This 3D (Dirty's Digital Diatribes) editorial is fairly straightforward... I predict the new Xbox, whatever it may be called, will be announced before years end and furthermore will be available sometime (probably second-half*) in 2010.
It was one simple comment on our recent tour of AMD's facilities during Neowindex in Austin, Texas... "Wait until you see the next generation of consoles." The comment itself was harmless enough and was made in a very blase fashion. I feel I am undeniably obligated to state for the record that not once was the 360 even mentioned during the much larger overall conversation we were having when this comment was indeed made. Needless to say, nine simple words sparked my imagination. After a few days to mull it over, even if this comment had nothing at all to do with the Xbox which it very well might not have, I am still now convinced it is inevitable that we will see a new Xbox sooner than later. Here is why...
Phooey To Those Who Say It's To Early For A New Release
Being so dominant in the computer world for so long now, Microsoft already has deep-seeded roots in a culture where people are willing to spend anywhere from $150 to $450 on a new graphics card, just one singular component of a PC. As such, I am thinking the way they see it, why would people not be willing to upgrade to an entirely new console for around the same amount of money? The 360 is after-all already going to be four years old this November, and lets not forget, the first Xbox launched in November of 2001. Yep, that just four years prior to the 360's launch.
Still, plenty of people would definitely be upset by the news of a new console for a plethora of different reasons. Number one being that for whatever reason, people see consoles as being immune to the plague that affects all other technology: once something is released it is already dated. I believe Microsoft knows this is the mindset, and the main reason I believe they are going to be able to pull off the release of a new console in the mind of many consumers "so soon" is because for the first time...
New Games Will Have Scalable Graphics (at least for awhile).
Anyone who has played a game on the PC knows that most games have, for awhile now, included an Auto-Detect option that will detect your system's components and change the graphic settings for the game accordingly. Admittedly, the Auto-Detect settings are almost always never right, but when you only have two systems you need to detect for, it makes a developers job that much easier. By doing this, they will not be abandoning the 360 and people will indeed still be able to play new game releases. Only difference being is this time around they will be providing consumers with an option (and believe you me their marketing people will make sure to reiterate that "options" fact over and over) to play new game releases either on the new console with better graphics and resolution, or on their current 360 with the same graphics they have come to know and love. Again, this is yet another concept with roots in the already established PC gaming market, just replace one singular component with an entire console.
Taking this approach, after a few years Microsoft could kindly "suggest" to developers that for Triple-A titles to drop development for the 360 completely. This would be the exact opposite of how they handled things with the Xbox to Xbox 360 transition where they virtually dropped development almost instantly. Doing so would keep plenty of nay-sayers happy for at least a good time to come.
But What About Blu-ray?
Naturally, the concept of better graphics then leads to the question "Will Microsoft then decide to support Blu-ray?" Well my first response would be perhaps. I do not see that as being completely out of the question. Perhaps even some sort of external solution would be an option as other companies seem to see that as a plausible and viable option. However, a more plausible scenario is that the resources needed to support higher resolutions, etc., especially when there are only two configurations to support (360 and new console), will actually still be able to fit on current dual-layer DVD's. The two different configuration would already share so many common resources, and it is indeed only the graphical elements such as textures, etc., that would need to have two "versions."
Let's just say for the sake of argument that they could not fit everything on a current dual-layer DVD. With the now introduced option to install to hard-drive (again from PC world), especially on a 250-320 GB drive which is the most common-sense size to be in the next generation of consoles. Would it then really be that big of a deal if a game did indeed require two disks if you only needed one disk to play after you were able to install the game itself? Finally, there is still the possibility that games can indeed be delivered by means of digital downloads, although I personally just do not see a huge company such as Microsoft strictly relying on a method of distribution that still has a long way to go before it is the absolute standard.
PC Graphics Are Just That Much Better
We all know the above subtitle in bold has always been the case, it goes without saying if you know anything about gaming. However, since we are talking about better graphics and resolution, one cannot deny or dismiss the fact that PC graphics are really, really starting to make the 360 (and PS3 for that matter) show how weak and not-so-capable they actually are in this department. Truth be told, a capable PC could have shown both consoles graphical inferiority on Day One of each consoles release. Going back a few years to their release, the not all that informed public was simply just mesmerized by the fact that their newfangled HD TV was able to play games in HD itself.
Keeping in mind that for better or for worse, the modern day gamer is obsessed with graphics, I cannot help but think Microsoft is not only aware of this fact, but they also simply want to stay competitive in this area. Case in point, two games that are fairly recent releases that stick out to me as examples of superior graphics are F.E.A.R. 2 and Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. Both undeniably look dramatically better on a well equipped computer, and to reiterate, I believe Microsoft are smart enough to know people are either already realizing this fact and / or will start realizing it more and more as time goes on.
Also lets face it, the current generation of consoles was and still will be about the "HD gaming experience." One cannot ignore that none of the Triple A titles are running at the superior 1080p, and none probably ever will on this current generation (and note I do say Triple-A titles, yes there are indeed some games that are 1080p native, most notably XBLA and PSN releases. So for a "true HD gaming experience," they need better more capable GPU's. Plain and simple. I can notice the difference in a 720p Blu-ray compared to a 1080p one, and I am sure I am not the only one. If game graphics can be at 1080p, and in a perfect world even run at a constant 60 frames per second, I am sure plenty of people would definitely be interested in and in-fact desire this capability.
They Want To Put The Nail In Sony's Coffin
Sony has time and time again talked about the PS3's ten year life-cycle. While it is a noble crusade, and one that many support at least in theory for their wallets, unfortunately it is just not a realistic one, mainly for the reasons I pointed out above about no games actually being capable of full-blown 1080p HD. Sure, perhaps Sony can help developers squeeze some more power out of the Cell processor. Sure, graphics on the PS3, just as the 360, do currently look pretty damn good, but why not make them look even better if possible? Also lets face it, the PS3, just as the 360 in all fairness, are definitely limited in the GPU department to pull true HD off, as already outlined above.
While I have no doubt Sony is already working on their next console as well, I just do not think they are as far along as Microsoft is on their next console - not even close actually as they had a fairly well documented struggle getting the PS3 off the ground itself. I just cannot help but think that Microsoft sees this as a perfect opportunity to deliver a potential KO punch and put Sony down for the count, perhaps even for good.
The Experience Itself
We have to keep in mind that Microsoft already have done a major overhaul to the 360's OS itself with the launch of NXE. They are going to continue building and improving on NXE naturally, but they just as NXE's current name implies, Microsoft are indeed all about the new experience. As such, I believe that NXE will indeed be the last major overhaul to the 360, but Microsoft is and definitely will be itching to release a completely new experience sooner than later: Specifically one that capitalizes on social media and networking. Expect plenty of partnerships to be announced and an even more social experience than you currently can and do indeed enjoy on the 360. Going back to possibly putting Sony down for the count, I do not think that anyone can argue that Sony is almost embarrassingly behind in this aspect with the PS3 currently, and if Microsoft can release and even stronger social experience, that could indeed have the potential to even further the distance between themselves and Sony as the must-have console.
Thing is, I do not deny that Microsoft can and definitely will continue to develop for the NXE, as they have an extremely solid foundation to build upon. However, taking into account the way social media and networking has and will more than likely continue to take over aspects of our everyday computing lives, I think something else to tie it all together is in the works. If you then also add in the fact that the line between your computer and TV keeps getting blurred more and more, I believe it all adds up to multiple top-tier development teams somewhere deep in top secret labs in Redmond are buried knee deep with the task of designing a brand new experience that somehow ties it all together. Which then leads to...
* Marketing. Marketing. Marketing.
This is perhaps the weakest reason for my prediction, but it actually has the potential to be the strongest if you also believe that companies live and die by their marketing departments. In keeping with this theory, it is my belief that 2010 just has a great ring to it. Simply put, 2011 does not. To further elaborate, I believe Microsoft might even break the tradition of a November release and go for an October release. Yep, that would be 10/10/2010. I can literally see the higher-ups in any marketing department gathered in a non-descript conference room giggling uncontrollably at the potential to launch on this date.
To summarize, I believe Microsoft recognizes that they have a unique opportunity to potentially overthrow Sony permanently and secure their dominance in the console market. I also happen to believe they are willing to take the potential risks and steps necessary to seize the moment and try to indeed do just that, also making the RROD of consoles past a distant memory. Will they announce it as soon as E3? Highly unlikely. Truth is who knows when they will announce it, but I do think for the reasons mentioned above, it will be much sooner than anyone might have expected.