Each new generation of video game consoles has promised more realistic graphics, more interactive experiences, and more ambitious players. For Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox, previously known as Project Scarlett and now known as Xbox Series X, coming next year, there’s a lot of anticipation about what it’s going to bring.
What we already know is that it’s going to be a lot quicker, loading games in a fraction of the time it usually takes, thanks to the new storage technology that Microsoft is developing for the console. It will also offer new visual effects, called ray tracing, which will make lights and sunshine more realistic. It’ll also look a lot more unassuming, like a regular PC, and not a hulking game machine that we’ve become used to looking at over the years.
And we know there’s a new chapter in the Halo space-age war story that’s also being developed for the console. We don’t know much more about the game, named Halo: Infinity, other than that it will once again include the series hero — Master Chief — and the namesake Halo ring worlds.
The new Xbox is coming up against Sony’s PlayStation 5, which will also be launched next year, and Nintendo’s famous Switch.
What does Xbox Series X mean by that? And wasn’t it called the Project Scarlett?
The tech industry loves to use code names for all sorts of things during project development. Microsoft named 2013’s Xbox One “Durango,” called 2017’s Xbox One X “Scorpio,” and the Kinect motion controller was initially known as “Natal.” Microsoft used Project Scarlett until Dec. 12, when it revealed its new name as Xbox Series X.
In an exclusive interview, Microsoft told GameSpot that the title is meant to suggest that there’s a lot more company going to do with the system than we see now. The company wouldn’t say anything, but it’s safe to assume more devices, more features, more controller combinations, and more cloud connections.
When will Xbox Series X come out?
It is likely to be around the same time as the PS5 in 2020. In 2013, the Xbox One was launched a week after PlayStation 4.
How much is it going to cost?
We haven’t had an official price yet. The Xbox 360 cost $399 when it was released in 2005. The Xbox One cost $499 when it was released in 2013.
What’s so unique and special about the Xbox Series X?
The latest Xbox claims to have better graphics that include a technique called ray tracing, which is a way to create more realistic lighting effects. Sony said the PS5 would deliver this technology as well.
The Xbox Series X and PS5 will have improved graphics chips built with AMD, although we don’t know much about it yet. Both Microsoft and Sony have said that their consoles can accommodate up to 8 K video signals (most people are buying 4 K today) and support 120 frames per second.
All Xbox Series X and PS5 will have central processing chips that are at least based on AMD’s famous Ryzen processor, but we don’t know much else.
This is going to account for some of the biggest differences. The Xbox One uses a hard disk drive (HDD), which inside looks like a record player spinning at a 747 jet rate.
Xbox Series X and PS5 use solid-state storage, or, simply, chips that can quickly store and read information. That means that the console will be released quicker, and games will be loaded much faster, among other items.
In May, Microsoft released its first Xbox without an optical disk drive, which means that it wouldn’t work with the typical game disks you buy in the store. Instead, consumers could only play games that were downloaded from the internet.
The device’s appeal, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, was its cost. Microsoft agreed that the cost of the All-Digital Xbox would always be $50 less than the estimated retail price for its Xbox One entry-level.
In the meantime, Microsoft has promised that at least some version of the next Xbox will support game disks. “What we know is physical media for many people is still where their library is,” Microsoft Xbox chief Phil Spencer said in a June interview. “We’re leaning into the compatibility across all of our generations in a big way.”
Do we already know about any games?
There’s Halo: Infinity, which is supposed to be the launch title of the console. And the company announced a new game from its studio Ninja Theory called Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, but otherwise, we don’t know much about it.
We do note, however, that because Xbox Series X will use upgraded versions of the Xbox One processors, many of the older games available today will be running on a new device. This backward compatibility, as it is often called, took a lot of work to make older games made for the original Xbox from 2001, or the Xbox 360 from 2005, run on modern hardware because they used completely different types of hardware.
Microsoft and Sony designed their Xbox One and PS4 systems close to the traditional PC, making cross-compatibility much simpler.
What does this have to do with the xCloud project?
There is a new trend in the video game industry called cloud gaming. The software, first popularized by OnLive and Gaikai companies a decade ago, aims to let you run video games in a way similar to how you watch Netflix and Disney Plus films. In this situation, you’re in a position to play video games over the internet, rather than having to buy a large game console and plug it into your TV.
Sadly, engineering has a tumultuous past for fans. All OnLive and Gaikai have been acquired by Sony, who has been running a live game service for the past half a decade. Google released its game streaming service, Stadia, last month to mixed reviews, mostly from critics arguing that it costs too much.
Elsewhere, sources told CNET that Amazon is planning to launch its streaming rival as early as next year.
As for Microsoft, a game streaming platform called Project xCloud has been developed. The service providing pre-release access to the public is expected to be available alongside Xbox One X.
Is this the last video game console?
It’s not. Spencer, Microsoft’s Xbox manager, said in an interview that he’s not sure what the future will bring, but that he’s pretty confident that the console will have a place in our lives in the foreseeable future.
“So when we introduce streaming for us, which I think is the natural kind of thing to ask in this generation, ‘Hey, is this the last one?’ I believe what I see is streaming is going to enable this high-quality content to hit more screens around you,” he said in June. “And I don’t think that’s going to lead to fewer screens around you.”
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