Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Updated: Xbox 720 release date, news and rumours

Updated: Xbox 720 release date, news and rumours

We have a strong hunch that the next Xbox will just be called Xbox, but while the rest of the world is calling it the Xbox 720, so will we.

While gossip surrounding Microsoft's mysterious 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 to launch in time for Christmas 2013. We know that Sony is launching the PS4 in at least one territory in time for 'Holiday 2013' and Microsoft will surely want to make sure it doesn't give away a head start.

So what can we expect from the Xbox 720 when it is finally revealed by Microsoft, and when will it finally hit the shelves?

Xbox 720 specs

If the Xbox 720 is to be as popular and last as long as the Xbox 360 â€" without the frankly appalling hardware failures which blighted its early days â€" it's going to need some reliable and powerful components.

From what we can tell, the Xbox 720 will come packing very similar specifications to the already-announced PS4. However, it is rumoured strongly that the Xbox 720 will come with reduced graphics potency.

The Xbox 720's CPU will be an AMD Jaguar-based CPU clocked at 1.6GHz - possibly very similar to that of the PS4, possibly identical in every way. That would certainly be a boost for game developers as it would make cross-platform development much easier than it is currently.

Graphics-wise, 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.

The PS4 graphics are provided by a bespoke AMD chip from this family somewhere along the lines of a Radeon 7850 card with 18 GCN processing clusters, each with 64 cores.

It is thought that the Xbox 720 will have just 12 processing clusters which could well mean that Microsoft is using a version of the (rumoured/forthcoming) AMD Radeon 7790 chip. That means less power and cheaper bits, basically, but it's not all doom and gloom.

The PS4 comes packing 8GB of unified GDDR5 memory which combines system and graphics memory for super-fast gaming. But the Xbox 720 is rumoured to contain 8GB of general system memory and separate graphics memory.

That means that the Xbox 720 might not be as potent a gaming rig as the PS4, but will be more efficient at other tasks, making the Xbox better and faster outside of gaming environments.

That certainly tallies with some gaming devs who say the Xbox 720 is a lot less about gaming than the P S4 is.

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.

This is further backed up by a Microsoft job advert which confirms a new Xbox launch is imminent.

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 sou rces 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 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 Projec t Glass glasses. Who wouldn't want a Star Trek style holodeck in their front room?

Xbox 720: to Blu-ray or not to Blu-ray?

Will the Xbox 720 come with a Blu-ray drive or not? We've seen dozens of rumours pointing both ways and we're still no further to really finding out.

One rumour says that the Xbox 720 will not have a BD drive. Other rumours say it WILL arrive packing a Blu-ray drive.

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 hardwar e - 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.

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 as we said we predict it will just be called 'Xbox'.

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.

Other 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.

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 â€" say it ain't so!

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.

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