With the Xbox One S releasing this week, now is a good time to look towards Xbox's next major piece of hardware. While Sony quietly confirmed a mid-generation upgrade to its best-selling PS4 just before this year's E3 with the PS4 Pro, Microsoft went into full-blown announcement mode in its press conference when it came to Project Scorpio.
While specifics were few and far between, we have a clear direction of the new console will be thanks to a soundbite-laden trailer; Microsoft is billing it as the most powerful console ever, with improved visuals catered for 4K and VR gaming - all while playing existing Xbox One games.
Project Scorpio: How powerful is it, and how much better will games look?
Unlike the Xbox One S - which is more along the likes of a traditional slim redesign - Project Scorpio is a mid-generation upgrade to the Xbox One. While hard specs have yet to be revealed, Microsoft has confirmed it'll offer:
- Eight CPU cores
- Over 320GB/s of memory bandwidth
- Six teraflops (TF) of GPU power
- 4K gaming support
- VR support
This is a machine with far more graphical prowess that the existing Xbox One, and how developers will take advantage of that 6TF of GPU power is up to them. (Digital Foundry has you covered if you're interested in knowing what a teraflop actually is, by the way.)Why I think big console game sales are down Money and excitement - a lack of them.
Initially, Xbox head Phil Spencer said users will only notice a difference with games running on Project Scorpio if they had a 4K television ("Scorpio is designed as a 4K console, and if you don't have a 4K TV, the benefit we've designed for, you're not going to see", he told Eurogamer in an interview during E3). However, Spencer later clarified that "some developers will take advantage of that 6 teraflops in different ways", meaning they won't have to use the extra processing power to necessarily hit 4K, and can channel it towards a better looking 1080p experience instead.
So while Sony's mid-generation upgrade PS4 Pro requires developers to support a 1080p resolution with its mandatory Pro mode from October, Project Scorpio could be a little looser in how developers used the more advanced specs. This could be a good thing, as our own Richard Leadbetter questions whether chasing a higher pixel-count is a better use of mid-generation consoles than higher frame-rates or richer gameplay experiences.
Meanwhile, some existing Xbox One games "will look different" and may "run a little better" on Project Scorpio, using Halo 5's dynamic scaling as an example. This is something we've already seen in the Xbox One S; while the system is not a mid-generation upgrade like Project Scorpio or PS4 Pro, it offers an unadvertised slight performance boost of up to nine frames-per-second in certain games thanks to a GPU upgrade for 4K upscaling and HDR support.
Project Scorpio vs PS4 Pro, existing PS4, Xbox One consoles
While Digital Foundry has created a detailed spec analysis on possible parts Project Scorpio could be using, to summarise, we can expect a much faster GPU than the PS4 Pro (4.2TF compared to Project Scorpio's 6TF - easily the system's biggest selling point), a possible 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and eight GPU cores, the latter of which is suggested to be too advanced compared to existing systems.
|PS4||PS4K Pro||Xbox One||Project Scorpio|
|CPU||Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 1.6GHz||Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 2.1GHz||Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 1.75GHz||Eight cores, speculation: up-clocked Jaguar or equivalent|
|GPU||18 Radeon GCN compute units at 800MHz||36 improved GCN compute units at 911MHz||12 GCN compute units at 853MHz||Speculation: 56/60 GCN compute units at 800-850MHz|
|Memory||8GB GDDR5 at 176GB/s||8GB GDDR5 at 218GB/s||8GB DDR3 at 68GB/s and 32MB ESRAM at max 218GB/s||Over 320GB/s bandwidth - speculation: 12GB of GDDR5|
This means that while Xbox One has lagged behind PS4 performance, Project Scorpio is set to offer a sizable leap over both the PS4 and PS4 Pro, with much better graphical and memory capabilities, and support for native 4K gaming.
To quote Digital Foundry in the Xbox Project Scorpio spec analysis: "It's a remarkable turnabout. A good portion of PlayStation 4's success has been down to its spec advantage over Xbox One, combined with a focus on the hardcore player. Sony's technological advantage will be gone with the next wave of hardware."Halo's biggest problem may be Halo itself Cortana trap.
Project Scorpio games, peripherals and backwards compatibility with Xbox One
Project Scorpio is a mid-generation upgrade of the Xbox One, and so all games and peripherals that run on an Xbox One today will work on the new system, including controllers and Kinect, and presumably initiatives such as Xbox 360 backwards compatibility and cross-buy with Windows 10 as well.
Additionally, Microsoft has said there won't be any Project Scorpio exclusives, despite initially contradictory messaging from Shannon Loftis shortly after the console's announcement that was swiftly corrected by Aaron Greenberg:
Great thing is with Project Scorpio as part of #XboxOne family all your games will work, no Scorpio exclusives, so no one gets left behind— Aaron Greenberg (@aarongreenberg) June 14, 2016
However, at gamescom 2016, Xbox marketing chief Aaron Greenberg confirmed there would be VR exclusive Project Scorpio games, since they view VR as separate to traditional console games.
This was somewhat hinted at during the announcement video for Project Scorpio with Bethesda's Todd Howard saying: "We're moving Fallout 4 to VR and to have a console that can support that at the resolution and speed that we really want, I think it's going to be magical."
The interview also didn't rule out permanent forward compatibility, however, with Greenberg hinting at a move away from traditional console generations to an iterative hardware model with permanent backward compatibility - similar to what Apple does on iOS.
Project Scorpio 4K gaming and VR support - how will it work?
Microsoft has said Project Scorpio's extra power will be particularly useful in two areas; delivering 4K gaming and "high fidelity" VR.
In Digital Foundry's spec analysis of Project Scorpio, it suggests that based on existing AMD Radeon technology, 6TF "isn't enough to power a convincing 4K experience", with an existing 5.9TF card struggling to maintain 30 frames-per-second at that resolution. Of course, as with every console generation, as time goes on developers have been extracting more from existing hardware, and upscaling to that resolution can deliver "great results".
As for 4K media, we imagine it'll be line with what's offered on Xbox One S currently, from supporting Ultra HD Blu-ray discs to 4K streaming apps such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. (If you're interested in investing in a 4K TV ahead of Project Scorpio, here are some of the best television screens for HDR gaming.)
As for VR support, that's "no problem" with the proposed specs on offer, according to Digital Foundry, as "a 6TF Radeon GPU comfortably outperforms the baseline R9 290 and GTX 970 suggested for VR ready PCs".Everything we know about Nintendo Switch From detachable controllers to games, here's what's next from Nintendo.
The other question is how VR will work on Project Scorpio. Unlike Sony, Microsoft doesn't have a VR headset of its own, so will land on third parties to help. The obvious bet is with Oculus, with whom they currently have a partnership in providing Xbox One controllers with every device sold, as well as optimising the hardware to work more effectively with Windows, but neither Microsoft or Oculus has suggested anything along these lines just yet.
Project Scorpio release date and price - what do we know?
At E3 2016, Microsoft confirmed a holiday 2017 release date for Project Scorpio, placing a launch around one year after the November 2016 release of Sony's mid-generation upgrade, the PS4 Pro.
Microsoft has yet to discuss price or cost of Project Scorpio, but as part of its spec analysis of the system, Digital Foundry predicted a $100 difference between that and the PS4 Pro, which is set to retail for £350 for a 1TB model.