What we do (and don't) know about the new Xbox

Rumors are swirling ahead of Microsoft's May 21 unveiling of the next Xbox. Here's what we know now, and what we expect to learn.

On May 21st at 10am Pacific time, Microsoft will unveil its next-generation Xbox console. And if this article were titled "What we know for sure about the next Xbox," we could end it here. Microsoft has been very tight-lipped about the successor to the Xbox 360, but that's about to change.

Sony revealed the Playstation 4 in Feburary, promsing more info at the E3 Expo in June. Sony set the bar, and now it's up to Microsoft to clear it. In truth, there's not a lot of really solid information about the next Xbox. Rumors have circulated online for years, and seem to change with the tide. That said, when you hear the same things repeated often enough, from generally reliable sources, you start to get a reasonable idea of what to expect. We know what we would like to see in the next Xbox, but what are we likely  to see?

The name

The code name for the next Xbox is Durango, but just as the console called Xenon was formally named Xbox 360, Durango will soon shed its development name in favor of a public moniker. Some have colloquially called Microsoft's next console the Xbox 720, because that's double 360, but that can't be the name, because frankly, it's dumb.

The International Business Times in the UK claims to have sources stating the name will be Xbox Infinity, which isn't half bad. This rumor gained a lot of weight thanks to a very official-looking marketing mock-up by a Reddit user going by the name of "C-Ron." Xbox Infinity might be the name (it has a nice ring to it and is suitably broad in appeal), but a fan-made logo is in no way proof of anything.

Recently, Microsoft began snapping up domains related to the name Xbox Fusion. XboxFusion.com, XboxFusion.info, XboxFusion.biz, XboxFusion.de, XboxFusion.co.uk...all owned by Microsoft, all redirect to the official Xbox site. That's as good a clue to the name as anything we're likely to get.

The specs

If there's anything video game fanboys like to argue about on the Internet, it's the relative merits of the unannounced specs of future hardware. For a few months, one set of specs for the next Xbox has been so widely circulated that it seems almost unthinkable for Microsoft to announce anything else. There's even a block diagram; because who could possibly fake one of those?

The rumors specs are as follows:

  • An 8-core x86 CPU made by AMD, based on the "Jaguar" core. (very simlar to the PS4's CPU)
  • An AMD graphics processor based on the Radeon 7000 series, with 12 shader cores (similar to the PS4's GPU, only the PS4 has 16 cores)
  • 8GB of DDR3 memory (the PS4 also has 8GB of RAM, but it's faster GDDR5 memory)
  • 32MB of very fast embedded SRAM
  • A hard drive in every box (of unspecified size)
  • A fast Blu-ray drive
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Dedicated hardware for encryption, audio and video compression, and processing Kinect input

This all seems perfectly reasonable and roughly in line with the Playstation 4. Calm down, Sony fan, I said "roughly." If these are Microsoft's specs, the PS4 will be a little more powerful, but not so much as to make a major difference in what you play. Consider that the PS3 is certainly more powerful than the Xbox 360, and on the whole the best games between the two platforms are roughly comparable in technival "gee whiz" factor. The original Xbox was about 3 times as powerful as the Playstation 2, and the games only marginally more impressive.

We have no reason to believe these rumored specs are correct, other than the fact that they are never really soundly refuted, and they seem very reasonable.

Kinect for everyone

For an optional add-on coming late in the hardware cycle, Kinect has been quite successful on the Xbox 360, selling over 24 million units. This time around, we don't expect Microsoft to split its market between the Kinect haves and have-nots. Every new Xbox will come with a next-generation Kinect sensor, if the rumors are right. This new Kinect is said to have two to three times the resolution of the existing model, with a wider field of view and better low-light sensitivity so it works better in more living room configurations. A more robust dedicated processor should improve accuracy and responsiveness, too.

This seems like a no-brainer. Kinect is a differentiator that competitors haven't been able to match, and while the hardcore gamers haven't embraced it, the best way to ensure that developers make good use of it is to guarantee that every gamer has one. Then, developers can put serious time and effort behind Kinect features without worrying that only a fraction of the players can use them.

A slightly tweaked controller

The Xbox 360 controller's shape and layout is beloved by gamers, and often imitated. Early rumors that the controller would have a touchscreen built in (not unlike the Wii U's gamepad) seem mostly to come from the fevered dreams of fans that can't stand their favorite system not having something other systems have. A controller with a screen in it would be a terrible idea. Microsoft's second-screen strategy revolves around SmartGlass, and adding a touchscreen to controllers will ramp up the cost, which is already sure to be high thanks to sophisticated hardware and built-in Kinect. Not to mention what it would do to battery life.

All Microsoft really needs to do with its controller is improve latency and bandwidth (an easy task with currently availalbe wireless technologies), fine-tune buttons and sticks, and for love of god, fix the damn horrible D-pad. We'll probalby see some slight changes to the button layout, and maybe even a small touchpad, similar to what Sony did with the PS4 controller, but don't expect a revolution.

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