Will Microsoft's New Xbox 720 Wii All Over The Competition?

Double the size it might be, but can the new Xbox stick it to the competitors?
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Double the size it might be, but can the new Xbox stick it to the competitors?

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After Microsoft’s disappointing showing at last month’s E3 show in Los Angeles, at which they showcased neither the successor to the Xbox 360 nor anything else of any interest to anyone, recent weeks have seen a drip-feed of unofficial – though quite possibly deliberate – disclosures about their next-gen console. A freshly leaked (though actually dating back to 2010) Microsoft document claims that the machine is to be launched at some point next year, and is likely to be called the Xbox 720. The document also reveals that the console is to cost about £190; mercifully cheap compared to the cost of a 360 back in 2005. The document leak was then followed by a series of images purportedly of an Xbox 720 development kit. The devkit, codenamed Durango, was supposedly delivered to eager developers in February of this year; a timescale altogether compatible with a 2013 release date.

All of which has led to some feverish speculation as to what Microsoft’s new machine is going to feature. Using a mixture of research (other people’s, mostly), conjecture and opinion, here is the Sabotage Times guide to Microsoft’s upcoming machine:

The looks

A cursory Google Image search for ‘Xbox 720’ reveals that some people ludicrously believe that the console will be in the shape of a giant ‘X’, while others predict a thin, sleek machine not a million miles from the current incarnation. Though thinner and sleeker, obviously, given the 360’s distinct lack of thinness or sleekness. Ahem. Some people also seem to be labouring under the false impression that Microsoft’s new console will look akin to the training ball thing that Luke uses aboard the Millennium Falcon. Though part of me hopes Microsoft do something that left field, what I really want – as I have since about 2001 – is a console the same width as an AV amplifier or a blu ray player; an unobtrusive machine that fits my set up and can pass almost unnoticed. In short, no one bloody knows at this point.

Kinect

Love it, hate it, or spent £100 on it and played  games on it once (though fired it up several more times as watching the camera bar move up and down is fairly futuristic and the noise it makes is rather cool) – Kinect is bound to play a major role in Microsoft’s next-gen offering. Rumours suggest that it will no longer be an optional peripheral, instead being integrated into the machine itself. While this would be a nice touch, unless they make serious improvements to Kinect’s reaction times and functionality, the novelty of being able to vocally instruct your games console to ‘find pornography’ (oh, I’m assuming that the new machine will have a fully-fledged browser) will wear thin fairly quickly. As a fairly old school gamer, I would rather that Microsoft concentrated on more traditional forms of gaming, leaving thrashing about arhythmically in front of a television to the elderly.

Just as Nintendo’s Wii U features a tablet controller which is designed to work as a control pad, media hub and standalone machine alike, so the 720 is apparently going to feature a tablet controller which is designed to work as a control pad, media hub and standalone machine alike, but which was not influenced in any way by Nintendo’s effort.

The innards

John Carmack, of Doom and Quake fame, recently told T3 that the next-generation consoles are likely to be around “ten times” as powerful as the current generation, excluding the Wii which they will be 489,763 times more powerful than. Apparently the 720 will be driven by a PowerPC CPU that is married to an ATI Southern Islands GPU, whatever any of that may be. I think it’s the things what make the pictures that come on the telly look real pretty. The latest rumours suggest that the 720 will also feature a Blu-ray drive. What, no HD-DVD player? It’s actually something of a surprise that the console appears to feature a physical drive, given current trends towards streaming pretty much all your entertainment needs. To those of us that still buy many of our games second hand, it’s also something of a relief.

Peripherals

Consider the following. In 2006, Nintendo wowed the world with the Wii, featuring an innovative motion control system. In 2007, the world (or, rather, the hardcore gaming world) became somewhat bored of the Wii, soon realising that motion control, far from being revolutionary, simply meant a plethora of lazy activity games aimed at their parents. In 2010, having not left their offices since jealously watching the Wii’s unveiling, thus missing what happened in 2007, Sony and Microsoft released Move and Kinect respectively. Neither of which were in any way influenced by the Wii; no way at all. Microsoft has learnt its lesson though, and will not be simply stealing Nintendo’s ideas three years after the event. Nope, this time it will be stealing Nintendo’s ideas in a much shorter timescale. Just as Nintendo’s Wii U features a tablet controller which is designed to work as a control pad, media hub and standalone machine alike, so the 720 is apparently going to feature a tablet controller which is designed to work as a control pad, media hub and standalone machine alike, but which was not influenced in any way by Nintendo’s effort. Actually, given that it looks likely that Nintendo have drastically underpowered both the Wii U and the tablet itself, this may prove to be a canny move by Microsoft, particularly as speculative images show a mini tablet which would work far better as a traditional controller than Nintendo’s unwieldy effort.

The cost

As stated earlier, a leaked document from 2010 suggests that the new console will launch with a price tag of under £190. Things may have changed since then, however; indeed the gadget site fudzilla.com claims that  Microsoft may release a low-end version of the machine costing a mere $100, though this would include a two-year commitment to Xbox Live. If this turns out to be true then it answers another common question; that of whether Microsoft will continue to charge for their online gaming platform (both Sony’s and Nintendo’s services are free).  Another report suggests that due to the tablet controller the 720 is unlikely to cost less than £399 at launch. Our guess? Twelvety pounds.

As a fairly old school gamer, I would rather that Microsoft concentrated on more traditional forms of gaming, leaving thrashing about arhythmically in front of a television to the elderly.

Conclusion

It would certainly appear that we are getting ever closer to an official announcement regarding the Xbox 720. Assuming that the tablet rumours are true – and let’s face it, given Microsoft’s announcement that they are moving into the tablet market with the Surface, it certainly seems likely – Microsoft will almost certainly time any unveiling to coincide with the release of the Wii U in the fourth quarter of this year. If pushed for a prediction, the tablet and built-in Kinect will play vital roles, the rest – cost, power and release date – are up for grabs.

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