What to Expect From Today’s Xbox Announcement

xbox-720-logo-conceptWe’re just a short few hours from the big next-generation Xbox console. I’d like to say that it’s going to be the Xbox 720 but we really don’t know what it will be called yet. Heck, two weeks ago, we were all convinced that it would be called the Xbox Infinity before we found out that the name and logo was a hoax.

Before we all gather ’round to watch Microsoft’s big show, we take a look at the news and rumours about the final next-gen console to be revealed.

DRM Drama

For a while, rumours led us to believe that the next Xbox would be an always-online console. Some rumours went as far to say that the Xbox wouldn’t start without an internet connection and if the connection dropped for more than three minutes, you’d be kicked out of what ever you were playing and unable to do anything until your connection is restored.

Recent rumours have suggested that Microsoft has softened this stance. It has now been suggested that Microsoft is leaving the final call on DRM to the publishers. While some games could still have the always-online requirement, that won’t be the only form of DRM. Publishers could require a one-time authentication when the game starts or forego DRM altogether.

So let’s call this one good news. It’s very likely that there will be some always-online games and apps for the 720 but it’s not going to always be always-online.

Kinect 2 and IllumiRoom

Speaking of things that rumours suggest that the neXtBox won’t start without, the 720 is rumoured to ship with the Kinect 2. Not only are you getting a new, upgraded Kinect with your next-gen Xbox but you need to hook it up and calibrate it for your Xbox to work too. Basically, you’re being forced to use the Kinect this time rather than it being an optional add-on like it was on the 360. It must be nice for 360 Kinect owners to know that they bought their way into a beta test.

xbox-illumiroomOne of the more interesting hardware projects associated with the Xbox is the IllumiRoom. This is the Holodeck-like setup that projected images onto your walls that extended the game environment beyond the TV screen that was unveiled at CES as a collaboration between Microsoft and Samsung.

Microsoft recently showed off a proof-of-concept demo of the IllumiRoom at the CHI 2013 conference in Paris. While Microsoft Research is targeting July for a public demo of the device, it is believed that IllumiRoom will play a part in today’s announcement. The only question is whether Microsoft plans to launch the IllumiRoom during the 720’s life cycle or if it’ll be improved upon until it can be used as a solid cornerstone of the Xbox 1080 (or whatever the fourth Xbox console is called).

New Controllers

You get a new controller! And you get a new controller! And even you get a new controller! I suppose if Sony is tweaking the venerable DualShock controller, it’s only fitting that Microsoft tweaks the Xbox controller too. The controller will now look “flattened.” I have no idea what that means. From my limited time with 360 controllers, I seem to recall a large battery box on the back. Getting rid of that would be about all they really need to do.

What’s in a Name?

I keep referring to the upcoming Xbox console as the 720 because that’s the logical progression in Xbox naming. We’ve gone from the Xbox 0 to 360 and the 720 would be one more full revolution. However, if you go another 360 degrees, you’re just back where you started which would likely be fitting for this console generation.

xbox-infinity-logo-conceptOf course, the Infinity name was popular a couple of weeks ago after a few reports suggested that this was the name and a logo “leaked.” However, the reports and logo were all made up. The name is said to be in the running for the official name for the third-generation Xbox. I’m guessing that has to do with the planned living room entertainment hub functionality of the next Xbox. I’d hate to be in Xbox’s marketing department in five or so years when they have to come up with a name for the Infinity’s successor.

However, several other names have been thrown out as the upcoming Xbox’s name. These include the Xbox Durango (keeping the code name for the console), the Xbox 8 (after the Windows 8 base code that is supposed to be the basis of the system’s operating system) and the Xbox (kind of like what Apple did with the iPad which will just confuse everyone). Keeping with the entertainment hub aspect of the next console is the Xbox Fusion name which promotes Microsoft’s desire to turn this into both a gaming and entertainment hub for the living room.

Death to Microsoft Points

When Microsoft dropped points in favour of actual currency in the Windows 8 store, it was a sign that Microsoft Points were not long for this world. It turns out that the introduction of the new Xbox means that MS Points will be shown the door and replaced with actual money.

This change isn’t supposed to be officially announced until Microsoft’s E3 keynote in June but will be launched shortly before the launch of the 720. Microsoft will also introduce an iTunes-style gift card system that will allow you to gift people money to use on the various Microsoft stores.

Achievement Hunter

There will be some minor tweaking to achievements on the upcoming console. Developers will now be able to add achievements to the game after it launches without having to issue DLC for it. Presumably, these additions would involve a patch rather than a sort of hot fix which means that it’ll still cost a pile of money to make this happen. The idea behind this is that changing achievements can alter player behaviour to the developers desires. If you’re intensely focused on your gamerscore or 100% completion, you’re being manipulated. Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter.

Also, the 720 is going to come with a built-in community goal tracking functionality. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer vets will know that the community goal weekends required time for BioWare to tabulate results to see if the goal was achieved. The 720 will be able to do that for devs and even track goals across games. I doubt this would work across consoles, though, which would make it Xbox community goal tracking rather than a game’s whole community. That would have been something particularly interesting when Bungie’s Destiny launched.

I’ve Heard This Before

There are a few rumoured features of the 720 that will be familiar to people who have been keeping up on the announced PlayStation 4 features. The next Xbox is not believed to be backwards compatible because Microsoft is coming out with a cheap, third-generation Xbox 360 console. Analysts think that this new 360 console means that Microsoft is giving people the ability to play 360 games if their old 360 RRoDs since the 720 won’t be backwards compatible.

The new Xbox will also have a video sharing function. The rumours aren’t as fleshed out as much as they were for the PS4. What has been strongly hinted at is that the 720 can act as a sort of DVR that can record part of your gameplay for you to trim down and upload. It’s not exactly going to upset the current YouTube uploader apple cart entirely as I think most people follow various YouTubers for entertaining commentary rather than generic gameplay videos but it’ll help  democratize video making.

When and how much?

xbox-infinity-console-conceptWhen could be a tricky thing. Rumours consistently point us toward November 2013 as being the likely launch month for the next Xbox. However, various posts around the internet (with some fairly flimsy sourcing) suggest that the launch could be delayed to Spring 2014.

There are two reasons being touted as to why the Xbox will not (or possibly cannot) launch this fall. The first is a parts shortage. There has been a rumour for a while that the chipsets for the 720 aren’t getting produced quickly enough to meet the demand for developer units. If they’re falling short on demand for dev units, there’s no way that demand could be met for a console launch.

The other reason is that Sony apparently holds a 10-year exclusive licence to playback Blu-Ray discs and/or movies on a home video game console. As Microsoft is running games off Blu-Ray discs on the 720, they’ll need that license to legally run the console which means they can’t launch until 2014.

As for pricing, it is believed that Microsoft will launch at two price points. The first is the standard $500 model. That almost seems a little high considering that Sony is rumoured to be aiming to launch at $400 for the base model with a higher priced model getting released at the same time. There is a suggestion that Microsoft could launch a subscription model at launch too. This would be a $300 model with a two-year, $10 per month Xbox Live subscription. Over two years of Live, that would make the subscription model $80 cheaper. I’d have to think there would be a difference beyond the base price.

Sources:
Digital Times – Xbox 720 Release Date News; Spring 2014 Rumors Surface Amid Manufacturing Woes
Forbes – What The Next Xbox’s Name Will Say About Microsoft’s Next Console
IGN – Next Xbox Reportedly Smaller With ‘Flattened’ Controllers
International Business Times – Xbox Infinity Confirmed as Name of Microsoft’s New Console
Polygon – The next Xbox rethinks DRM, Achievements and Xbox Live friends
The Sixth Axis – New Xbox Delayed Into 2014 Due To 10 Year Sony Exclusive On Blu-ray Playback
The Verge – Microsoft killing off Xbox Points

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our RSS feed.

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