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 about the next-gen Xbox "Project Scarlett" we've been working with at the moment, recently unveiled as the Xbox Series X at the 2019 Game Awards.
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.
Xbox Series X revealed
Originally revealed as "Project Scarlett"
Microsoft originally unveiled Project Scarlett at E3 2019, touting 120 FPS, 8K resolutions, and the elimination of load speeds. Based on custom Ryzen Zen2 CPU architecture and Navi GPU architecture, Project Scarlett is set for a Holiday 2020 launch. But, there are a few unanswered questions.
Project Scarlett hardware could be the most powerful next-gen console
In 2017, we reported on an unannounced Xbox product in development, bearing the codename "Scarlett." Fast forward to E3 2019, and Xbox head Phil Spencer wrapped up the show with a teaser for what lies ahead. Reiterating the company's commitment to industry-leading hardware, Microsoft confirmed that Project Scarlett will be capable of 8K resolutions, 120 frames per second, complete with the "near-elimination" of loading speeds.
Project Scarlett is gearing up to be Microsoft's next cutting-edge enthusiast console.
Microsoft touted Scarlett to be four times more powerful than the Xbox One X with support for 8K resolution and 120 frames per second. It's hard to be sure how that will translate in reality, without proper analysis. Microsoft wants Scarlett to be more powerful than Sony's PlayStation 5, noting that being the most powerful is "very important" to the team.
Google touted the power of its cloud-based Stadia platform as being more powerful than both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, hitting around 10.7 teraflops. Leading game journalist Jason Schreier commented on Resetera that both Sony and Microsoft are aiming higher than 10.7 TF for its next-gen consoles.
Project Scarlett is gearing up to be Microsoft's next cutting-edge enthusiast console, with top-tier hardware and graphical capabilities. After shifting from PowerPC architecture to AMD x86-based processors, Microsoft will stick with similar hardware to maintain compatibility. AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su previously discussed ongoing efforts to help deliver Microsoft's next Xbox "secret sauce," indicating its partnership is still underway.
Using the latest chipsets from AMD and GDDR6 RAM, Microsoft believes that Project Scarlett could represent the most significant generational leap we've ever seen, complete with hardware-accelerated ray tracing. We simply don't know yet for sure how powerful Scarlett will be in practice, but we recently got a look at some of the listed specifications being shared with developers. But Microsoft signaled to us in an interview at E3 2019 that they still want to boast the most powerful console.
What about Xbox "Anaconda," and Xbox "Lockhart"?
According to our sources, there were two consoles 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" was "Lockhart," and the codename for the "X 2" was supposedly Anaconda. We saw a document verified by multiple people, that described in detail the differences between the two SKUs.
The next-gen Lockhart console would 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'd also heard Microsoft is exploring technology to dramatically reduce loading times, potentially including SSD storage in the package, which now turns out to be true.
Following an interview with Business Insider, Phil Spencer seems to put down rumors of a multiple-SKU release for Project Scarlett, although his comments were arguably vague enough to be interpreted in multiple ways.
"Last year we said consoles, and we've shipped a console and we've now detailed another console. I think that's plural. Technically that is plural. [...] Right now, we're focused on Project Scarlett and what we put on stage."
"Project Scarlett" was originally billed to us as a "family of devices." Still, there's every chance Microsoft may have decided to drop the Lockhart SKU from the Scarlett lineup, opting instead to go for a single, powerful, premium option for next-gen gamers. We don't yet know for sure if Lockhart has been shelved, although there are plenty of rumors that it could still be on the way. Tom Warren of The Verge recently noted that Lockhart is still a thing, which was subsequently backed up by Kotaku. We've now received our own confirmation that indeed, Project Scarlett will launch as both "Anaconda" and "Lockhart."
After the Xbox Series X reveal, Phil Spencer continued to be coy about whether or not there might be an Xbox Series "S" to go along with the Xbox Series "X," in an interview with Gamespot. There's still no outright denial that Microsoft is going with a single console SKU for 2020.
Project Scarlett forward compatibility, improved graphics, and game streaming
Microsoft has previously suggested an end to console generations, instead choosing to focus its resources on Xbox One revisions going forward. The Xbox One X was an exemplary execution of this concept, delivering a significant mid-generation hardware upgrade while maintaining compatibility with the existing library. Like the incremental smartphone model, such an approach allows Microsoft to introduce new hardware to a single platform.
Leveraging the same universal Windows 10 kernel and a similar development environment to the Xbox One, Scarlett is guaranteed to sport all of your games on Xbox One, including backward compatible Xbox 360 and OG Xbox titles, as well as all of your peripherals.
If hardware upgrades are on the way, we can also assume enhanced graphical capabilities. While the Xbox One was marketed as a "true 4K" console, many games still fail to deliver in tandem with a high frame rate. With 4K steadily becoming a standard in gaming, we expect Scarlett will hit 60 frames per second as standard, without comprising as many graphical features. Although 8K (7,680 pixels x 4,320 pixels) at 120Hz is achievable under the revised HDMI 2.1 standard, we don't expect that Scarlett will be powerful enough to achieve this without sacrificing ray tracing or some degree of photorealism.
Microsoft's commitment to delivering "console-quality games streaming" also likely ties into the Xbox Scarlett vision, via its newly-unveiled technology, Project xCloud. Packing custom Xbox consoles stripped-down into server blades, the firm is building a dedicated backbone for remote cloud gaming across the globe. Following the success of its subscription-based Xbox Game Pass, this will further expand the availability of full-fledged experiences to PCs, tablets, and phones.
So what about that long-promised virtual reality (VR)? Ahead of the Xbox One X launch, Microsoft discussed plans to bring VR to the console. While VR was the hot industry trend at that time, talk of the technology on Xbox has since dwindled. Speaking to us at E3 2019, Microsoft again reiterated its stance that PC is the place they want to nurture VR, rather than home consoles. Don't expect VR on Scarlett, for now.
Project Scarlett games and apps
With only a brief mention of new consoles from Microsoft, it's unclear which titles are targeting the system. Many upcoming Xbox One games will likely be playable on the consoles regardless of formal support, as a result of forward compatibility. Among these should be enhanced versions of Halo Infinite, Gears 5, and upcoming Forza games.
Microsoft added five new game development studios to its portfolio in June 2018, with two more just months later, and then another two in 2019, tripling down on its commitment to top-tier first-party games. Among these is "The Initiative," a new studio based in Santa Monica, Calif., alongside Playground Games, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, Ninja Theory, a new Age of Empires internal studio, and Double Fine Games. Projects like Playground Games' rumored Fable title and other creations of these studios will likely make an arrival on Xbox Scarlett. Third-party developers are also investing in the future, with Bethesda already claiming that Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI are targeting next-generation systems.
In a recent interview, Xbox Game Studios' Matt Booty reiterated Microsoft's commitment to creating high-quality AAA games, with smaller so-called "AA" games fitting in around some of the larger releases. Microsoft wants franchises like State of Decay and The Outer Worlds to become pillars of its core offering to consumers, all of which will be available as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription service.
You can expect Microsoft to also double down on its social features next-gen, including integration with its growing Mixer streaming service, and improvements to cross console-PC social systems via features like the new Xbox app.
Xbox Series X release date and pricing
Microsoft indicated that the Xbox Series X is targeting a 2020 holiday launch, putting it in line with previous Xbox consoles.
As for pricing, there's a serious possibility that Scarlett could be the most expensive Xbox yet. Rumors have suggested that Microsoft may be building a more-affordable version for its Scarlett lineup called "Lockhart," although there were suggestions those plans could have been shelved, we have seen no evidence to suggest so yet.
If Scarlett is a single SKU rocking hardware-accelerated ray-tracing capabilities, SSD storage, and components powerful enough for 8K gaming, that could possibly make Scarlett more expensive than the Xbox One X at launch, which was $499. Better get saving.
What about GameCore OS?
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 number of work the studios need to do to get games running across both platforms.
2020 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 significant 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.
Excellent and affordable Xbox accessories
Up your Xbox experience with one (or all) of these budget accessories, all of which are approved by the gamers of Windows Central.
PowerA Play & Charge Kit for Xbox One ($15 at Amazon)
This charging kit keeps your Xbox One wireless controllers juiced up, and it offers batteries for two controllers. At just $15, this is hands-down our favorite budget charging companion.
ElecGear 4 Port USB Xbox One S Hub ($19 at Amazon)
This brilliant little USB splitter hub attaches perfectly to the side of your Xbox One S console. It's ideal for use with chargers, controllers, headsets, and more.
Controller Gear stand ($13 at Amazon)
Proudly display your Xbox gamepads with this stylish and functional stand. The licensed design is minimalist and black, and it has a hidden storage compartment, making the price of $13 a real steal.
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