Xbox 720: Inside the next Xbox
How Microsoft will compete in the next generation war - against Nintendo, Sony, Apple and everyone
The next Xbox is 22 months away, will ship with Kinect, and brings games to life using technology straight out of Star Trek. it's already designed - this we know. You can't keep a lid on a story this huge.
For more opinion and features buy Xbox World online for £4.99 or on Apple Newsstand. Microsoft has already proved it can outsell Sony, so its biggest concern next generation isn't Sony and PlayStation 4 - it's Apple and Google.
It's on the case. The new Metro dash and apps are turning the 360 into a device capable of halting those company's living room aspirations, while the next machine will be ground-up designed to be the centre of your home entertainment. The real story is, of course, inside the box, and in Microsoft's research labs around the world.
Regular Microsoft secret-exposer MSnerd ties the next Xbox to the internal project 'Loop.' This is not the first time that codename's been applied to an Xbox prototype - we know 'Loop' was an Xbox device once before (it was never released), and this lends the rumour credibility as it's insider knowledge. Unless it debunks it completely because it's an out-of-date whisper...
MSnerd also reckons that like 360 the next Xbox has a multi-core central processing unit (CPU), but this time with a 'main' core supported by secondaries to compute graphics needs, AI, Kinect and all other stuff Microsoft are using to differentiate this from the 'old' gen.
For months the new CPU was rumoured to be 'Obed,' but our own sources suggest otherwise - take tech site semiaccurate.com seriously when it say the next CPU is 'Oban'. Our sources confirm the site was the first to get the name right, which strengthens its claim that Oban is finished and due to enter production in December 2012.
Oban is thought to be a PowerPC-based processor from IBM - similar to the 360's CPU - but there's good evidence to suggest AMD is involved with the next Xbox. In either case, this processor is built by ATI, which means 360's backwards compatibility problems will not be repeated.
All sources come up short on just how powerful Oban and ATI's new graphics processing unit (GPU) is, but both must surely be tough enough to run Epic's Samaritan demo from 2011's GDC. Running on a heavily modified version of Unreal 3, the demo showed near-photorealistic visuals, incredible lighting effects and superb liquid physics. And don't underestimate Epic's clout. When Microsoft was designing the 360 it was Epic's Gears of War demo which forced MS to increase RAM from 256Mb to 512Mb, and that was then. This time Epic's Euro-boss Mike Gamble has called Samaritan a "request to the hardware manufacturers for what we'd like to be able to do." Where Epic's Unreal Engine leads, the hardware simply has to follow.
Historically, Sony has always built the most powerful machine: PS2 was more powerful than Dreamcast, PSP more powerful than DS, PS3 more powerful than 360, and Vita more powerful than 3DS.
Don't expect the next generation to be any different - Sony won't be bundling an expensive Kinect sensor in every box, and PS4's processor won't need to dedicate time to Kinect processing. PS4 will almost certainly overpower the next Xbox.
But you don't win console wars with power. You win with ingenuity. The Wii and DS proved platform manufacturers don't have to knock out the beefiest machine to win. The 360 beat PS3 and the DS beat PSP, despite Sony's powerhouse processors.
Microsoft's strength is innovation. It can beat almost any other tech company on the planet in a battle at the patent office. Nobody but Microsoft can build a Kinect, and that's important when Kinect is about to take over the world.
Currently, you need a living room the size of a hangar to get the most out of Kinect, but Kinect 2.0 doesn't require that space. The proof exists - already Microsoft has built a Kinect to track movements only inches from the camera. Research into tracking specific parts - fingers and eyes - is working now with only marginally upgraded Kinect tech, and a MS research paper explains how the future of Kinect will be in transparent displays.
That tech was demonstrated in Microsoft Research Cambridge's Holodesk - stackable objects rendered in 3D behind a sheet of glass, powered by Kinect head and finger tracking. Holodesk is closely related to Microsoft's Omnitouch system which can project a touchscreen anywhere.
And then there's audio. Back in 2007, one of Microsoft's research teams figured out how to create 'pockets' of sound for a 'headphone experience without headphones'. It wanted to know if the tech was economically feasible; five years on and the answer is yes.
Bullshit, right? Nope. These technologies exists in hundred thousand-dollar prototypes just waiting to be turned into consumer products, and Microsoft own them all.
Two years before Kinect hit shelves the sensor would have cost tens of thousands; now it's yours for £100. Holodesk's budget prototype is the size of a fridge; within a year it will be helmet-sized and wearable, and by 2015 will sit inside something no bigger than a pair of 3DTV specs.
Sony doesn't want to get left behind again, and has confirmed it's looking to get PlayStation 4 on shelves for the same launch window as the next Xbox. Given Oban's production cycle and the reports coming in from our sources, we think November 2013 is the firm release date.
You won't have to wait that long for a preview of it, either - neither Microsoft nor Sony will want to let Nintendo's Wii U steal the show at E3 in May. Expect a name, a show reel, and a glimpse of the real next generation in just six months time.
What will we play at launch?
The next Xbox has been something of a mystery to games makers as well as players. Either that, or developers have been incredibly good at keeping secrets via their recruitment processes... the sheer amount of accidental references to next-generation job duties from Microsoft themselves suggests that's not the case.
There are few sure-fire 720 releases yet. The next Halo is a dead-cert for the machine, as is a hefty new release from Bulletstorm makers People Can Fly. It's rumoured the studio are working on a set of Gears of War prequels. That certainly makes sense given that the studio is owned by Gears helmers Epic, and that the 'last' bit of Gears 3 DLC is the prequel-piece RAAM's Shadow.
Outside of that, major studios are spooling up their heavy-hitting development machines. Square Enix has been hiring in Japan, asking for 'the highest level of talent' for 'next generation game engine development'. Also hiring are Microsoft Game Studios Vancouver, something of a development supergroup that has been snaffling staff to "Make games for 'core' gamers."
Meanwhile, the CV of the studio's art director, Shawn Woods, suggested it were already at work on a 'triple-A core experience using Kinect'. That Kinect usage makes more sense if this is one of the Xbox 720's launch games, given the time necessary for development.
Expect returns from platform stalwarts such as Turn 10 Studios' Forza series to lead the way. However, the potential difference in pure power between the consoles means we might start to see a breakup in cross-platform homogenisation. If the Xbox 720 focuses on utility and innovation, while the PS4 goes for ultimate horsepower, developers may have to choose to develop two games, or port one either down or upwards.
How that will affect the games you play must remain speculation at the moment, but when development costs are as astronomical as it are today, it's hard to imagine publishers will be either willing or able to hurl money at two distinct variations.
Potentially, the two consoles will be distinct and different enough for there to be one clear winner - one that studios choose to develop the majority of their games for. Interesting times.
Even after all the innovation, how come their output quality is still low. The first xbox 360 was rushed and had mobo problems; I don't know how kinect fares but that broke out on me after 2 months. Microsoft really need to fix their quality issues.
You stole my thread man how could you ??
^^ I hate this recession thing of mine
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