordinary truth? Even after Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth defended the application of always-online, there is still some scepticism about the plan going ahead.

    And CVG still remains unconvinced of the central detail: that the Xbox 360 cannot play games unless the console is connected to the internet. That's not to say that the previous reports are not true, or that they're the work of shoddy reporting, but that it would simply be commercially irresponsible for a company like Microsoft to limit its audience so aggressively.

    It's worth pointing out that the Xbox sells best in the broadband-centric UK and US, but such a feature would be so restrictive to certain demographics and countries, and so undesirable for so many people, that it would be a significant challenge for the next Xbox to replicate worldwide sales of the Xbox 360 if always-online was mandatory.

    [Update: In fact, the latest rumour is that always-online functionality will not be mandatory]

    What's possible is that a constant internet connection will be required to sign into Xbox with a player profile - or something to that effect which provides a significant advantage to remaining online. Somehow, surely, there will be ways to play Xbox games if broadband cables are cut, or if people have just moved house, or in the hundreds of other scenarios.

    And of course, Microsoft has not yet had the chance to explain the benefits of always online internet connections.


    Pre-Owned Play

    The short of it:

    Despite reports suggesting so, it is unlikely that Xbox will completely block pre-owned games


    Much like with the always-online rumours, there have been crazy reports from otherwise credible publications which suggests that the next Xbox will block out pre-owned games.

    Here's what we know for sure: Retailers in the US and in the UK have both been briefed on the next Xbox (having been handed monstrous non-disclosure agreements) and the noises we're hearing from both sides of the Atlantic are positive.

    In essence, it would be hard to imagine retail bosses being so upbeat about a new console if it happened to prohibit about a quarter of their turnover. What remains a possibility is that Microsoft will charge consumers an online pass if they choose to play pre-owned content.

    Sony, however, has forced Microsoft's hand somewhat by declaring that it will not block pre-owned games.


    Backwards incompatibility

    The short of it:

    Microsoft has little incentive to support old 360 games with the Next Xbox


    Since it's widely understood that Microsoft will abandon the Power PC platform in favour of the x86 framework, it will not be the most straightforward task to make its next console backwards compatible. Sources close to the matter had confirmed as much to financial news firm Bloomberg.

    Whether people care about backwards compatibility is another matter entirely. It's usually during the transitional period between one console and the next when the issue flares up. Back in 2005, Microsoft took on a significant amount of work to ensure that most of its Xbox games were playable across both platforms - how many people truly benefited from this dedication is another matter entirely.


    The short of it:

    Microsoft is expected to deliver a definitive media hub that natively provides enhanced TV content


    Discussion within industry circles suggests that, unlike today, Microsoft and Sony will take two more distinguishable next gen strategies.

    While Sony's PS4 is aimed at the core gamer audience, the next Xbox will be Microsoft's attempt to offer an unprecedented consolidated entertainment device. According to a document which leaked last year, "XTV" is the codename of an all-ranging plan to encompass online services such as TV streams, music and video catalogues, and various entertainment downloads.

    It was said in the 56-page file that the next Xbox will allow customers to mix applications together. Users can overlay sports feeds onto movies, game guides onto games, along with various other transmedia initiatives.

    A significant step for Microsoft will be the system's form-factor, which the document suggests will closely resemble a set-top box. The consumer psychology is to present adults and non-gamers with a device that appears familiar to the living-room set-up.

    The standout feature is the recording and playback technologies. Xbox 720 will allow customers to record live TV in the background while a game is playing. The footage can then be watched on the console at a later date, or it can be streamed to other devices in the household such as a tablet or smartphone. All such content will accessible across devices, and users will theoretically be able to stream a movie from Microsoft's cloud servers through Wi-Fi, continue to watch the footage on 3G- and 4G-enabled smartphones, and finish the programme by watching through a PC.

    (The document also briefly suggests that "XTV" will be a service embedded into other, non-Microsoft set-top boxes and Smart TVs - a further suggestion that Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business believes that Xbox Live has the clout to take on Google and Apple's next-gen television sets.)

    [Update: According to The Verge, it is said that he next Xbox will require an online connection to use entertainment services, allowing them to be always-on for streaming and access to TV signals.

    "The functionality will work by taking a cable box signal and passing it through to the Xbox via HDMI, allowing Microsoft's console to overlay a UI and features on top of an existing TV channel or set-top box," the publication claimed.

    "We're told that this is a key part of the next-generation Xbox and that it will go a step further than Google's TV implementation thanks to Microsoft's partnerships with content providers. Extended support for various cable services will be rolled out gradually, but the basic functionality will be available at launch."]


    Xbox Price and Release Date

    The short of it:

    Expect the system to release in the UK and US by the end of the year, but RRP is anyone's guess


    Despite the reputation he carries for reporting solid information on next gen rumours, it's not likely that Paul Thurrott knows the final RRP of the next Xbox.

    More to the point, not even Microsoft knows. The company does not have a clear or final picture on manufacturing costs, nor an idea of market reception, as well as a broad range of other factors that could determine how much it charges.

    Thurrott himself, whose source may have a better understanding of Next Xbox costs, has nevertheless suggested that the new system will be "expensive" and could cost up to $500, or $300 with a subscription model.

    An internal Microsoft document created in 2010 initially speculated that the system would cost $299 at retail. The same document also mentioned an always online internet connection, as well as Smart Glass technology and XTV.

    But price and release date are final decision in building new hardware. While it is expected that the system will launch across the west by the end of 2013, the RRP is anyone's guess.


    Other Speculation

    In January, Microsoft paraded a proof-of-concept Xbox system called IllumiRoom. The system uses Kinect and a projector to augment the area surrounding the television screen with projected visualisations. According to Microsoft, IllumiRoom can "change the appearance of the room, induce apparent motion, extend the field of view, and enable entirely new game experiences."
    The ground breaking display technology was first revealed via a Microsoft patent in September last year.

    According to the patent, the system will utilise a 3D depth camera to calculate the player's position by emitting infrared light patterns. The Microsoft patent also stated that the tech will tie into the rumoured Kinect Glasses technology mentioned in a leaked Xbox 720 planning document.

    The next Xbox game discs will be based on Blu-ray technology - some are saying 50GB while others claim that a custom disc can carry 100GB of data.

    CVG has been told from one source that all next Xbox games will be interactive within 15 seconds of powering the system on.

    The same source has stated that the next Xbox will not only multi-task apps and services, but also games.

    It has been speculated numerous times that the Next Xbox will simply be called Xbox

    It remains a hot debate in the industry whether games consoles will adopt the mobile phone contract model - whereby consumers pay less for the initial RRP in return for a monthly payment for services such as Xbox Live. Paul Thurrott suggests that the Next Xbox will be the first console to make the move, saving consumers as much as $200 if they sign a contract.

    Thurrott also claims Microsoft will launch a new Xbox 360 console this year, 'codename Stingray', for $99.


    Source - CVG

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