MICROSOFT will be taking the chance to reveal their new video games console this evening in the more intimate surroundings of its Seattle headquarters.
The new Xbox will be seen for the first time on May 21 at Microsoft's headquarters in Washington state, US.
With Nintendo’s Wii U released last year and Sony revealing the PlayStation 4 in February, attention has fixed firmly on Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox 360. It’s been a long few months of rumours and rabble-rousing, and finally comes the chance to separate the fact from fiction for Microsoft’s vision of the next generation. Always-online? A camera that must be connected for the machine to even work? Blocking second hand games? Some of the more long-standing rumours paint the Next Xbox as a decidedly Orwellian piece of kit. Aside from a (now former) developer tweeting about gamers needing to ‘get with the times, man’ Microsoft has remained tight-lipped about all aspects of the console. So what to we expect to find out tomorrow night?
The all important moniker. Xbox 720 has been the fallback for websites so far, but it’s unlikely that’s the name that will stick. Because it’s a bit silly. The smart money is on simply ‘Xbox’, an Apple-esque statement of intent. Microsoft has spent the last few years tirelessly positioning the ‘Xbox’ moniker at the forefront of gamer’s minds and it would make sense for them to put all their faith in the simple branding for their new machine. There’s the small danger of confusing the console with the first Xbox, of course, but with so many years between the machines, it’s a risk Microsoft are likely willing to take. Other recent names that have been doing the rounds are Xbox Fusion and Xbox Infinity. Which are both terrible.
Microsoft will not want to be lagging behind Sony in the power stakes this generation, but nor would they want to lose the PC-esque architecture that has made the Xbox 360 a developer’s dream. Sony heeded developer’s wishes and incorporated a similar structure into the PS4, so it’s likely there will be little difference in terms of raw grunt between Sony’s machine and the Next Xbox. The leaked tech specs for the Next Xbox, codenamed Durango, suggest a blu-ray drive, an eight-core AMD CPU running at 1.6Ghz, 8GB of DDR3 Ram and an in-built hard drive. As ever, the best place for detailed tech analysis can be found at Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.
One thing we can be pretty confident of is that Microsoft will show off the console’s physical form. Sony came under a surprising amount of flak for not displaying the PS4’s casing at their reveal event. And despite the box itself being the least important aspect of a games console, Microsoft will want to avoid the same criticism.
One thing we can be confident will be revealed is the new version of Microsoft’s motion sensing camera tech. The company have put enormous investment into integrating Kinect with the Xbox 360, and chances are that was practice to make the camera a central part of the new console, coming with each machine as standard. There are even reports that the console will only operate when the camera is attached. The camera will reportedly be far more accurate than the rather flaky original, and will recognise open and closed hand gestures, and even track eye movement. As well as games, Kinect 2.0’s imprint will be all over Microsoft’s plans for its other entertainment plans, and the console’s user interface will likely be tailored to the camera’s motion and voice recognition. Incoming reports also suggest we might see Microsoft's 'IllumiRoom', which uses Kinect to project images outwards onto the walls surrounding your television.
The Xbox 360’s controller is widely regarded as the finest ever designed. As such, expect very little change to the form. Chances are it will feature the ‘Aberdeen’ model’s transforming d-pad as standard, but it’s unlikely to feature a touch-panel similar to the PS4’s.
The elephant in the room. Rumours have been circulating for months that the Next Xbox will be ‘always online’. Though exactly what that means is unclear. It's unlikely that Microsoft would release a games console that refuses play single-player offline games if it wasn’t connected to the internet, but their silence on the issue has been deafening. There are murmuring of games needing to be at least ‘activated’ online with codes, which will effectively block second hand games from working. Broadly speaking, however, the ‘always online’ tag is more likely referring to the console’s ingrained connectivity. To a certain extent, the Xbox 360 already incorporates online functionality as a major function, so the chances are the Next Xbox simply sets connectivity front and centre rather than as an intrusive form of DRM. However, Microsoft need to tread carefully here and supply a clear, concise answer to the questions that ‘always online’ raises. Sony have already said that while connectivity is important to the PlayStation 4, they won’t block second hand games, and the machine will work just fine offline if you simply wish to play a single-player game. It could be a PR misfire if Microsoft take the opposite tack.
The question of whether new console’s can play their predecessor's games is always a hot topic at these early stages. The manufacturers, however, see it as a costly and unnecessary distraction that most gamers will have forgotten about just weeks after launch. The PS4 won’t be native backwards compatible, and it’s unlikely the Next Xbox will be either. The 360 did have a decent line in emulation, however, meaning that many original Xbox games could be played. If Microsoft can reveal any form of reasonable backwards compatibility for the Next Xbox, it should prove a PR victory, if only in the short term.
Microsoft has stated that this reveal will not feature a litany of new games, as they prefer to save such fireworks for their E3 conference. However, expect the handful of titles they will reveal tomorrow to be bona fide heavyweights. It’s already been confirmed that Call of Duty Ghosts will make its first public appearance at the conference tomorrow, the FPS behemoth making its next generation debut. It’s a smart move, with the most popular video game on the planet appearing under Microsoft’s banner, if only for a day. Elsewhere, a new Forza is a good bet to show off the shiny new graphical capabilities of the machine, while we can also expect at least one title to show off Kinect 2.0
Sony placed games front and centre at the PlayStation 4 reveal, leaving their other entertainment solutions to take a backseat. A noble cause, but don’t expect Microsoft to be so coy. They will be pushing the Next Xbox hard as an all-in-one entertainment box, likely to detail music and video solutions that far outstrip their already substantial offerings on Xbox 360. The one rumoured revolution is using the Xbox to stream live TV beyond the current deal with Sky, with users able to pause and rewind much as they would on a Sky+ or TiVO box. Microsoft's recent acquistion of Skype means it's almost certain that the video-calling service will feature in the Next Xbox.
Date and pricing...
...or what not to expect. The reveal tomorrow will be all about the tech and the console itself. The business model for the Next Xbox will likely have to wait until at least E3, if not beyond. You can be sure Microsoft will want to go toe-to-toe with Sony this Christmas, so they may allow themselves a 'Holiday 2013' window, but don't expect a sniff of the price. A tag of $500 has been doing the rounds, and there's also the outside chance the Next Xbox will be the first video games console to be offered on a subscription based model. But those discussions are likely for another time. For now, Microsoft will be content to let their hardware take centre-stage.