CPU GPU RAM / Memory
Perhaps the biggest question when it comes to the Xbox One is what will actually power it. Will we see a similar escalation of RAM, taking us up to something like 64GB of memory? Will the processor come complete with 16 or even 32 cores instead of the eight included within the Xbox One? What about the graphics processor? Will AMD continue to supply new and improved GPUs for use in Microsoft consoles? It’s difficult to know at this stage, but we can certainly expect to see big improvements in the technologies that make up the Xbox Two’s (Project Scorpio's) innards.
At E3 2016, Microsoft announced Project Scorpio. This incredible new console is shaping up to be the Xbox Two we've been waiting for. In terms of CPU/GPU/RAM, this is what we have so far:
- Support for 4K gaming
- Six teraflops of processing power
- 8-core CPU
- VR compatible
It's not a ton to go on, but during the Giant Bomb E3 2016 show, Phil Spencer said that Project Scorpio will be "four and a half times more powerful than Xbox One."
With Microsoft's experience in the PC industry, and Phil Spencer's assurance that Microsoft is only interested in big leaps forward, this rumor could easily be true.
This comes at the same time that NVIDIA announced their new GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 GPU upgrades which promise more power than their previous TITAN card and a fraction of the price. We're seeing technology leap forward while costs are dropping. Now is the time for new hardware that can be mass produced at a profit for a company like Microsoft.
The biggest focus for Microsoft with Project Scorpio/Xbox 2, seems to be 4K resolution and VR. After all, those are the biggest topics right now in the gaming industry. In the past, Phil Spencer has gone to far as to say that Project Scorpio (Xbox 2) is only for 4K television owners.
Knowing that 4K is such a huge focus, we decided to look closer at the specs and see what Microsoft could do with six teraflops of GPU power. When it comes to 4K simply looking at the teraflops isn't enough, but it is a start, especially given that the Xbox One is only sporting 1.31 teraflops of power. It's certainly a boost.
Other factors like memory bandwidth also come into play when the resolution is pushed to this plateau. Over at Sony, PlayStation's Architect, Mark Cerny, thinks 4K requires at least 8 teraflops of power based on his personal estimates. Shots fired, yes, but consoles have been known to outdo their PC equivalents when it comes to horsepower.
We've seen how this generation has pushed out better and better looking games, despite PC having a clear advantage in hardware. Even so, with only six teraflops of power, I wonder how much better the games will look on Xbox 2. The graphics themselves may remain largely the same, and the power primarily used to reach a higher resolution.
I say this, because PS4 Pro supports 4K, but not the true native resolutions that Microsoft is promising with Project Scorpio (Xbox Two). Instead, the PS4 Pro uses a technique called "Checkerboard Rendering" that rearranges the pixels and achieves resolutions extremely close to 4K through a frame buffer, but it's not quite the true resolution.
If we look at the PS4 Pro, it's using a Polaris GPU and a CPU based on the Zen Architecture coming from AMD in 2017. It's a major upgrade from the Jaguar CPU cores and instead uses the new cores on a 14nm structure. While it was assumed that Xbox 2/Project Scorpio would use a Zen-based semi-custom setup, AMD recently stated in a press conference that these won't be coming until 2018, after the release of Xbox 2.
That leaves Microsoft with the Jaguar/Puma CPU architecture to work with.Thanks to a leaked whitepaper, we now know that to be true. In the whitepaper, Microsoft suggests that developers can utilize Scorpio's power to improve various aspects of their games, but one of these involves interpolating animation.
By suggesting this, we have enough evidence to assume that they are staying with the eight cores they've promise and overclocked speed. This rules out the zen architecture and leaves us with the Jaguar CPU cores.
AMD's CEO, Lisa Su, also said that the manufacturer would be working with both Sony and Microsoft to develop new custom-designed SOCs to be released in 2018. For Scorpio's 6 teraflops, it's safe to say that they won't be using a Polaris 10 GPU as it would need to be highly overclocked to reach this, and Scorpio's pre-rendered shots don't show a heat sink good enough to keep that cool.
In terms of the 4K upgrade, the aforementioned whitepaper also suggests "sparse rendering" which is another name for the PS4 Pro's checkboard rendering. On Xbox Two (Project Scorpio), we could see a more advanced version of this technique as Microsoft's paper already claims to have successfully done it with an unnamed first-party title.
The whitepaper also confirms something new about the new console's RAM. It seems that it will be ditching ESRAM, which is something the Xbox One uses to achieve higher performance with increased bandwidth. While the lack of this high-speed RAM is confirmed in the new console, developers are still told to optimize for it, so their games run properly on both Scorpio and Xbox One.
The paper explains that the higher bandwidth on Xbox 2's memory will outpace the benefits offered by ESRAM, hence their decision to remove it.
What's insane is that we're not the only ones thinking about this. Other game developers are also looking into the future. The talented individuals over at Three Fields Entertainment are developing a game called "Dangerous Golf." It may not sound like much from the title, but the game is utilizing cutting edge physics to create fully destructible environments and incredible moments.
It's no accident that they decided on a physics-based game. The studio, and it's founders, are trying to prepare themselves for the future of gaming. Paul Ross, one of the co-founders, spoke with EDGE magazine and he said quote: "I remember sitting here thinking, OK, what does a PlayStation 5 game look like? What does an Xbox To game look like? And how can we start to build for that future now?"
Ross and his team are thinking about the next generation in terms of physics. They want to build more believable worlds that not only look perfect, but also feel perfect and react realistically to your inputs. We have been able to achieve that yet, but with people like Ross and his team working on it, that future could be coming faster than we think.
There's also the ongoing issue with 4K Blu-Ray support. The Xbox One S has it, but the PS4 Pro does not. This puts Microsoft in an interesting position with Xbox 2/Project Scorpio. During his interview with NZGamer, Phil Spencer said that he hasn't confirmed the existence of a 4K Blu-Ray drive in the Xbox Two.
That being said, he did say that people have responded very well to the Xbox One S and its 4K Blu-Ray drive, which prompted him to mention that they would be interested in continuing to utilize that option. It's no confirmation, but it does suggest Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) will use a 4K UHD Blu-Ray drive.
Storage - Hard Drive
We’re used to having masses of storage at our fingertips today, and yet there is a very real possibility that the Xbox Two will actually come equipped with less hard drive space than its predecessor, the Xbox One’s 500GB. Is this because we’ll have found some way to be ultra-efficient with graphics and processing in the future?
When Microsoft released the Xbox One S, they offered it in a 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB model. In an interview with NZ Gamer, Phil Spencer talked about a similar approach with Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) saying:
"That said, the opening price point of the Xbox One S, and the different hard drive sizes, that is a critical part of this whole product. When I think it as a product line, you should expect the pricing to kind of be in line with that."
So it's perfectly reasonable to expect Xbox 2 to come in various hard drive sizes. The question is, how big can we go?
Another possibility is an emerging hard drive technology called Shingled Magnetic Recording. With this technology, in conjunction with other advancements, we could be seeing hard drives as large as approximately 100 terabytes! That's 10, 200 gigabytes compared to the measly 500 you get with the Xbox One. Of course, games are becoming larger in size too, so will this be enough?
Microsoft had a desire for the Xbox One to be an always online games console; however the internet technology was not really at the level that could support such a dream. That won’t always be the case however, and as internet technology improves we may well become a world with all of our games, all of our movies, all of our music and basically all of everything stored within the cloud.
XBox 2 Controller
Back when the Xbox One was just a rumor some speculated that it might be the console to do away with the classic controller, instead replacing it with some other device or relying entirely on the Kinect to control our favorite games. Instead, Microsoft launched a new and improved classic controller to go with the Xbox One, with design and functionality very similar to that of the Xbox 360, just slightly tweaked in many different areas to give a better overall feel.
But if rumors were already abounding about the possibility of a controller-less console could this be a reality a few years in the future? Will we ever be able to play first person shooters in our homes without some sort of classic controller? We’re not sure about that; getting the controls right could be a difficult job to do, and yet it seems obvious that Kinect and motion sensing technology is bound to play a larger part in the future of gaming. We may even see the next generation of console step into the realm of virtual reality, with technology like the Oculus Rift allowing us to step inside of the games that we play.
We can't rule out the HoloLens either. This augmented reality headset was recently announced by Microsoft and it looks to be a way of expanding the functionality of your Xbox One into everyday life. The headset has been shown being used to play games, but also to examine 3D models, check emails, and video chat with others. All of this is projected onto your vision, thereby augmenting what you see around you. It's quite fascinating, and it's a technology Microsoft is pursuing with great excitement, so we could expect to see this move into the new console as a main controller or something to use in conjunction with an improved Kinect.
The Future Xbox 2
At present it is impossible to say with any certainty exactly what the specifications of a future Xbox will be, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating! Technology is changing so quickly today that the games console of ten years in the future could be a marvel, almost beyond the comprehension of today’s gaming industry. These changes are moving at an accelerated rate. Keep in mind the first Xbox was originally meant to be a console that ran on the Direct X gaming structure, so it was essentially supposed to be a PC in a console. The name came from the fact that it ran on a modified Direct X, therefore Xbox. An interesting story, and a goal that Microsoft has been pursuing slowly but surely with each generation.
The original Xbox didn't quite hit that PC feel, and the Xbox 360 had a web browser, but again, not the same level of power and quality as PC. Then the Xbox One came around and now the line is blurrier than ever. Microsoft recently announced that the Xbox One would soon be running on Direct X 12, and while this won't change the game as much as originally thought, it's still a major step towards a unified PC and console future. Of course, hardware will always be the straw that broke the camel's back. PC rigs continue to outpace the consoles are new video cards, processors, and RAM upgrades become available. So, what does this mean for the Xbox Two?
Apparently, Microsoft is planning on bridging the gap between Xbox and PC. At the 2016 Xbox Spring Showcase, Phil Spencer, the President of Xbox, took the stage and made some very interesting comments. He also gave an interview with Polygon where he continued to throw fuel on the fire.
"“We look at these other ecosystems out there like mobile, tablet and PC and we see that they have a very continuous evolution cycle in hardware, whereas between console generations most of the evolution is making it cheaper and potentially making it smaller.
Both are meaningful but don’t make the games play any better. If you look at PC specifically and see the evolution that happens there, there’s no reason why console can’t ride that same curve."
Phil's vision for the future involves a console that can be upgraded. This would completely remove the need for new consoles. When the processor started to become obsolete, Microsoft would just issue another one and you would replace it when you had time. It's not a bad idea, but the concern that comes to mind that is that games would be more complicated like PC.
No one wants to check their console's specs to make sure it will run a game, that's why we buy consoles. Regardless, when you look at the specifications of the original Xbox compared to the Xbox 360, and the Xbox 360 compared to the Xbox One you start to realize just how far games consoles have come in the last couple of decades.
Microsoft is already moving towards this goal by creating a "unified Windows 10 platform." Xbox One and PC both run on Windows 10 these days, and that's just the beginning. With the implementation of "Play Anywhere" on specific titles, people can already buy a game on Xbox One, and play it on the PC without any problems.
This represents the first step in Phil Spencer's vision. Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) will also continue this by incorporating high-end hardware to support 4K and VR. All of this, and you won't lose out on your games because of compatibility. Everything you have now will work on Xbox Two. That includes controllers and games alike. Likewise, anything new that comes out will work on the older system.
The only specific things to Xbox 2/Project Scorpio, will be VR titles. Other than that, everything moves back and forth between the two. This creates what Microsoft calls the Xbox Family. The devices all work together and are compatible with one another, thus eliminating the pressure or the hassle of upgrading.
It's clever, and while Xbox Two is coming in 2017, it won't be the last console from Microsoft.
What do you the Gamers think?
Do you have any thoughts about the specification of the Xbox Two? What do you think will power the future of gaming? Will we still play using controllers, or will everything be controlled by motion or voice? If you could change one thing just one thing for the future Xbox 2 what would it be? Have your say in the comments below!