Microsoft's next-generation console has been the subject of intense rumor and speculation for what feels like years now. Gamers have been poring over leaks, rumors, accidental Twitter updates, and a whole lot more. From the "Xbox 720" name, to a "Durango" codename, Microsoft has kept fairly quiet on its official plans for an Xbox 360 successor. That all changed this week after the software maker invited the world's media to its Xbox campus in Redmond to witness "a new generation revealed." Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans have revealed to The Verge that the company will not use the "Xbox 720" moniker, even though everyone refers to it this way. So the next Xbox is scheduled for a grand unveiling on May 21st, but what do we know so far?
Hardware and specs
The majority of rumors around Microsoft's next-gen Xbox focus on the hardware specs of the console. In January, VGLeaks published documents that appear to outline the x86 architecture for the next Xbox. The console is said to include an 8-core 64-bit APU running at 1.6GHz, alongside 8GB of DDR3 memory and a large HDD for storage. Kotaku later backed up a number of these specs with the site's own sources, leading many to believe these are the final retail specifications. A report from Bloomberg suggests the next Xbox will "use an AMD system-on-a-chip that combines powerful 'Jaguar' central processing units with graphics chips," the same chip Sony uses on the PlayStation 4. In other words, the winner of the next big console war — assuming there's a clear-cut winner — won't be doing it on specs alone.
Blu-ray, AMD, and more
Aside from the raw processing power, the next Xbox will also include Blu-ray suport. After Microsoft's HD-DVD plans failed to gain momentum, the company is now switching to the more popular Blu-ray technology with support for 50GB optical discs. While early rumors said the next Xbox will not feature a disc drive at all, this is not the case for a full console. Instead, Microsoft is also preparing a separate "Xbox TV" device that will provide access to casual gaming and TV streaming. This particular device will likely debut in early 2014.
Surprisingly, there have been no solid rumors about what the next Xbox console will look like. The Verge understands that this is mainly because Microsoft only recently finalized its design and hardware. The software maker had originally planned to unveil its next Xbox plans at an event in late April, but the company switched to late May to ensure it would have something to show following Sony's lack of PlayStation 4 hardware at its own event. A tweet from Microsoft's Larry Hryb ("Major Nelson") would appear to suggest that Microsoft's approach for its own event will include a look at the console.
On the controller side, Kotaku reports that the next-gen controller will be similar to the Xbox 360's. Current controllers won't work with the new console, allegedly, and the next Xbox is said to use wireless controllers exclusively.
A massive leak of Xbox 720 information back in June revealed Microsoft's early plans for the Kinect 2. Microsoft references higher accuracy, stereo imaging, improved voice recognition, an improved RGB camera, and dedicated hardware processing. The leaked document also revealed a focus on four-player gaming and potential Kinect accessories that work as props in games such as baseball. More recently, a Kinect 2 developer kit image leaked that showed off improvements in depth and movement data. Microsoft's next-generation Xbox is rumored to ship with the Kinect 2 as standard.
Improved speech recognition and tracking
The Kinect 2 will also improve speech recognition for gaming and navigational tasks. Support for wake-on voice, natural language controls, and speech-to-text are all said to be present. Microsoft is also investigating scenarios where a Kinect sensor will detect individuals in a room and suggest appropriate multiplayer games after a user queries the Xbox using their voice. New body- and eye-tracking improvements, and support for hand recognition, will also assist with launch titles Ryse and others. Little more is known about the Kinect 2, but advanced Kinect sensors at Microsoft's campus suggest that the next-generation will be thinner and smaller than the existing unit.
Entertainment, apps, and TV
Microsoft has consistently made it clear that Xbox is its sole focus for entertainment and TV in the living room and elsewhere. A move to kill off the Zune brand in Windows 8 in favor of Xbox was one of the first clear signs that Microsoft was preparing to focus on its console brand for entertainment. An Xbox Music streaming service launched for Windows 8, and the company recently sold its Mediaroom IPTV business to make way for Xbox. With rumors of a "Cloud TV" platform, and Microsoft's own hints at interactive TV plans with original video content, it's guaranteed that the next Xbox will be a key part of these plans.
Taking over your TV, one step at a time
Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans have revealed to The Verge that the company will introduce a feature that lets its next-generation console take over a TV and set-top box in a similar way to Google TV. We understand that the next Xbox will require an online connection to use the entertainment services, allowing them to be always on for streaming and access to TV signals. The functionality is said to work by taking a HDMI signal and overlaying UI and features from the Xbox onto the existing TV channel or set-top box feed.
The next Xbox is also said to run on Windows 8. It's not clear exactly what type of UI will be surfaced to end users, but Microsoft has consistently updated its Xbox 360 dashboard to match the Live Tiles found in Windows 8 and Windows Phone, so it's safe to say this type of UI will be present in some form or another. Microsoft has also previously made Internet Explorer and Xbox Music apps available on the Xbox, so a move to Windows 8 will unify these more closely. Xbox chief Don Mattrick recently said he's happy with the curated approach of Xbox Live, but the Windows 8 foundation should also make things a lot easier for third-party developers to create apps for Xbox. Microsoft is expected to detail its development plans for the next-generation Xbox at its Build Developer Conference in June.
Always-on and other Xbox hardware
Rumors around an always-on and always connected Xbox surfaced from various sources earlier this year. Microsoft is said to be implementing an activation system coupled with an online requirement to prevent piracy of the next-generation Xbox games. Edge magazine originally reported that games would not be able to be reused on additional consoles due to the rumored activation method. Shortly afterwards, reports from Kotaku and VGLeaks suggested that the next Xbox will require game installations to hard disks.
Former Microsoft creative director Adam Orth spoke out on Twitter about the always-on rumors. "Sorry, I don't get the drama over having an 'always on' console," he said, before adding a #dealwithit hashtag. Reaction was swift, with many criticizing Orth's comments. Microsoft was forced to issue a statement apologizing for Orth's comments and Orth left Microsoft shortly after the controversy. It's still unclear whether Microsoft will require an online connection for gaming, and whether the company is planning to implement an anti-used games system as previously rumored.
Is there an Xbox tablet and smartwatch?
While the focus is on an Xbox console, Microsoft may be preparing other Xbox-related hardware. In leaked documents Microsoft referenced a mysterious "Project Fortaleza," a plan for Kinect Glasses. There was little mention of the hardware involved, but the glasses appear to be Wi-Fi- or 4G-enabled and incorporate augmented reality in a way that's similar to Google's Project Glass augmented reality glasses. Microsoft marked the project for a 2014 schedule. The company also appears to be exploring other augmented reality scenarios for Xbox including IllumiRoom, which appears to use projectors to display and extend games onto nearby walls.
Microsoft is also said to be working on a 7-inch Surface tablet. The secret project, revealed in November, will likely ship later this year with some close ties to Xbox for casual gaming and interaction using the company's SmartGlass system. Microsoft's Xbox team is also said to be testing smartwatch prototypes with a Surface connector. Microsoft had originally planned to release a "Joule" heart rate monitor accessory for the Xbox, but the company has since decided to focus on a smartwatch instead. Microsoft's own Xbox chief believes "10 years from now, we'll be wearing 10 sensors on our body."
Stay tuned for May 21st
With a stronger focus on entertainment and Xbox at the heart of those plans, Microsoft's strategy is taking shape. While Microsoft might be focusing on an Xbox console for its May 21st event, it's clear the company has greater plans with a combination of its Surface hardware and Xbox teams. Stay tuned to The Verge for full coverage of the launch.