Rumours about the new Xbox (or Xbox 720, as it's often referred to as) are now more than just internet gossip.
It's one thing to wildly speculate about the next Xbox console. It's quite another to find out that Microsoft is gearing up to build one.
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Recent job postings reveal that the Xbox Console Architecture team is hunting for new blood. Successful candidates will join a team that will be "responsible for defining and delivering next generation console architectures from conception through implementation."
ITProPortal also suggested in October 2011 that several employees were giving away their involvement on their LinkedIn profiles, such as "Xbox Next Gen Creative Director."
It also came to light in August 2011 that the next Xbox could actually overlap the Xbox 360's lifespan. That's according to an interview from Metro with Xbox's European head Chris Lewis.
It screams Xbox 720 (or whatever Microsoft chooses to call its new Xbox). So let's gather together the facts, the half-whispered untruths and the wishful thinking to see what such a machine might be like…
The Xbox 720 specs will be a significant technological leap forward
The Xbox 360 was launched in 2005, with the best technology that 2004 had to offer. Inside, it used a custom-made IBM Power PC with a trio of 3.2GHz cores and an ATI graphics processor.
Compare this ageing specification to a 2011 PC like the Scan 3XS Vengeance. It rocks the latest Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge CPU, Nvidia GTX 580 graphics card, 1TB of onboard storage and 8GB of DDR3.
Cevat Yerli, the boss at Crytek, believes that the PC is effectively a generation ahead of the Xbox 360 and PS3. "As long as the current console generation exists and as long as we keep pushing the PC as well, the more difficult it will be to really get the benefit of both," Yerli spilled to Edge.
Something has got to give.
Xbox 720 storage and disc format
Cloud storage? We might not be ready to abandon physical media just yet. But Steam has served PC users well for several years and OnLive is turning heads.
The most obvious next-gen storage option for the next Xbox is Blu-ray. But Microsoft has refused to add it to the existing Xbox 360. Other alternatives? You'll find flag-wavers for flash drives, Nintendo-style game cartridges, even the resurrection of HD-DVD.
Xbox 720 processor and graphics
Considering that the Xbox 360 Slim now features a 'Vejle' CPU/GPU combo processor, KitGuru ponders the possibility of the new Xbox 720 getting a cutting-edge AMD Fusion chip. It's betting on the DX11-capable Krishna APU (Accelerated Processing Unit), due for release late 2012.
Semi Accurate believes the new chip will actually be called Obed and incorporate elements of IBM design - however it seems AMD is nailed on as the manufacturer.
AMD reckons it will be a beast of a machine, pumping out graphics that offer Avatar-levels of detail. James Cameron's opus used CGI and 3D capturing, with each minute of footage costing $1 million to make.
Not only will the console be capable of Avatar-style graphics, according to Neal Robison, AMD's director of ISV relationships, it will also feature improved artificial intelligence and physics capabilities.
This could mean that each individual incidental character – like the pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, for example – could each take on their own individual personality.
The 'bigger, better, more' ethic is what makes the games industry tick. Eat Sleep Play founder David Jaffe suggests we desperately need a new generation of high-end consoles to keep producing 'blockbuster' games like Battlefield 3, Crysis 2 and LA Noire. "Gameplay travels very easily," Jaffe told IGN. "The spectacle doesn't."
EA's Frank Gibeau disagrees. "Obviously, more computing horsepower is nice, but to be honest, the Xbox 360 and PS3 still have a lot of horsepower that hasn't been tapped."
In October 2011 it was reported that developers were prepping games that could run on a new console.
Epic's Mark Rein suggests that a tablet might be the shape of consoles to come. "Imagine a future Xbox 360 that is actually a tablet you carry around," Rein told Develop last year. "It will have more power than 360 does today, with technology like Kinect built right in…"
What about the Xbox 720 controller?
Love it/hate it, gesture-control is here to stay. Expect an improved version of Microsoft's Kinect hardware to be a prominent feature of any new Xbox. Kinect is currently the world's "fastest selling consumer electronics device" with sales topping 10 million. A Guinness World Record.
But the game pad will remain the input device of choice for veteran gamers. We can't imagine playing Gears of War 4 by waving our arms around. It lacks precision.
Could the next Xbox run Windows 8?
Microsoft wants to create an ecosystem of apps and games that work between Windows Phone, Windows and the next Xbox. But could that mean the new gaming console could run a variant of Windows 8as Gamerant suggests?
The Xbox 720 release date is 2013. Or 2014. Or 2015…
Microsoft has said publically that the Xbox 360 will have (at least) a 10-year life lifespan to match the PS3. That puts a new Xbox launch into 2015…
The 2014-2015 timescale looks a good bet. Square Enix is already anticipating the Xbox 720 by planning to open a second Canadian development studio by 2012. "The new consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will require more attention and more staff," said Stéphane d'Astous. "We want to prepare ourselves."
Bethesda's Todd Howard, game director for the forthcoming blockbuster Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, says that gamers should not expect follow-ups to the PS3 and Xbox 360 until 2014, at the very earliest.
Speaking to PSM3 magazine, the Bethesda exec said that gamers were happy with the current generation of console tech and that he didn't expect to see an Xbox 720 or a PlayStation 4 before 2014.
Backing this up is a comment made by a designer who has worked with Microsoft, who implied that a new Xbox 2015 release date is set. In his online portfolio, Ben Peterson wrote "Microsoft Xbox. Confidential / Collaboration with Microsoft's IEB design group investigating future user experiences and hardware for 2015."
Alongside an angled image that doesn't give much away, he wrote: "Microsoft Xbox. Confidential / Collaboration with Microsoft's IEB design group investigating future user experiences and hardware for 2015. *Work samples only permissible in person.* (March 2011)."
Question marks hang over such information; who is Ben Peterson? Didn't he sign an NDA when working with Microsoft? Why is there no contact information on his online portfolio? Will he be allowed to live after such a faux-pas? Or is this all a traffic-mongering lie?
Call of Duty developer Treyarch has also posted a job ad for people to work on a game "for a new console.
Also in early October 2011, an ad for the new system has also been spotted in a trailer for the film Real Steel.
But the next Xbox could be showcased at E3 2012
The successor to Microsoft's Xbox 360 console is likely to be unveiled at E3 2012, according to a "high-ranking source at Crytek". They said that TimeSplitters 4 is being developed for the next-generation console, using Microsoft's updated DX11 development tool. We're not so sure about that, but you never know...