Predicting the Xbox 720

Thursday, 09 May 2013 02:06 AM Written by 

Xbox 360 symbol.svgThe next generation of Xbox will be announced on May 21, and the rumor mill is at full power. From whispers of requiring an “always-on” internet connection, to Microsoft ditching DVDs to adopt the Blu-Ray format, some are more believable than others. With just two weeks remaining before the the revelation, I wanted to document my predictions. Come May 21, I’ll be able to laugh and say I was right–or face the humiliation of nailing none of them. Let’s get started.

 



The Name

 

The next Xbox has had no shortage of names given by the gaming media. From the codename Durango, to just plain Xbox suggested by this NeaGAF forum, to Xbox Infinity, Microsoft could go with one of these or come up with something new.

I can’t believe that they would opt for the plain “Xbox” name, similar to Apple’s iPad or the rumored name for Nintendo’s Wii U before its release. A decision like that would cause all kinds of confusion, similar to Nintendo’s mistake of putting “Wii” in the Wii U’s name. A new system needs a new name so consumers who don’t have their fingers on the pulse of gaming news know that it’s actually a new product and not an extension of something they already own.

My vote is for the most recent rumored name: the Xbox Fusion. Forbes reports that Microsoft has been registering domain names with “fusion” in the title. This fits perfectly with Microsoft’s hopes for their new machine. The Xbox 360 was the next step in the evolution of making a game console an entertainment hub, but it just scratched the surface. Microsoft wants to bridge that gap completely, and “Fusion” is a cool, futuristic-sounding name to give the machine that’s going to do it.

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The Specs

 

The pressure is on Microsoft to make a console that doesn’t break after a few years of use. Two consoles in a row of that nonsense, and Microsoft will be branded as the company that makes shoddy hardware. First-gen tech always has its wrinkles, but I’m hopeful that it won’t be as disastrous as the original Xbox 360.

TechRadar broke down the rumored specs of the upcoming console. If true, it means that the next Xbox will keep up with the PS4 so games can be easily made cross-platform like they have been for past two generations. However, the report suggests that the PS4 will have a slight edge in graphical processing power, but the Xbox will be better equipped to handle multitasking for things outside of the gaming realm.

This would be a nice change of pace considering doing anything on the Xbox 360 requires a tremendous amount of patience. Waiting at least five seconds after hitting the guide button has become commonplace. I look forward to a snappy Xbox. 

As for a prediction in this category, it wouldn’t make much sense to make an exact prediction because there are so many spec variations. I’ll say that the next Xbox will at least keep up with the power of the PS4. Being able to handle games of your direct competitor is important. Microsoft doesn’t want to have the console that pales in comparison when screens are placed side by side.



Storage

 

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the next Xbox will have a large cloud storage component. Cloud storage is the future. We’re going to keep compiling data, which will require larger memory banks. The easy solution is to have the companies hold it for us. Now I know many aren’t willing to trust companies with our data, and the thought of it being lost due to no fault of our own is there. Perhaps I’m just too trusting.

My laptop of six years recently died, and I didn’t even care that my files were gone. Everything I have of value is stored somewhere else on some remote server. Email is kept safe by Google. My music is housed by Spotify. Twitter and Facebook information is held in the “loving arms” of those two companies. That’s fine with me.

I predict that the Xbox 360 will have an HDD, or possibly a solid state drive, paired with a cloud storage option. Saving games and media to the cloud will make it possible to retrieve files on other Windows 8 devices. This is device integration that Microsoft can’t and won’t pass up. If I had to guess a number of gigs on the local drive, I’d say 250 Gb. Cloud storage space will be priced depending on how much you want, similar to Apple’s iCloud model.

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Kinect

 

The Kinect is the flagship companion for the Xbox. In its current twilight stage, it’s been used more as an interactive microphone than a motion capturing camera. The next generation will change that.

The current model is throttled by the limited power of the Xbox 360. Let’s face it, the current Kinect isn’t even close to perfect. Facial recognition is never consistent, and motion controls are wonky. Tacked on Kinect integration in games like “Tiger Woods” or “Dead Space 3” largely get ignored. The next Xbox could vastly improve on functionality of the device. If the reported specs of the Kinect 2.0 from VGLeaks are true, prepare to see a more accurate Kinect that can handle much more than its predecessor.

In a nutshell, the next iteration of the Kinect will be superior in every way. According to the report, it will have a wider view range, color stream that can produce 1080p quality, and less latency. I’ve always said that Kinect is a great device, but only in theory. It has to work. If these specs are true, it’s a step in the right direction.

I see the Kinect as a necessary bundle with all models of the next Xbox. Microsoft spent a pretty penny developing and marketing the Kinect, and they want them in every home that has an Xbox. Even if there are multiple models of the Xbox itself, the Kinect will come with all of them.



Online Functionality

 

Now to tackle what has been the most controversial aspect of the future Xbox: online functionality. The frenzy began when Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth tweeted a not so cryptic tweet defending always-online devices.

Then, Ars Technica uncovered an internal Microsoft email the shed more light on the situation, stating, “There are a number of scenarios that our users expect to work without an Internet connection, and those should ‘just work’ regardless of their current connection status. Those include, but are not limited to: Playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single player game.”

The above statement sounds more like a controlled PR statement compared to typical internal emails. Regardless, it does say plenty about the direction of the next Xbox. Here’s what I gather from it. The new Xbox will be at its best when it has a functional internet connection, but won’t be a brick when the internet goes down, or if there’s no internet at all.

System and game updates have been a whipping boy by the gaming public during this console generation. Face it, it’s an inconvenience–at least a minor one–to get slapped with an update prompt when you just want to play a game. I’ve encountered this more on the PS3 than the 360, but the annoyance remains constant. The next Xbox could take advantage of being always connected by downloading system updates when in standby. These updates would take place in the background, and we wouldn’t have to even see them unless we choose to.

The decision to make the next Xbox an always-online console would be an increasingly risky one. The recent SimCity debacle should be a clear warning of pitfalls that come with requiring constant internet. Internet isn’t constant. Game servers crash. Internet service providers experience outages. It happens. The consumer can’t be punished for this.

I see Microsoft going towards an Xbox that is vastly improved by an internet connection, but one that isn’t reliant on it. Most of the system’s functionality will require a connection to the Xbox Live service, but you can get a core experience without it.

Sony recognized that the PSN was the inferior online service, and aimed to rectify that with their acquisition of Gaikai, a company that specialized in online streaming. Being able to livestream gameplay is a big get for the PS4, and is one that Microsoft will have to match.

I expect to see a vastly improved Xbox Live experience, one that has more features and is faster for users. Will Xbox Live have the ability to livestream games? I’m hoping it will. I think Microsoft has been eyeing this as the next step in gaming, and wants to make it possible on their next console. I’m hoping for YouTube integration as well as livestreaming.  

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Backwards compatibility

 

If you asked me if the next Xbox would be backwards compatible with all Xbox 360 titles two years ago, my answer would have been a clear “yes.” Now I’m not so sure.

We have invested a lot of time and money in this generation of console just because of its unprecedented lifespan. It’s been eight years of buying discs, downloading games, and thousands of hours of game saves. It’s actually best not to think about that number. Sony has abandoned backwards compatibility with the PS4, which takes the pressure off of Microsoft to include it in the Xbox.

Not including backwards compatibility is an easy way to cut costs, and the game companies are always looking for ways to cut the cost of a new console. GamesRadar cites an anonymous source revealing that the next Xbox will have a 360 system-on-a-chip, giving the system complete backwards compatibility. I won’t be surprised if this turns out to be false, but I’m hoping that it’s true.

On the other hand, including backwards compatibility would give the system a huge advantage over the PS4. The next Xbox would be an Xbox 360 replacement while being two consoles. People could trade in their old hardware for the upgrade. This would be a valuable quality for the next Xbox to have, especially when software overlaps in the early years of its lifespan.

I predict that this is too good of an opportunity for Microsoft to miss. They will include full backwards compatibility in the next Xbox.  



Disc Format

 

The last few years of the Xbox 360’s lifespan has been an indication that games are big now, and often require multiple DVDs. Microsoft knows this. Now that the format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD is over, Microsoft doesn’t have a reason to resist Blu-ray. It holds so much more data than DVDs, it would be foolish not to make the switch. High definition gaming and the Blu-ray disc go hand in hand.

I see Microsoft adopting the Blu-ray format for their next console. Triple-A titles aren’t going to get any smaller. I don’t want to buy the next “Dead Space” on five DVDs. The Blu-ray format is too beneficial for Microsoft to pass on it.

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Games

 

When getting caught up in the whirlwind of rumors of a new console, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually going to play games. Sony set the bar high when they unveiled the PS4, organizing a two hour presentation while devoting more than half of the show to software.

Microsoft is going to have to show games that will appeal to the hardcore audience tuning in on May 21, but they can’t forget about the family friendly titles either. By wanting the next Xbox to be a complete hub for the living room, games that appeal to the whole family will be an essential part of their strategy.

I expect to see big named IPs announced on May 21 like “Halo,” “Forza,” and maybe even a GTA V announcement for the new console. We already know “Destiny” will be available on the 360, but I see this being a game that bridges the generation gap since we know it will also be available for the PS4.

Love it or hate it, some of May 21’s show will showcase the next Kinect. Microsoft will be eager to show what makes it better than its predecessor and what games will be available for it. I see a half hour to an hour devoted exclusively to the new Kinect.



Multiple Models

 

While I do think there will be multiple models of the next Xbox, I don’t think we’ll learn about them on May 21. There isn’t much time between the Xbox reveal and Microsoft’s E3 press conference. I see the company saving many of the details like pricing and model types for E3. May 21 will strictly be to showcase what the system can do.

When crafting a console that is both family friendly and appealing to the hardcore audience, its nearly impossible to appeal to all crowds with on console model. Like the 360 had an affordable base model and a pro bundle, the next Xbox will follow suit.

The base model could have a smaller hard drive, or even less powerful hardware. Microsoft did this with their Surface tablet with the less powerful base model and the more expensive Surface Pro. I see this as a strong possibility for their future console.

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Price

 

Here’s the biggest takeaway of all the speculation. Everybody wants to know what they’re going to have to shell out to get their hands on one.  My hard prediction: $500 for the top model and $400 for the inferior model.

 

So there you have it; my complete prediction for the next chapter in the story of Microsoft’s gaming console. What are you hoping to see in the next Xbox? How do you think it will stack up to what we already know about the PS4? Sound off in the comments or let me know on Twitter @GameGuyPGH.

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