The Xbox One X just launched in November 2017, bringing native 4K gaming to consoles for the first time ever, but that doesn’t mean our unending hunger for new hardware was satiated. The inner demons that drive us to persistently crave new tech is already looking towards the future, fueled by Xbox head Phil Spencer’s announcement at E3 2018 that Microsoft was already working on its next console.
Here’s what we know, what we think we know, and our best guesses about what to expect from the next Xbox—or neXtbox, if you will (you won’t).
There’s more than one console in the works
During Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference, Xbox head Phil Spencer confirmed that Xbox is already “deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles,” clearly alluding to the fact that there are multiple next-gen Xbox consoles in the works. Adding to that, Spencer made the bold claim that Xbox’s “cloud engineers are building a game streaming network to unlock console gaming on any device.”
This shouldn’t really be a surprise. Mid-generation consoles are steadily becoming the norm in hardware release schedules. PlayStation 4 got the Pro, and Xbox One got the X. The strategy seems to be working for both console makers, as newer, more powerful systems that play the same games as the launch systems (and “slim” versions) help rejuvenate that mid-gen slump and inject new competition (and, therefore, revenue) into the console wars.
But it’s possible that Spencer wasn’t talking about a mid-generation console at all. In fact, it’s possible that the next generation of Xbox will launch two consoles simultaneously.
Streaming is likely to play a big role
At first, we thought that Spencer was hyping up two different things at E3 2018: the next consoles and a streaming service that might replace or work in tandem with Xbox Game Pass. It turns out that streaming might actually factor heavily into their next-gen console strategy in the form of a completely new console model.
Recent reports indicate that Xbox’s plans for the next generation involve two separate consoles: one traditionally built and priced piece of hardware, and one cheaper, bare-bones streaming device. The codenames for these are Scarlett and Scarlett Cloud, respectively. Scarlett Cloud will probably require some sort of subscription fee and better internet connection as trade-offs for its lower price point (think $100 to $150), and it probably won’t include any sort of disc tray, since you’ll be streaming all your games.
Will Xbox Scarlett games be on physical discs?
Before you get your undies in a twist thinking about the death of traditional game discs, take a deep breath. Game discs aren’t going anywhere, at least according to analysts and former executives.
Analyst Michael Pachter spoke about how console makers’ relationships with retailers depend largely on consumers buying physical editions of the games in their stores. Taking away physical discs would mean angering retailers, who are the ones that stock the consoles in the first place.
On top of that, former PlayStation boss Andrew House stated that physical discs are actually important to expanding a console’s business in developing markets like China, though this might apply less to Xbox, who’s consumer base is largely located in North America, Europe, and (to a lesser degree) South America.
We can’t really imagine a future where physical copies don’t exist. However, publishers are definitely relying more and more on digital sales. “Deluxe editions” of games, which come as huge physical packages, sometimes don’t include a disc of the game and instead offer download codes. Even Spyro Reignited Trilogy is only including one of the remade Spryo games on a disc while players will need to download the other two.
What will the hardware specs look like?
Obviously, not a lot is known about what’s running under the next Xbox’s hood at the moment. We have seen a few hints, though, at least when it comes to the more traditional Scarlett.
A job listing for a senior engineer at Xbox stated one of the responsibilities as leading “the DRAM solutions for the Xbox console hardware development team,” including the integration of “DDR3, GDDR5, GDDR6 and future DRAM technologies.” DRAM is dynamic RAM, and GDDR5 is the kind of DRAM that the Xbox One X utilizes. This implies that the next Xbox will use GDDR6 RAM or better, depending on when it launches.
If true, that… still doesn’t really tell us a whole lot, except that the next Xbox will boast better overall performance than the Xbox One X, especially when it comes to load times and general operations. In terms of CPU and GPU (you know, the important specs), we’re pretty much in the dark. The Xbox One X is working with a 6-teraflop GPU and, in comparison, a measly CPU, according to Digital Foundry, so we’d expect improvements on the CPU end as one of Xbox’s main focuses.
As far as what we expect, you can bet the next console will launch with native 4K and HDR support. That seems like an inevitability, considering Xbox already has a 4K HDR console. Where the next Xbox can really improve, however, is in the frame rate.
Spencer said as much at E3 2018, and it makes sense: even the One X taps out at 60 frames per second, compared to PCs that can reach silky-smooth frame rates of 144 fps. In order to reach these dizzying heights (dizzying to us lowly console players, that is), the next Xbox would have to find a better balance between its GPU and CPU than what the One X has currently. We also suspect that the next Xbox will support higher refresh rates right out of the box, as the Xbox One recently upgraded to supporting displays with a 120Hz refresh rate.
Another issue that the next Xbox seems likely to tackle is accessibility. The recent release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller was a major positive step in terms of accessibility, and it showed that Xbox is serious about creating inclusive tech that won’t limit people based on disabilities.
The next Xbox’s launch might finally also mark the introduction of keyboard and mouse support on an Xbox console, but we’re not holding our breath. The added possibility of platform-wide modding support would make the next traditional Xbox the most PC-like console yet.
When can I buy it?
Put your wallet away. Our best guess, according to analyst predictions and rumors, is that the next Xbox won’t launch until 2020, despite some claims that it will launch in 2019. What seems more likely is that Xbox will talk more about the next console at E3 2019, with a full-on marketing push to start at E3 2020.