While gossip surrounding Microsoft's next Xbox console has been churning around inside the rumour mill for a good few years now, there's no doubt that we're getting closer to learning some cold, hard facts.
We fully expect the Xbox 720 - if it is indeed to be called that – to launch in time for Christmas 2013. If it doesn't we'll be absolutely flabbergasted. And with the increasing frequency of new rumours, reports and leaks, an official reveal from Microsoft cannot be too far away.
So what can we expect from the Xbox 720 when it is finally revealed by Microsoft, and when will it finally hit the shelves?
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Xbox 720 to be called Xbox Infinity?
Microsoft recently went on a domain name shopping spree, snapping up a whole bunch of Xbox-related URLs. One of them, and the one that immediately catches the eye, is Xbox8.com. Could this mean that the next Xbox could be called the Xbox Infinity? It's just speculation at the moment, but it's possible!
It's also entirely possible that Microsoft could call it the Xbox 720, but we reckon it'll have something a bit more exciting up its sleeve.
Noted Microsoft blogger MS Nerd outed the name Xbox Loop, claiming that the long-awaited console will be "far smaller", cheaper and quite Kinect-focused when it finally lands on our shelves.
Rrecent reports indicate that Microsoft's internal codename for the new Xbox is 'Durango'. Sean Tracy, a technical designer at games developer Crytek, said on Twitter: "Enjoying the Durango developers summit in London. So far, great swag and interesting talks". The tweet was very quickly taken down but the codename was out of the bag by then.
What about the Xbox 720 controller?
Many rumours suggest that the second version of Kinect will sit at the heart of the Xbox 720 experience, and we reckon it's a no brainer. A console built around motion detection has lots of promise and it seems highly likely that this is the direction Microsoft is taking, given the way it's currently pushing Kinect hardware and software.
However, you can be sure that the trusty control pad will remain a core component for hardcore gaming. The 360 control pad is wildly popular amongst both console and PC gamers so we can't see the design changing too radically, either.
Microsoft recently filed a patent relating to projecting augmented reality 3D images onto the walls of the room you're gaming in, in an effort to more fully immerse you in the experience.
The codename for this project is 'Fortaleza' and has Kinect at its heart. It is all supposed to work with wi-fi enabled Fortaleza glasses much like Google's Project Glass glasses.
Xbox 720 specs
If the next Xbox is to be as popular and last as long as the Xbox 360 – without the frankly appalling hardware failures which blighted its early days – it's going to need some reliable and powerful components.
Latest rumours suggest that the console will contain a revision of AMD's 7000 series graphics, which is based on its 28nm Graphics Core Next (GCN) Southern Islands tech.
Anonymous sources are being quoted on VG247 as saying that the graphics setup in the Xbox 720 will be "like two PCs taped together" which sounds like waffle to us. What does that even mean?
The same sources say that the two GPUs in the Xbox 720 "aren't structured as they are in a normal dual PC set-up," with each chip working separately to draw different items simultaneously.
Again, this sounds rather wooly to us, so let's try and make some sense of it...
Perhaps it depends what the source is referring to as different 'items'. The traditional usage of multi-GPU tech is Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) where each GPU renders a frame in turn; if the source is saying that is not the case in the Xbox 720 then it will be a whole new usage of twin graphics chips.
It's possible this simultaneous rendering of different items could be referring to using the twin GPUs to display 3D outputs – where each chip is rendering a different angle of a scene to generate the 3D effect. This would then minimise the stress that 3D gaming puts on graphics chips.Still, if that secondary GPU is lying dormant during non-3D gaming it would be rather wasteful, so the GPUs must surely still be used concurrently to render the games.
It's also possible the confusion here could be arising from the difference between AMD's old GPU architecture, used in the Xbox 360, and the new Graphics Core Next technology. The old Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) architecture of AMD's last gen GPUs essentially batched up instructions before outputting them.
Either way, the inclusion of AMD 7000 series graphics would put the new Xbox on a par with the current rumoured specs of the Sony PS4 which is in turn expected to also contain AMD Southern Islands graphics as well as an AMD x86 CPU.
It would put the two consoles on level footing in terms of performance as they will essentially contain the same hardware, though by the time they actually go on sale they would to be hopelessly out of date compared to modern PCs.
Are we really to believe that the 'next generation' of games consoles would essentially be out of date mini AMD PCs, with just the operating systems and scale of fun-sucking DRM the only levels of differentiation? We can't see that being the case, and a report in April 2012 suggests that Microsoft does indeed have something more exciting up its sleeve.
Xbox World reported that the Xbox 720 will pack a 16-core CPU, which would certainly add some much needed muscle to the maybe-possibly underpowered graphics.
Microsoft was, if you remember, a staunch member of the HD DVD Promotion Group and went so far as to launch an external HD DVD drive for the 360. So it represents a bit turn-around for Microsoft to embrace Blu-ray, but it also makes perfect sense.
Read speeds from DVDs are still faster than from Blu-ray discs, but BDs can hold vastly more data. A standard dual-layer BD can contain 50GB of data compared to the Xbox 360's dual-layer DVDs which contain between 8 and 9GB.
Many current Xbox 360 titles come on two or three discs, and with the size of Xbox 720 games destined to dwarf current titles, that extra capacity is a fundamental requirement.
A document that leaked in June 2012 indicates that the Xbox 720 will come packing 1080p 3D support, Blu-ray player and DVR functionality. This would indicate that Microsoft is trying to position the Xbox 720 as the single does-it-all set-top box in your living room.
Xbox 720 games
It looks as though games developers are already playing with Xbox 720 hardware - a recent job advert from Peter Molyneux's Lionhead studio asks for developers with a background in DirectX 11 - a platform not used by any of the current consoles but is rumoured to be used in the AMD-powered Xbox 720.
It's a bit of a no-brainer that titles are in development from all the big studios if you ask us.
Will Microsoft kill the second-hand games market?
There have been rumours cicrulating that the new Xbox console will feature a system aimed at preventing owners playing used games. That would mean no trading-in of old titles in order to fund the purchase of new ones - a move that would not be warmly received by gamers or highstreet store.
The rumours centre around the concept of the new Xbox demanding an always-on internet connection. That sounds like a horrifying idea to us – say it ain't so!
Xbox 720 release date
All indications are that the next Xbox will arrive in time for Christmas 2013. Microsoft briefly stated that the new Xbox is imminent in an interview with the Verge before swiftly backtracking and issuing a moderately embarrassing denial.
Further rumours of an Xbox 720 release date of pre-Christmas 2013 was backed up at the end of November 2012 by a Bloomberg report which cites sources at Microsoft and says we are likely to see the Xbox 720 make its debut at E3 2013.
But then! In January, a report from Game Informer suggested that we'd actually see Microsoft bust out an all-singing all-dancing event to launch the Xbox 720 around Game Developers Conference in March.
Why no E3 reveal? Because Microsoft wanted to make a splash away from the noise of the mega-show. Unfortunately, the report indicated that Sony had the same idea for the PS4...
Xbox 720 price
That leaked document we mentioned earlier mentions a $299 (£190) price point which sounds gloriously ambitious to us. Expect the Xbox 720 price to be a bit more than that but assuming the PS4 launches around the same time, expect some competitive pricing.