Let me start by saying I am not a gamer - I know I have missed out on something in my life. My adult son was an Xbox (and PS) user and it bought him thousands (maybe too many) hours of joy. I apologise in advance if I get any of this wrong!
For those who don’t know or care let’s just say that Xbox is Microsoft’s way of ultimately linking PCs, Macs, tablets (of all persuasions), smart phones (ditto), smart TV’s and fridges et all to internet, video, music, pay TV, Xbox TV, and oh, and games. Key words “internet based business model”.
It could be in for some stiff competition if Samsung steals the lead to make TV’s smarter (See iTWire article here ) but let’s assume that Xbox 720 will do it a little better, at least in the interim (why you ask – MS developers are perhaps more clever and driven and understand the games market than Sammy’s). So contrary to some media reports I don’t think this is the end of the console wars.
We are pretty sure that it will have: a 64bit AMD 8 core (1.6 or 1.8GHz) CPU; a custom 800MHz Radeon based GPU (capable of ray-tracing rendering); 8GB Dram; 32-64GB embedded fast SRAM; 50GB (or perhaps 100GB) 6x Blu-ray; Wi-FI (N at present but could be AC/N); WiDi; Gigabyte Ethernet; USB 3.0; HDMI 1.4a (for 3D over HDMI and ARC for 7.1 audio); and a local 500GB hard disk (to reduce game latency times in comparison to loading from a Blu-ray or off the internet but maybe not large enough for Pay TV/FTA caching and PVR movie storage so expect this to increase by release date).
There is some controversy over whether it will need to be connected to internet to function and that games purchased on disc will require activation and will have no value beyond the initial registration (this may prevent second hand games from playing and kill that market). However consumer rights organisations world-wide may well crush that concept yet and MS is said to be considering allowing a game to be re-registered at least once.
MS seems to think that helping to crush pirate games will help fund lower cost games and make game developers happier. By making it an internet connected device MS will also be able to push all manner of content to it (not just firmware updates but live games, advertising, video, music etc).
It will only work with a new Kinect – motion control is vital to the games market and MS want more control over how it is implemented by using a special interface chip to improve response and features. It will also double as a web camera that can track six individual people in the same room! This has both gameplay implications but also the ability to customise content delivery to your “skeleton”. It is so precise that it can determine if your hand is open or closed – right down to giving it the finger. MS will also tightly integrate Skype features into the experience so that you will have an “Xbox Live” experience as well – clever.
MS have also shown off IllumiRoom technology (pictured) that helps to create a more immersive gaming (or movie) experience. Using Kinect technology it can help create games that “extend beyond the TV screen”. It hooks into a projector to add extra dimension including the appearance of motion or extend the field of view to the physical TV. Given the low cost of projectors this could be Xboxes killer feature. Next stage of development is a “immersive spherical projector” to give 3D and full four wall effects.
Given 8 cores and 8MB SDRAM it will definitely multi-task allowing it to suspend games, swap to Facebook etc., and making it home media entertainment cum whatever server material. It seems to be able to support a second screen, possibly a tablet or TV using WiDi. It will have close integration with Windows 8 tablets and smartphones that may add extra functionality – watching a game in progress or controlling some aspect of the Xbox. The CPU has enough horsepower to support voice commands and appears to be several times more powerful than the proposed PS 4 (Xbox is rumoured to have 4.2Tflops processing power against PS4 at 1.84TFlops).
Games developers are talking about increased cross platform development capability but surely that can’t be in MS’s interests – they would want Xbox releases well before others (PlayStation or Wii).