Gaming

The Next Xbox: Everything We Think We Know For May 21

We’re finding out about the new Xbox on May 21, but that doesn’t mean we have no idea what’s coming. Here’s a rundown of everything we know — or think we know — about the next Xbox.

The Specs

We are pretty sure we know what the guts of the new Xbox look like. It will have a 64-bit, 8-core, 1.6GHz processor made by AMD with x86 architecture and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. (x86 means, broadly, that it’s a lot like the chips in your home computer, which is a change for Xbox, which had until now run on PowerPC.) The GPU is an 800mhz DirectX 11.x, and will be accompanied by custom hardware to accelerate certain Xbox-specific tasks. It’s also got an ethernet port, an optical disc drive (reported Blu-ray), a default 500GB SATA 2 HDD, USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI out and in ports.

For reference, the current Xbox 360 has a 500MHz GPU, a 3-core 3.6GHz processor, and 512MB of RAM. The upcoming PlayStation 4 also has an 8-core 64-bit processor and 8GB of RAM.

Price

This one’s tricky. There is zero official information out there. But we do have some clues. Microsoft supernerd Paul Thurott spitballed a “$500, $300 with subscription” number that hints at the real issue with the new Xbox: subsidised pricing.

Microsoft already offers a subsidized Xbox 360 + Kinect package for $100 up front, if you sign up for two years of Xbox Live Gold at $15 per month. That comes out to $US360 for just the two years, which is more than you’d pay if you’re bargain hunting for cheap subscription renewals.

A two-year subscription for a next gen Xbox probably wouldn’t stick in the craw as much as being locked into two years with the current system (though there’s no reason to think the current subscriptions won’t work on a new Xbox). But the relative surety of the subsidized pricing implies two things. One, this is probably coming in higher than the $400/$300 levels of the 360. And two, Microsoft understands that a gaming console, no matter how many features you pack in, is a tough thing to swallow as that big of an up-front cost.

The Controller

Largely the same! Most of what we know about the new Xbox controller comes from our friends at Kotaku, who tell us the controller is mostly the same, if a little smaller.

According to Kotaku’s sources:

The controller, according to Kotaku sources, actually seems quite similar to the current Xbox 360 one. Same two analogue sticks in the same upper-left/lower-right position, same positioning of the d-pad and face buttons and forward and back buttons. Triggers. Bumpers. Top-center power button. It all seems to be the same, though we can’t tell if any of these buttons have been improved-if, say, the d-pad responds more crisply, if the triggers pull more deeply, and so on.

More broadly, this means that you won’t see new points of interface on the new controller, like the Wii U’s 5-inch LCD or the PlayStation 4′s touchpad.

Kinect 2: Mandatory

OK, so the part about the controller being mostly unchanged is only partially true. Why? The Kinect will be standard with every next gen Xbox sold, making it even more of a de facto controller extension than the current iteration.

The Kinect 2 will be upgraded significantly, to not just detect broad arm movements and laborious, seizure-like movements generously described as “dancing”, but finer hand gestures sent from multiple users. It’s also said to implement more natural language controls (think Siri), as well as features like wake-on-speech.

Which sounds great. But in reality, it’s probably more realistic to expect the new Kinect to perform the tasks the original was meant to at a now-acceptable level, and for these new features to be at about the same level as the curent Kinect (that is, passable, at times). So look for refined gesture recognition and improved speech control accuracy, chiefly.

Other less certain rumoured features include eye-tracking, which can be amazing in the right environment, and features like pausing videos or games when you turn your head (which might be the most pointless feature being adopted by multiple companies right now).

“Always On”?

This has been a major sticking point. Rumours have persisted that the new Xbox will require a persistent internet connection, presumably at broadband level, in order to play games. And the people have not been amused.

The move, which we’ve seen with individual games like Diablo 3 and SimCity, would presumably be to enforce stricter security and anti-piracy features. It would also prevent a smaller-every-day but still significant group of people from playing and enjoying Xbox games. But we’ve also heard that it could only pertain to entertainment features, which would make slightly more sense, since that would require constantly pulling down information about content.

Microsoft has kowtowed to public sentiment on other future-facing issues after backlash from the slow- or unreliably networked, like its original musings about ditching the optical drive this generation in favour of downloaded games. So it could go either way.

Xbox TV

One of the underplayed details is that the new console will reportedly have an HDMI in port. What does that mean? The Xbox is in all likelihood going to be used to control literally everything your TV does.

How would that work? The HDMI-out from your cable box would route through your Xbox, which would then apply its own interface on top of it. Theoretically, that would let Microsoft integrate all sorts of features into that. It’s likely where the reports of the Kinect controlling your cable box came from.

Don’t sleep on this as a major feature of the new Xbox. It could include capabilities ranging from deep content recognition to DVR to (hypothetically) picture-in-picture TV shows in games. This is especially interesting given the reported capability to “hot switch” between two games, effectively running both at once.

And don’t forget, Microsoft is also reported to have a cheaper, set-top-box-only version of these features coming later this year too.

Original Content?

Back in September, Microsoft hired a CBS executive to head up production of “original video content” for the Xbox. We still don’t really know what that means. (The UK Xbox is already getting into the business of distributing movies, for instance.) It could be thatthe Microsoft Video Store is going to get its own original series, which would be sort of insane. But don’t rule it out.

Windows Integration

This is based on speculation, but hear us out anyway. The new Xbox will probably integrate tightly into Windows 8, and the broader Windows Universe that Microsoft is building. It will do this as a gaming system, but also as a set top box.

The first thing to note is that this is actually possible this generation. The new Xbox has moved to an AMD x86 chip, meaning it’s using the same type of chip that Windows PCs have. rumours have the new Xbox running Windows 8, but even if it’s not quite running the same operating system, the change of platforms should make developing games, especially for indie developers, a lot easier.

Consider: Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) is hugely successful. It’s a wonderful place to find and enjoy indie content. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that Microsoft would love to get into its Windows Store, which is doing fine, more or less, but still hasn’t reached the level Microsoft would like.

Further, tighter integration of apps like Xbox Music, Internet Explorer and other Windows 8 features, would make sense for the central location of Windows 8 in your home. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d just fire up the Xbox and see the Windows 8 start screen. The Dashboard has been revamped a few times, but it’s already in tune with the Windows 8 aesthetic (and, really, was the incubator for it), so figure that’ll go along mostly untouched.

Goodbye, Used Games?

The biggest bummer to come out of the rumour mill is that the new Xbox might ditch the ability to play, and therefore buy and sell and trade, used games. It’s unclear whether that will happen, but we do know that games will have to be installed to be played, though that will take place in the background over the course of play, instead of up front before you can even get into the game.

Xbox Tablet?

Microsoft is also rumoured to have a 7-inch Xbox tablet coming this year, running on an ARM processor (possible Intel SoC in the future). Originally reported by The Verge, the tablet is supposed to be running a “custom Windows kernel” instead of Windows RT, which would make sense if it’s to retain ties to older XBLA titles.


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