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New emulator tech could enable Xbox 2 backward compatibility, say creators

Throwaway comment stokes the fires of speculation.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

The Xbox 2 rumour mill has turned over once again, after a Silicon Valley start-up boasted that a new piece of software emulation technology would allow the next-generation console to play original Xbox games.

QuickTransit, a piece of software originally developed by a computer science professor at Manchester University in the UK, allows the "transparent" emulation of software across different hardware platforms, its makers claim.

Revealing the software to the world, Transitive Corp demonstrated the system running Linux software (presumably compiled on different processor architecture) on Windows PCs and Apple Macintosh systems at performance which, the company says, is indistinguishable from native platform performance.

The comment that has sparked interest in the games industry, however, is a statement from Transitive CEO Bob Wiederhold, who said that the QuickTransit software will allow the next-generation Xbox to run software designed for the current console.

It's not clear whether this is meant to mean that Transitive is actually working with Microsoft on Xenon emulation technology, but a number of factors make this seem like an unlikely scenario.

For a start, the Wired article in which Wiederhold's claim appeared went on to say that Transitive has six customers, all of whom are as yet unnamed and all of whom are PC manufacturers, with no mention of any Microsoft relationship.

Besides, what works for a PC or server environment in terms of emulation isn't necessarily the same thing that will work for a console - which has limited memory, a key constraint on the QuickTransit system, which interprets recognised blocks of code by replacing them with functionally identical blocks for the native processor.

Regardless of how fast QuickTransit's code is, it will also still face major issues in translating the graphics functions of existing Xbox titles, which are written for an NVIDIA chip, into functions on Xbox 2, which will use an ATI chip - not just technical issues, but potentially legal issues as well.

Sources close to NVIDIA have previously hinted that they do not believe that Xbox 2 can play Xbox games without violating NVIDIA intellectual property rights, and that they may take legal action if the Xbox 2 does boast this functionality.

In face of this, it would appear much more likely that Wiederhold simply chose the Xbox and Xbox 2 scenario as an example of one problem which would be made easier to solve using the technology being marketed by his company.

However, the games industry at large is likely to keep a close eye on developments at Transitive in future - as any technology which allows new hardware to cheaply emulate older consoles and platforms would be welcomed by many companies in the market.

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