Everything we think we know about the next Xbox

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In February, Sony revealed the first official details for the PlayStation 4 game console, which is scheduled to launch before the end of 2013. In just a few days, it will be Microsoft’s time at bat to impress the hardcore console gamers, developers and indeed the entire game industry. On May 21st, Microsoft will hold a press event in a tent located in the middle of its world headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Unless the company is making all of this fuss for an announcement of the third game in the Blinx: The Time Sweeper series, it’s highly expected that Microsoft will offer the first details for the third incarnation of its Xbox game console at this event.

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The rumors have been flying around the Internet for months about what Microsoft has in mind for the next Xbox, and some of those reports have proven to be highly controversial among gamers. While it’s unlikely that Microsoft will reveal everything they have planned for the next Xbox on May 21st, we should have a much better idea of what we can expect after Tuesday’s event.

In this first of a three part series, we will go over the many, many rumors, reports and leaks that have been posted about the next Xbox ahead of Tuesday’s big announcement. We will start with was has been rumored about the hardware inside the console but before we get to that, there’s one big question that we wanted to get out of the way first:

What will be the official name for the next Xbox?

We have gone over this topic in a previous feature, but basically the answer is, “We don’t know.” Our money is that the next Xbox will be called simply “Xbox”, but there have been rumors that it will be called Xbox Fusion, Xbox 720 and Xbox Infinity, although that last name seems to have been proven as a fake. The code name for the next Xbox has been widely reported to be Durango among insiders at Microsoft as well as game developers.

What will the CPU and GPU hardware be like inside the next Xbox?

After using a custom PowerPC processor for the Xbox 360, Microsoft is rumored to be putting in an x86 chip based on an AMD design for the next Xbox. Rumors claim that the processor will have two modules, each with four x86 cores inside. Each of those cores reportedly runs on a single thread at a clock speed of 1.6 Ghz.

The GPU for the next Xbox is rumored to be based on a fairly high end Radeon chip from AMD. Some sites have posted what they claim are leaked specs for the GPU, which they claim will have a clock speed of 800 MHz, along with 12 shader cores, each with its own L1 cache. The GPU is also supposed to support antialiasing for 2x, 4x and 8x MSAA levels.


What kind of disc drive will the next Xbox have?
While there were some early rumors that claimed Microsoft at least thought about making the next Xbox without any disc drive at all, the current reports now claim that Microsoft will have a Blu-ray drive inside the console. The Xbox 360 had a DVD drive that could also play DVD movies, and Microsoft briefly offered an HD DVD add-on drive before that format was discontinued. It’s currently unknown if the next Xbox will play Blu-ray movies in the drive.

What will the sound hardware be like in the console?

The latest reports claim that the console will use the SHAPE (Scalable Hardware Audio Processing Engine) block for most of its sound hardware features. Those same reports claim that the audio hardware will be digital only, via HDMI 1.4a or S/PDIF optical outputs.

Will the next Xbox have a hard drive?

It would be a major shock if the next Xbox didn’t have some kind of on-board storage for game and media downloads. Some rumors claim that the hard drive will be pretty roomy at 500 GB, and it will need to be if other rumors about mandatory hard drive installs for next Xbox games are correct.

What will the case of the console look like?

That’s currently one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the next Xbox. In its next-to-last print issue, Xbox World created what they think the shape of the console might look like but as of the posting of this article there’s been no leaks showing the case. Microsoft will likely reveal the machine on May 21st, something that Sony failed to do when it revealed the PS4 in February.

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What will the console’s controller be like?

It’s looking like Microsoft is going to have an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude for its official next Xbox console. The rumored reports are that the gamepad has all of the same buttons and triggers that the current Xbox 360 controller has. The only change is that the new controller might be slightly smaller.

Will the next Xbox have support for a new version of Kinect?

Again, it would be a huge surprise if the next Xbox didn’t have a second generation version of the Kinect motion gesture capture hardware. Kinect was released as an add-on for the Xbox 360 in 2010 but rumors claim that “Kinect 2.0” will be bundled with the next Xbox, with new features such as HD video support, better depth sensors and a greater field of view. The new Kinect hardware is also supposed to be smaller than the current version.

What are these reports on some kind of Kinect set top box all about?

Rumors hit the Internet well over a year ago that Microsoft might be working on some kind of set top box, similar to Apple TV or Roku, that would be made for streaming videos, audio and possibly games. However, it’s doubtful that Microsoft will talk about this kind of hardware next week during the next Xbox reveal event. Indeed, there’s debate about whether or not this product will ever be released to the public.

Is there an Xbox Surface tablet in the works?

Microsoft has also been rumored for some time to be making a seven inch version of its Surface tablet that’s being made specifically for gaming. The “Xbox Surface” rumors even come with specifications that claim it has a modified PowerPC processor inside. While it’s almost certain that Microsoft is working on new versions of the Surface tablet that was first launched in 2012, there’s been no indications that the “Xbox Surface” gaming tablet is being developed alongside the next Xbox console. However, we could be pleasantly surprised when May 21st comes around.

What will the price be for the next Xbox?

It looks like the launch price for Microsoft’s next console could be somewhat higher than the pricing for the launch of the Xbox 360. One report claims that the console will cost $500, with a reduction to $300 if buyers also subscribe to the Xbox Live service for a period of time, similar to a smartphone contract. It’s doubtful that Microsoft will reveal the price of the next Xbox on Tuesday.

What will the operating system be like inside the next Xbox?

It’s looking like Microsoft will have a modified version of Windows 8 running things inside the next Xbox console, which makes sense if the CPU will be an x86 design. If true, this opens up a number of possibilities for not only cross-platform gaming but also cross-platform app development. In theory, an Xbox console running Windows 8 could run all of the apps made for Microsoft’s current operating system.

Will the next Xbox have a new design for its main dashboard compared to the Xbox 360?

It seems likely that Microsoft will do some tweaking to the Xbox Live dashboard interface for the next version of the console. The current design for the Xbox 360 already looks a bit like the Modern design that Windows 8 and Windows Phone share. A recent rumor claims Microsoft will release an updated dashboard for the current Xbox 360 console later this summer. That same rumor claims the update will allow Xbox 360 owners to access people who have the new Xbox via messaging, beacons and achievements.

Will I still have to buy Microsoft Points to download Xbox Live Arcade games?

According to recent rumors, in the coming months Microsoft will finally do away with their Microsoft Points system that it launched in 2005 for the Xbox 360 console. The console is supposed to support real money transactions for game and other content purchases. If true, this will certainly be a welcome change for most Xbox gamers who have dealt with the rather confusing Microsoft Points economy for several years.

Will Microsoft offer downloads of media apps for the next Xbox?

It would be a huge shock if Microsoft decided to no longer offer apps such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and others for the third version of the Xbox. The current Xbox 360 already has a plethora of downloadable streaming video and audio apps to choose from, and Microsoft wants the Xbox business to be its gateway in the living room to a full multimedia entertainment experience.

Will I still have to pay for Xbox Live Gold to access the media apps and play multiplayer games for the next console?

We see no indication that Microsoft intends to abandon its business model for Xbox Live that it already uses for the Xbox 360 for the next Xbox console. While there will likely continue to be a free Xbox Live tier, Microsoft will almost surely continue to charge for a subscription to Xbox Live Gold to access media apps and, more importantly for gamers, to play games online.

What’s this about the next Xbox requiring an “always-on” Internet connection to play games and run media apps?

Without a doubt, this is the one aspect of the many, many rumors surrounding Microsoft’s next game console that has touched off more debate than any other. The Internet has been buzzing for months that the next Xbox will require some kind of connection to the Internet to play games and use its many apps. The rumors have ranged from games simply requiring a one time connection to the Internet to play to the worse case scenario; an “always-on” connection that won’t allow anyone to play anything on the console if there’s an interruption in service.

Naturally, Microsoft has not given any official comment on these rumors. However, a recent report claims Microsoft sent out an internal email to Xbox staff members stating there are a number of things the console should be able to do without the need for a net connection, including playing a single player game. Hopefully, these reports are indeed true.

Will Skype finally show up in the next Xbox as its main messaging client?

Microsoft has been hiring people for over a year to work on Xbox related Skype programming positions, but the current Xbox 360 still doesn’t have Skype client. However, we think it’s almost a certainty that a Skype app will be included as the main messaging client for the new game console.

What’s the deal with this news about Microsoft launching a revival of the TV show “Heroes” for the next Xbox?

In addition to offering games and media apps, the next Xbox could be a way for Microsoft to launch its own original episodic TV programming. The company opened a Xbox entertainment studio in Santa Monica, California, several months ago and hired veteran TV executive Nancy Tellem to run it. Rumors that started in April about the revival of the cult superhero TV show “Heroes” described the potential revival as being in the early stages of development. In other words, it might not happen.

Whether the “Heroes” relaunch happens or not, it seems clear that Microsoft wants to use the next Xbox to be a true entertainment platform, beyond just games. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are all launching their own streaming TV shows and it would seem a natural for Microsoft to follow suit.

Will there be a version of Internet Explorer in the next Xbox?

Microsoft waited for seven years before finally adding a version of IE in the Xbox 360 in 2012. You can bet the house and the car that a version of IE will be available out of the box for the next Xbox, especially if it does use Windows 8 as its OS.

Will the next Xbox support the Xbox SmartGlass apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8?

This would seem to be a no-brainer. Microsoft made a big deal out of its Xbox SmartGlass apps for the Xbox 360 in 2012 and we can certainly expect that support to both continue and improve for the next Xbox.

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