The next Xbox: everything we know so far
UPDATE: Illumiroom to be shown tomorrow, subsidised model scrapped - rumour.
Update: Veteran Microsoft analyst Paul Thurrot has updated his latest rumour via Twitter, stating that "Illumiroom will be part of Tues event," but the "subsidised Xbox v.Next model has been scrapped."
The report of the $299 two-year subscription model (see below) emanated from Thurrot in the first place, so perhaps we can cross that rumour off the list?
Make of this what you will, but we only have to wait another 25 hours to find out the truth. Exciting!
Original story: You probably know this bit already: Microsoft will unveil its next generation Xbox console during a special event at the company's Redmond HQ tomorrow - 21st May, 6pm UK time.
You'll be able to watch all the action, exec slip-ups and sponsored celebrity appearances live on Eurogamer (fingers crossed for more Usher performances), accompanied by commentary from the whole team.
And we'll also have reactions from our man on the ground, editor Tom Bramwell, who Microsoft is letting inside their "special structure" (a large tent) that it has built for the occasion.
The new Xbox console will launch in early November, veteran Microsoft analyst Paul Thurrot has reported - he who previously leaked the console's 21st May announcement date.
The same source claims that the console will be released at two price points - $499 and $299 - with the latter including a fixed two-year Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Like most subscription models, the $10 monthly charge will make this price option the more costly over time, although will obviously offer a cheaper initial outlay.
The console will come with a new, upgraded version of Kinect, dubbed Kinect 2.0. There's no escaping it this time - all machines are expected to ship with a Kinect sensor already in the box.
As for the machine's name, we've heard conflicting reports. The machine may well just be named Xbox, a move that would fit the brand's transition into a wider entertainment moniker.
Less likely are the long-running rumours surrounding the name Xbox Infinity, the only "proof" of which has ever been that if you turn the symbol for Infinity on its side, you get the 8 of Windows 8. It's a neat tie-in to Microsoft's current operating system but might age quite quickly - what version of Windows will be present by the end of the next Xbox's life-cycle is anyone's guess.
So, what will you be able to play on your new Xbox? Already-announced cross-generational titles are sure-fire bets - Bungie's intriguing Destiny (although Sony has snagged some exclusive content) for example, as well as Ubisoft's Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag.
We already know some of next year's multi-platform releases, too - triple-A titles such as Thief and The Witcher 3. A third Mafia game is also said to be in-development.
Mega-publisher EA is reportedly a key supporter of the next Xbox, and we expect to see several titles from its upcoming line-up shown on stage. Battlefield 4 is a dead cert, perhaps accompanied by a first showing of this year's Need for Speed.
Another good bet is Respawn's new game, likely named Titan, an online sci-fi shooter that pits soldiers against Titan mechs. It's rumoured that Titan will include some level of Xbox-exclusivity, although it's hard to believe the multiformat-focused EA will publish it just for Microsoft's machine. More likely is some form of timed-exclusivity, or an early/exclusive DLC programme similar to Sony's current Battlefield 3 deal.
Tomorrow may also bring the first look at Crytek's Kinect-exclusive action title Ryse, development of which was shifted to the next Xbox.
From Microsoft's own studios, a new Forza with "super life-like" graphics will reportedly launch alongside the console, made by series creator Turn 10.
Rare is known to be working on several projects for the next Xbox (Kinect Sports 3?), while a number of Lionhead job listings have revealed the developer to be staffing up for a new RPG franchise which contains MMO-esque features.
Finally, it's been a while since we've heard from Alan Wake developer Remedy, which was hiring in March last year for a mysterious next-gen project. Have we seen the last of their moody protagonist? A new set of ARG-related scribblings last year suggested not.
There's no doubting that the next Xbox will be a powerful machine, although technical specifications obtained earlier this year and published by Digital Foundry suggest it will lack in several areas, such as GPU and RAM, when compared to PlayStation 4.
"Essentially it's the exact same CPU at the same clock-speed and it has the same amount of RAM but a different type," Digital Foundry's blacksmith of the future Rich Leadbetter explained to us. "Generally PS4 has a considerable bandwidth advantage - it can transfer data around the system much more quickly.
"The GPU has the same architecture, defined by the amount of compute units it has - PS4 has 18, the next Xbox has 12, which translates to 1.8 teraflops of compute power vs. 1.2." How this all translates into gameplay, however, will be another matter.
Also notable in the console's technical read-outs are mentions of an HDMI input, used for connecting the console to your cable TV box. Microsoft is pushing the console's use as a multimedia device, able to record and store your TV programs and overlay its features and UI on top of your existing telly channels.
Back compatibility is unlikely due to the next Xbox's switch to x86 PC-style architecture. But some form of support for your Xbox 360 games is not impossible.
"Entirely different hardware configurations don't make backwards-compatibility easy," Leadbetter continued. "That said, you could say the same thing about the transition from Xbox to Xbox 360, where Microsoft made efforts to ensure that a significant catalogue of older Xbox titles designed with x86/Nvidia hardware in mind worked pretty well on the PowerPC/AMD combo in the Xbox 360.
"Given enough time and resources, a similar form of backwards compatibility could perhaps be implemented on Durango, but the sheer time and effort required to provide flawless compatibility with a handful of titles, let alone a whole library makes this rather unlikely."
But Microsoft seems keen to keep the Xbox 360 alive for the time being, at least. A new budget-priced Xbox 360 model, code-named "Stingray" is rumoured to be due for release later this year. Priced just $99 (£65), this may be a cheap alternative for those looking to catch up on some of the best that the Xbox 360 still has to offer.
Much has been rumoured of the console's potentially "always online" nature - that you won't even be able to boot a single-player game without first connecting to the internet. But an internal Microsoft memo published online earlier this month seems to have cleared up much of the speculation. It's good news:
"Durango [the codename for the next Xbox] is designed to deliver the future of entertainment while engineered to be tolerant of today's Internet," the document explained. "There are a number of scenarios that our users expect to work without an Internet connection, and those should 'just work' regardless of their current connection status. Those include, but are not limited to: playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single-player game."
That said, the memo did not rule out online checks that might block second hand or pirated games - one of the main reasons Microsoft might have considered an always-online console. In fact, technical documentation dated from last year suggested that the next Xbox would require games to be run directly from the hard drive, with discs useless after an initial install.
Looking beyond the initial product reveal, Microsoft is already hard at work on future technology that might plug into the console. The idea of IllumiRoom - a projected extension of the TV screen - has been around for some time, but details of the concept and interest in the technology has been growing ever since its public unveiling at CES 2013 in January.
IllumiRoom's effects come from a projector device that sits on your coffee table. The visuals can change the appearance of a room, induce apparent motion and extend the field of view. It uses Kinect to gather information on the room's geometry and adapts the projected visuals to suit.
Whether the device will be ready this year for the next Xbox's launch is another matter. It could, however, debut mid-way through the console's life-cycle in a similar manner to Kinect during this generation. Microsoft may want to hold it back to create a mid-generation sales bump.
Like all hardware reveals, it's worth tempering expectations before the big event. Microsoft generally reserves plenty of time during its product reveals for celebrities, gimmicks and endless demonstrations of non-game services. With Microsoft looking to announce a new platform bursting full of media possibilities - not to mention the game-centric E3 around the corner - don't expect too many game-related megatons tomorrow.