New Xbox 360 "doesn't make sense"

But hardware tweaks do, sources say.

The confusion surrounding 'Xbox Natal' continues, as retailer ShopTo, analyst Michael Pachter and an industry-leading developer close to Microsoft all sound off on the suggestion that Microsoft will refresh the Xbox hardware line in autumn 2010.

"I believe what they're going to do is bundle Natal with the existing Xbox 360 hardware," said our developer source. "Cosmetic changes: sure, that's possible, but I wouldn't get to married to that, because [Microsoft] have a lot of money invested and they've already gone through cost reductions on the existing Xbox. They fixed their Red Ring of Death problem, they're on their fourth or fifth motherboard now."

"Colour schemes and stuff are more likely. Maybe they'll get the transformer inside the machine - I doubt they'll resize the machine, that seems unlikely. If they did that and people caught wind of it - they'd stop buying [existing Xbox 360s]."

"I'd say it was 100 per cent likely they will be bundling the camera with the system," the source added. "When they said, 'It's the new launch', 'that's what they're telling developers."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer put a spanner in the works overnight by announcing a new Xbox 360 with a built-in camera for a 2010 launch. He may simply have been referring to an Xbox 360-plus-Natal bundle, however, and used simple, engaging phrases to excite a room of non-videogame savvy execs.

Igor Cipolletta, boss of retailer ShopTo, agrees that a meaningful change the Xbox 360 is unlikely, but thinks Microsoft may take the opportunity to tweak the hardware.

"I don't think there will be any drastic changes to the hardware," Cipolletta told Eurogamer. "I think Microsoft will use this as a chance to release a bigger hard-drive, especially after all the new services announced at E3. The extra space would be a welcome addition."

Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Morgan, echoes the point: "There may be a new Xbox 360 SKU with Natal, but no new CPU-GPU combination. The box will run the same software as before, and Natal games will have a different control scheme - nothing more sinister or deviant than that," he told us.

"It would be a good time for Microsoft to add a DVR and an HDTV tuner, maybe roll out IPTV, but I don't think the brains of the box change much."

"All of this would be sensible for Microsoft if it intends to further strengthen Xbox Live and to help give Wii owners a reason to 'upgrade' in the face of the launch of the Wii Plus (HD)," Pachter added. "Wii Plus is coming and Microsoft believes this as well, and they will do what they can to maintain market share."

Rumours of a new Xbox 360 began last weekend, and have been allowed to run all week unchecked. Microsoft bigwigs have weighed in with non-committal comment, leaving the possibility of a new SKU alight.

"Having three consoles on the market is enough without adding a fourth," ShopTo's Cipolletta explained. "Maybe this will replace the [Xbox 360] Elite, as that seems to be the only one without any recent upgrades; it makes sense to bundle Project Natal with it to creating the new top tier hardware package."

"It doesn't make sense to launch a new console. Natal is the new console," said our developer source, adopting Shane Kim's "Xbox 360 relaunch" stance.

"It wouldn't make sense to do new hardware because they've already put into that box. In other words, that camera has some chips in it, it's not just a dumb camera. That's why it can track your body, can track all your bones, do all the stuff that the other [cameras] can't do.

"Natal will help them get so much more out of the console than they have now. That's really the truth of it."

However it arrives, Project Natal will have repercussions for the entire videogame industry. Head over to our Project Natal gamepage for all related goings-on (and pictures and videos) so far.

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