Gee whiz, it feels like it was just yesterday that I sat alongside a Best Buy for thirteen and a half hours to pick up the Xbox 360 when it launched. Except that was, y’know, six years ago. Microsoft has made huge strides creating (and subsequently tearing down and rebuilding) the Xbox 360 console through drastic conversions that have made it the best-selling console in North America for most of the past year. They’ve got a ton of games under their belt, developers seem to be super happy with the hardware, but what’s this? While still very much in the red on this console, rumors are now flying around that Microsoft is set to bring out a whole new console as soon as next year. What could this new console probably be and are we really ready for new hardware now when it seems we can still get so much more out of the 360? Let’s go see!
Here’s how things used to work: manufacturers used to make consoles for five years and no more (minus the whole Atari Crash thing in the early 80s, a sign of an early console hanging on too long). There was no way to add much functionality to console hardware without bringing out a whole new piece of hardware, or as Sega found out, introducing pricey add-ons that splinter the console base. We’re now six years into this cycle and with a rumored Holiday 2012 release date and the release of Nintendo’s WiiU, we look to see the end of a seven year console cycle, even as the Xbox 360 continues to be cost-reduced and sold. So what are some possibilities?
The Xbox 720 will be a beast.
The rumor goes that the next Xbox will have a six-core CPU with a “dual GPU” solution. I don’t really know how much sense that makes, but that seems similarly odd to the three-core solution they went with for the 360, using pre-Intel Macs as SDKs. The problem here is that despite the 360’s success, it’s still very much in the red, especially with their red ring issue that cost them a cool billion off the bat. Famously, the PS3 lost more money for Sony when it launched than the insanely successful PlayStation 2 ever made and Sony’s been in trouble for years. The advantage to throwing in a ton of top-of-the-line hardware is that, like the 360 in 2005 and PS3 in 2006 is that it allows for long tails and seven year cycles. My wager is…
The Xbox 720 won’t be a beast, but it will be better.
It’s been six years since the 360 launched, so virtually any hardware increase is going to look dramatically better. Nintendo learned with the Wii that putting in slightly better hardware than your predecessor might’ve worked in the 80s, but while it made them plenty of coin early on, the Wii’s obvious technical limitations have forced Nintendo to its first major losses since getting into the video game industry. However, Microsoft doesn’t need to make an Xbox 360 that’s only slightly faster like the Wii was to the Gamecube, so I believe they they can make a more powerful machine without breaking the bank. (Of course, they do want to avoid a lot of the disappointing visuals from when they unveiled the Xbox 360 with a bunch of badly ported PS2/Xbox games.) All this will also partially allow for…
The Xbox 720 will have full backwards compatibility with the 360.
Honestly, it makes sense that if Microsoft owns the chip/bus designs in the 360 and the 720, they’d be able to let people instantly plop in their old games and start playing immediately. That doesn’t really matter though for two reasons:
- Microsoft is a master at building virtual machines. They got original Xbox titles running on the 360, which was drastically different hardware, through emulation. They didn’t get all the games running, but they got enough to make me happy.
- No one really wants to play their old games. If Microsoft hadn’t made a single Xbox game compatible on the 360, there would have been ehll to pay. The reality is that outside of the Halo games, few Xbox titles needed to be. PGR2 is honestly the only original Xbox game I’ve played lately, but that’s for very good reason. The reality is you care less about playing those janky, ancient-looking games than you think. It’s true. Think about it.
As far as peripherals go, I don’t really see why they wouldn’t unless the new console goes by a whole new peripheral metaphor. Kinect is big, but it will never replace the standard controller and let’s be fair, Kinect-exclusive games are almost all completely awful. No, I don’t see touch screens taking the place of tactile buttons, but then, I would’ve never agreed with a software keyboard on a mobile phone a year ago.
The Xbox 720 will be called the Xbox 720.
No, obviously not. While the Xbox name endeared from the hardware’s origins as a DirectX-powered box (X-Box, originally), anything else is going to obviously controlled by well-paid brand firms that made the 360 a success. …what do you mean you didn’t like the “Xbox 360” name? You’re high.
The Xbox 720 will be unveiled at CES.
No. No, no, no. Microsoft uses their CES keynote to unveil broad strategies and a few features on widely-known products that are soon to release. The Xbox will be revealed in a very special way that’s catered to broader, non-geek audiences. The 360 was unveiled in an MTV special hosted by Elijah Wood featuring The Killers. That’s the venue for the 720, not CES. Sure, they may address some vague functionality of some ‘next gen’, gaming-based product, but no one’s dropping any 720-related bombs at CES.
There’ll be a version without an optical drive.
No. The majority of players, even with the sheer number of Xbox Live accounts, still buy their games in physical format from stores. Microsoft doesn’t need to splinter their console base from the get go in a manner worse than the Core/Premium mess from the start of this generation.
There’ll be a new Kinect peripheral/camera.
Why? The Kinect hardware is actually sophisticated enough that not only is Microsoft launching a business division around it, but the Xbox 360 isn’t actually powerful enough to use the full resolution of the hardware. The 720 will. Easily.
It’ll have a Blu-ray drive.
Don’t count on it. Two reasons:
- Games still aren’t that big. Bigger hard drives will no doubt allow for full installs without issue for bigger games if you really don’t want to swap discs. Yeah, you have titles like L.A. Noire, Metal Gear Solid, and Rage, but most (like the extensive Skyrim) will still fit on a DVD, especially with Microsoft recently shrinking the security block size required on each disc.
- DVD drives are going to continue to get cheaper and cheaper while BD drives will always be considerably more expensive. Even at a few dollars difference, multiply that times a hundred million consoles and you see why they’d want to avoid that price over the life of the console.
Games will be available on day 1 at retail and online.