A patent recently granted to Microsoft in the US has raised hopes that the Xbox 2 will include a hard disk after all, but it appears that the news is nothing more sinister than the long overdue result of a filing dating back to March 2001.
A report that appeared on GameSpot last night noted that U.S. patent 6,716,102 was granted to the Redmond-based giant on April 6th, which stated that the patent relates to "a gaming system (that) includes a hard disk drive for storing applications and other data".
But despite initial reports (including EG's) which immediately came to the conclusion that this patent filing referred to a forthcoming incarnation of Xbox, it appears to be a case of hope over expectation that Microsoft is planning to utilise the storage medium in its next generation Xbox after all.
Indeed, all evidence to the contrary suggests that a hard disk is not part of the plan. M-Systems revealed back in February, no doubt much to Microsoft's annoyance, that it had won a contract to produce a high capacity removable flash memory device for the Xbox.
There remains the possibility that both types of storage device could co-exist, as the memory card and hard disk do very effectively at present. But the main concern for Microsoft is that the inclusion of a hard disk would raise the exact production cost implications that it is presumably trying to avoid this time around.
But there remains the possibility that Microsoft could yet decide to offer a stripped down, cost effective standard gaming-only version of Xbox 2, with a 'deluxe' multi-purpose home entertainment version of the console offering users the chance to customize soundtracks and utilise it as a TiVo-style device, as Sony has effectively already done with its PSX, and has admitted it will do again with PS3.
Quoting the GameSpot article, the new patent makes reference to "hard-drive storage as a key advantage for the Xbox over competing game consoles, allowing larger storage capacity and room to segregate data on individual games from other information, such as hardware and system settings."
The patent document also said: "There is a need for an improved system for managing data in a gaming system that includes an internal data storage device, such as a hard disk drive. Additionally, there is a need for an improved system for displaying information regarding data stored in the gaming system."
Apparently the document also gives "detailed description of file structure, naming conventions and other methods intended to make it easier for people to find and manage game data."
But even with the patent now granted, it seems likely that Microsoft will go down the road of making a cost-effective machine and will abandon the most powerful storage device available, which is potentially bad news for gamers and game developers, if next gen projects are fettered by the kind of limitations that data streaming off a disk brings to game design ambitions.
Microsoft has consistently refused to offer comment on Xbox 2.