clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Xbox rumors postmortem: What was right, what was wrong and what was missing

New, 20 comments

The time for guessing and speculation is over. This week, Microsoft revealed the Xbox One, the next-generation of its gaming console set to be released later this year.

Over the last year or so, many outlets uncovered information believed to be about the console. Some of that information came from leaked internal memos, some from sources familiar with Microsoft's plans and still others from those who said they had development kits for the Xbox One, which was referred to internally by the codename Durango.

Now that the next-gen console has been revealed, let's look back and see what rumors were right, wrong and what nobody knew about at all.

The name

Would it be the Xbox 720, building on the convention established with the 360? How about Xbox Infinite or Infinity, based at least in part on Microsoft's acquisition of the Xbox8.com domain?

Microsoft laid the rumors to rest. The next Xbox is called Xbox One, because Microsoft is positioning the console as a one-stop shop for all your entertainment needs.

"What if a single device could provide all your entertainment, what if it could turn on your TV and talk to all the devices in your living room?" Microsoft's Don Mattrick asked during the presentation, encapsulating the company's philosophy.

Inside the Xbox One

A document leak from mid-2012 gave some of the first detailed glimpses into the console Microsoft was said to be building. Those documents indicated that the console would have a 6X performance increase over the Xbox 360, with the use of either six or eight processor cores.

In this week's announcement Microsoft's Marc Whitten revealed that the Xbox One will sport an 8-core semi-custom system-on-a-chip manufactured by AMD, 8 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive (though that's expandable with external storage). For comparison, the PlayStation 4 also sports an 8-core, single-chip processor, custom made by AMD and 8 GB of GDDR5 unified system memory.

TV integration

Rumors abounded about the Xbox One's integration with televisions. Some said the new Xbox would replace a standard cable box. Other rumors said that the console would allow users to overlay an Xbox user interface similar to Google TV and control programming. Another rumor concerned an Xbox-branded TV unit.

Xbox One will have a deep relationship with television, offering instant switching between games and TV, a channel guide called the Xbox One Guide and control via Kinect, gestures or physical devices. It stops short of a cable box's coax input and doesn't support component cable connections.


DRM, always-on and used games

Rumors about digital rights management (DRM), an always-on internet requirement and used game support may hold the distinction of being the most divisive rumors before to the reveal. Reports spanned the continuum from those that claimed that next-gen Xbox wouldn't support used games at all to Polygon's own sources that said the next-gen console would leave DRM in publishers' hands. The potential firestorm flared in early April when a creative director at Microsoft Studios took to his personal Twitter account to say that he didn't "get the drama around having an 'always on' console."

Microsoft's message got muddy on the day the company revealed the Xbox One.

Initial reports said that all Xbox One games must be installed and that second-hand players would need to pay a fee to play them. On the day of the reveal, the Xbox Support Twitter account later characterized that as a mistaken report.

During the event, Microsoft's Don Mattrick said that the always-on function isn't a requirement for single-player games.

Microsoft's Phil Harrison said that, although the console can work without an internet connection, Xbox One would need to check in with an internet connection once every 24 hours.

By the end of the day, Microsoft characterized these as "potential scenarios."


Backwards compatibility

Leaked Microsoft documents posted online last year indicated that the Xbox One could contain three additional PowerPC cores for backward compatibility with the Xbox 360. Subsequent reports from earlier this year called that hardware into question. Even without the additional hardware - which is what early PlayStation 3 consoles used for PlayStation 2 compatibility - backwards compatibility was an option. After all, the Xbox 360 used software emulation to support over 450 Xbox games.

Microsoft revealed that Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games, and Microsoft's Don Mattrick went so far as to say that "If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards." However, what Microsoft calls the "new generation" of Xbox Live will allow users to communicate between console generations.

The Xbox One operating system

Xbox 360 runs a "a custom operating system built from the ground up," but rumors circulated that the next-gen Xbox would run Windows 8 under the hood. Those rumors seemed to be spurred on by an announcement last August that branded Windows 8's built-in games as "Xbox Games on Windows 8."

Behind the scenes, the Xbox One will run a three discrete operating systems, Microsoft's Ben Kilgore told us: one for games, one for for apps powered by the Windows 8 kernel and one always-on operating system that connects the other two. The architecture allows what Microsoft calls "instant switching," a feature that lets users quickly navigate between games, apps and TV because the discrete operating systems are controlling each.

The Xbox One and its interface are certainly inspired by Windows 8 and even contains some of the features from Windows 8 like multitasking with Snap Mode, which will pin applications like Skype to the side of the screen while content continues unimpeded on the other.

Speaking to Polygon, Ben Kilgore said that it's "a combination of hardware and software" that sets the next-gen console apart from its predecessor.

"I think the most magical thing that we have done that is going to give us a platform of innovation in the next decade is the architecture," he said. "We have multiple operating systems that are able to co-exist to allow game developers ... to get exclusive access to a bunch of resources."


Kinect 2

Some of the oldest rumors focused on an upgrade to the motion-sensing Kinect peripheral, which Microsoft released as an add-on to the Xbox 360 in 2010. Rumors tended to indicate that the second-generation Kinect would see a bump in the device's visual acuity, including eye tracking, as well as enhanced voice recognition capabilities.

Microsoft unveiled a new Kinect sensor at the event. It supports 1080p video at 30 frames per second and a 60 percent wider field of view. It will track facial expressions to determine emotions, players' pulses and attentiveness — and it can see in the dark.

Xbox One will require a plugged-in Kinect to function, in part because the peripheral is always listening. The next-generation Kinect is also headed to Windows eventually.


Controllers

Rumors tended to state that the Xbox One's controllers would be evolutionary, building off the Xbox 360 design, which in turn built off the original Xbox controllers. Among the vagaries in circulation were that the controller would be thinner than the Xbox 360 controller and that it would include a touchscreen.

Rumors tended to get it right — except for that part about the touchscreen. The Xbox One controller is based on the 360 controller, but includes 40 design changes, like a smooth back where the 360 controller's battery compartment lives, more pronounced bumpers and enhanced rumble capabilities. For more, check out Polygon's hands-on impressions with the Xbox One controller.

Also, Microsoft later revealed that the Xbox One will not support the Xbox 360 controller, just as the PS4 won't support the current-gen DualShock 3.


Blu-ray support

An internal Microsoft memo leaked earlier this month indicated that the console would adopt Sony's Blu-ray disc standard, and it wasn't the first rumor to peg Sony's high-capacity disc format as the Xbox One's physical medium of choice. But would Microsoft effectively pay a licensing fee to competitor Sony for every console it sells? After all, Microsoft had backed the HD-DVD in the early days of the last generation, but that format lost out to Blu-ray.

The answer, it turns out is yes: Xbox One will ship with a Blu-ray player.

Achievements

Prior to the console's reveal, sources told Polygon that publishers would be able to add achievements after a game launches, create cross-title achievements and communal achievements.

Polygon's sources were correct. Microsoft's Ben Kilgore told Polygon that achievements on the Xbox One will be based in the could, support Challenges that can direct player action, can be expanded after the game ships and can span titles.

"We have this new thing called Challenges," Kilgore told Polygon, "so developers can issue a challenge like every day that you can go into and say, 'Go kill 100 zombies. Go race 20 miles. Go get 15 headshots.'"

Release date

Rumors tended to indicate that the Xbox One would be released in time for the 2013 holiday. Microsoft confirmed that the next-gen console will be released later this year.

Installing games as a requirement

Earlier this year, rumors circulated claiming that installing games would be a requirement on the next-gen Xbox, possibly as a form of DRM.

Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox One will require game installs, though you'll be able to play the games as they're being installed.

IllumiRoom

Microsoft's IllumiRoom project, which projects images from a TV throughout a room to extend the imagine on screen, looked like it might have a part in the next-gen Xbox, though the company later dismissed the speculation by downplaying it as a "research project." That makes sense. IllumiRoom was a no show.


The Xbox Surface gaming tablet

Microsoft has been rumored to be building a Surface/Xbox-branded gaming tablet for some time. Though Microsoft is primarily known as a software company, it's overseen the Xbox hardware for over a decade, and it launched its Surface tablets last year. But nothing of the sort showed up at the event.

Console pricing and Xbox Live

Rumors about pricing generally fell into two categories: subsidized and unsubsidized consoles. Similar to North American cell phone contracts, rumors had it that Microsoft was exploring the option of offering the Xbox One at a discount, provided that purchasers signed a contract for Xbox Live, similar to the $99 Xbox 360 bundle the company rolled out last year. A document leak last year pegged the price of the console at $299. Another rumor claimed a $299 console with a multi-year Xbox Live membership at $15 a month.

Microsoft has been silent on the cost of the console, but we did learn new details about Xbox Live, which will be powered by 300,000 servers and save games and achievements in the cloud. Existing Xbox Live Gold accounts will work across console generations and allow users to communicate.

"If you have an Xbox Gold membership today for 360 and you buy an Xbox One, your membership applies to both systems," Microsoft's Phil Harrison told Polygon. "You don't have to get another subscription."

Xbox One will also allow up to 1,000 friends in the evolved service, and Microsoft didn't provide any details on the price for the next generation of Xbox Live.

The end of Microsoft Points

Several reports have circulated claiming that Microsoft would do away with the Microsoft Points system in favor of currency and gift cards. Though Microsoft didn't announce this at the event, a recent report indicated that the transition might happen before the Xbox One's release later this year, beginning with a dashboard update to the Xbox 360.

A new, $99 Xbox 360

A rumor from earlier this year said that Microsoft would release a $99 version of the Xbox 360, which was known internally with the codenamed "Stingray." Microsoft didn't introduce a new version of the Xbox 360 during the event.