After Xbox 360: Microsoft's next Xbox

Power to the virtual people

The Xbox 360 has 115.2 GFLOPS floating point performance, 100 times the original Xbox, and can process 500 million polygons a second - five times its predecessor. With its plethora of cores, the Xbox 2011 could have 100 times more GLOPS again - maybe 10 TFLOPs, not far off supercomputer status. Its multiple graphics cores will allow it to process and texture many millions of polygons a second.

So what will all this processing power actually be doing? Obviously, graphics will become still closer to cinematic photorealism ( Project Gotham Racing 8 will be indistinguishable from TV race coverage; Call of Duty 8 will be shocking). But multiple cores will enable lots of other cool new capabilities too.

There is already talk of a camera with the ability to sense motion, and maybe voice activation. So you will be able to control your game character using gestures, and converse with NPCs using your own voice, giving commands or engaging in realistic dialogue.

This is just the start. Hardware physics processing is already finding its way onto the PC, either using a dedicated chip or borrowed GPU power. This will play a big part in future console games.

But the extra CPUs could also be called upon for more complex AI tasks - something the Halo series has become famous for. So Xbox 2011 games are likely to offer much more realistic NPC behaviour. The next console generation will be both a very good virtual companion, and a much more dangerous enemy.

Disc jockeys

Something that could be very different in 2011 is the mode of game delivery. Online game purchasing (like Valve's Steam) is still in its infancy, and current next-gen consoles are sticking primarily with discs for games. PlayStation 3 uses Blu-ray, and you can get an HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360, so these options are likely to remain on their successors, if only for backwards compatibility.

But the chances are that the next consoles will be very much network-connected devices, something Microsoft has pioneered with Xbox LIVE.

So the Xbox 2011 will more than likely come with a big hard disk - or even gigabytes of Flash storage - and your games will download straight onto this. It'll destroy the second-hand trade-in market, of course. But maybe we'll all be selling our electronic license keys on eBay instead!

Our prediction for the next Xbox is...

So here's the bottom line for the Xbox in 2011, based on current trends and what we know is happening over the next few years. Check back here in 2011 to see if we were right!

  • CPU/GPU - Integrated chip with 16 x 5GHz processor cores, 32 x 2GHz graphics cores
  • Memory - 8GB GDDR8
  • Media - Dual-format HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive for backwards compatibility and movies
  • Storage - 4TB hard disk for online game (and movie) delivery
  • Built-in camera - for gesture-based control
  • Built-in microphone - for voice-recognised control

UPDATE: We have newer, more accurate predictions!