Microsoft is building up to take next-gen head-on with its Xbox platform, which has notoriously been on the back foot against PlayStation throughout the current generation. Microsoft has been on a studio shopping spree as of late, vastly expanding its portfolio of exclusive content it hopes will entice gamers onto the Xbox ecosystem. Microsoft is also exploring lowering the barrier to entry by spreading across to mobile devices, via Project xCloud game streaming, as well as offering Netflix-like all-you-can-eat gaming via Xbox Game Pass. What do their current hardware plans look like, though?

Here's a round-up of the latest rumors we've been working with at the moment. As always, take it with a pinch of salt as plans can and do change, but one thing's for sure, Microsoft is going to hit next-gen with a fighting attitude.

Discless Xbox One SKU for 2019

As first reported by Thurrott, Microsoft is building a disc-less Xbox One console set to launch by spring 2019 if all things go to plan. We've also heard that Microsoft will look to announce the console as early as January 2019, alongside a disc-to-digital program that will allow you to convert your physical library into digital licenses via participating retailers.

If you were concerned about whether or not this indicates a new trend for Microsoft, fear not, we've heard from multiple sources that the "Scarlett" family next-gen consoles will still have disc drives, at least as an option. The success of the disc-less SKU will no doubt determine whether or not Microsoft moves ahead with providing a separate, cheaper disc-less SKU for the Scarlett next-gen devices. We'll have to wait and see.

Xbox "Anaconda," Xbox "Lockhart"

Xbox snek.

According to our sources, there are two consoles currently being prepped, aiming for a 2020 holiday debut — a cheaper "S"-style console, to succeed the Xbox One S, and a more beastly "X"-style console, to succeed the Xbox One X. The codename for the "S 2" seems to be "Lockhart," and the codename for the "X 2" seems to be "Anaconda," which may also be serving as a dev kit.

The next-gen Lockhart console will be the affordable SKU, providing the next-gen Xbox experience in a package potentially around as powerful as the current Xbox One X hardware wise, with refinements under the hood. The Anaconda console will be more powerful and more expensive, providing a cutting-edge console gaming experience. We've also heard Microsoft is exploring technology to dramatically reduce loading times, potentially including SSD storage in the package.

GameCore

We've been reporting on Microsoft's efforts surrounding Windows Core OS for a while now, and it does appear that there's a gaming angle to the puzzle. We've heard from multiple places that the next-gen Xbox consoles will be fully compatible with everything on your current Xbox One consoles, including your OG Xbox and Xbox 360 library via backward compatibility. We've also heard that Microsoft is working on a new platform for games dubbed "GameCore," as part of Windows Core OS, which the Scarlett family will support when it's ready. It extends the work Redmond has been doing on UWP.

GameCore should make it easier for developers to build games that function not only on Xbox "Scarlett" consoles but also Windows 10 PCs, further reducing the amount of work studios need to do to get games running across both platforms. Details are scant, but we'll hopefully hear more about GameCore either at GDC in early 2019, or a bit later at Microsoft's Build conference.

Handheld angle

Project xCloud is designed to allow you to play your Xbox console games on any device using input methods of your choice, whether it's a connected Xbox Bluetooth controller on an Android phone or via touch. That said, playing shooters via touch just feels clunky and awkward most of the time, and most phone controller mounts are tacky and cheap because there simply hasn't been much of a demand for them. Microsoft seems to be aware.

We've heard that Microsoft has been working with accessory vendors like Razer and others to ensure that Xbox gaming on mobile is as streamlined an experience as possible, with a range of new accessories, and maybe even devices, that will take advantage of the mobile possibilities that Project xCloud will bring.

2019 will be fun

The "Scarlett" project will be the first full generation fully overseen by EVP Phil Spencer with games as its own executive branch of Microsoft's overall strategy. The investment and innovation coming out of Xbox for its next-gen offering should vastly outstrip previous years, as Microsoft looks to make up lost ground.

Other large tech companies including Google and Amazon are still exploring the potential of the market, while giants like Tencent continue to make large investments in all sorts of gaming-oriented companies, including Epic Games and Discord. And of course, Nintendo and Sony continue to be utterly dominant in the space.

Microsoft may be fighting the console war on more fronts than usual in a few years, but thankfully, it is well-placed to do so. Either way, 2019 should prove to be an incredibly fun year for Microsoft gaming announcements.