Reading into the latest Xbox 720 rumors

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So the sleuths over at VGleaks are at it again. They released some screenshots that they claim come from the Durango (aka Xbox 720) developer kit.

For the purposes of this post, let's assume these are legitimate images.

Some sites seem to be reading a lot into this passage:

Every Durango console will have a hard drive, although exact capacity has not been chosen. It will be large enough, however, to hold a large number of games. All games will be installed on the hard drive. Play from the optical disc will not be supported.

Durango consoles will have a Blu-ray Disc drive. Disc media will be used for distribution, but during gameplay, games will not use content from the optical disc. An installation system is being designed that will allow gamers to begin playing while the game is being installed on the hard drive rather than waiting until installation is complete.

I've see a few posts (at Ars Technica and TheVerge) that suggest this info supports the idea of a system that prevents playing used games.

I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm just too much of an optimist but what I take away from that passage is that you'll have to install every game to the hard drive of your next Xbox in the same way that you optionally can now. It says play from the optical disk will not be supported. It doesn't say a game won't check for the existence of the disc when launching. I see this as a way to boost performance (since optical drives are relatively slow) rather than an indication of a one-time activation code or anything like that.

And bonus points for a system that lets us start playing right away rather than waiting for 10-20 minutes while tens of gigabytes of data get transferred from the disk.

Somewhat more troubling is this passage:

Durango will implement different power states so that it can always be powered on, but will draw minimal electricity when not in use. The console will be ready instantly when users want to play, and will always maintain a network connection so that console software and games are alway current. With this "Always On, Always Connected" design, users will quickly and easily enjoy their connected entertainment experiences, with no waiting for the console to restart or install updates.

You can read this as "Durango requires a network connection" or you can read this as "if your console has an Internet connection that connection will always be active so patches and updates can be downloaded while the system is sleeping." It kind of depends on your point of view, I think.

I still don't believe Microsoft will launch a console that won't function without an Internet connection but again, I'm a bit more optimistic about these issues than the typical jaded gamer.

Then there's the passage fewer are talking about but the one I find most troubling:

Every Durango console will be sold with a new high-fidelity Kinect Sensor, which will be required for the system to operate.The console will provide HD video, and will use new depth sensor technology to provide better screen resolution and less noisy depth data. Active infrared illumination will provide high-quality monochrome images even in low ambiant light conditions. A wider field of view allows play in smaller spaces, and removes the need for a tilt motor.

No matter how I read this one, I don't see a way out of the "Kinect is required to operate" statement. I'm glad Kinect is apparently better but I've found I don't miss having a Kinect sensor installed and I'm not really looking forward to a camera attached to an "Always On" piece of hardware staring into my living room.

Even if you disagree with me and think Ars and TheVerge are reading this leak correctly, it's important to remember that it says right there on the doc "preliminary and subject to change."

I find it really, really unlikely that Microsoft will launch a system that won't run used games or that requires an Internet connection; look at all the bad press EA is getting over that requirement for SimCity. Even if Redwood considered going this route at some point, I just don't think the world is ready for that kind of limitation on a gaming console. Requiring Kinect, though? I could see them launching with that requirement intact. *shudder*

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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