Xbox Two: what we want to see out of a new Xbox

Next Xbox
Image credit: TechRadar

For the past few years, the new Xbox was nothing more than a dream. We had hoped Microsoft was working on the next Xbox, and even suspected that might be the case, but until recently, we weren't sure.

Microsoft officially announced its next generation hardware, in the form of the enigmatic Project Scarlett, during its E3 2019 conference. Due for release "Holiday 2020", Project Scarlett is apparently four times more powerful than the Xbox One X with the ability to run games at 120FPS and potentially 8K resolutions.

However, Microsoft won't confirm if Project Scarlett will encompass more than one new Xbox console. This is despite rumors that there are two new Xbox consoles on the way: a high-end console codenamed 'Anaconda' and a entry-level console codenamed 'Lockhart'.

Microsoft may be remaining pretty tight-lipped about the finer details of Project Scarlett, but we do know what specs to expect and when we'll see the console (or consoles) hitting shelves. 

So, without further ado, here's everything we know about the next Xbox.

[Update: Microsoft has officially announced its next-generation of hardware - Project Scarlett.]

Image credit: Microsoft

Image credit: Microsoft

What's the latest on Microsoft's next Xbox?

Microsoft officially announced Project Scarlett during its E3 2019 conference. The next-generation hardware is apparently four times more powerful than the Xbox One X and boasts up to 120 FPS, 8K capabilities, ray-tracing, SSD as virtual RAM and a custom design-processor from AMD. It also allows for backwards compatibility across all Xbox consoles - that's four generations.

If that's not enough, Halo Infinite is the first confirmed launch title.

Image credit: Microsoft 

Image credit: Microsoft 

Xbox Two release date

The Xbox Two (aka Project Scarlett) will launch "Holiday 2020" which means around November/December, 2020.

Xbox Two news and rumors

Project xCloud

While Microsoft’s game-streaming service isn’t ready for primetime yet, it’s further along than anyone thought: Project xCloud, which is currently being beta tested by Microsoft employees, can already stream 3,500 games from the cloud with another 1,900 games potentially titles on their way. 

Microsoft unveiled these and other key details in a blog on the Xbox Wire, and says even more details will be revealed soon. 

The key points in the post are that Microsoft has a number of games that are already compatible with the service from the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox game library, and claims that any game published on the Xbox One could be xCloud-compatible without any extra work from developers. 

To stream these games to customers, Microsoft has deployed xCloud servers to data centers across 13 Azure regions – including North America, Europe and Asia – and says that it will continue to build more centers as development continues. 

Just as interestingly, Microsoft says developers like Capcom and Paradox are currently running tests on the servers, and has updated its developer kit to include cloud-specific APIs. In some examples provided by Microsoft, the new developer tools allow creators to make multiplayer matches in the cloud more seamless by moving all connections to the same server and enables games to scale font size depending on the screen you're using.

We expect that we'll hear more about Project xCloud news at E3 2019, as it's likely the service will launch alongside the next Xbox.

Pre-E3 teasing

Expectations were high for Microsoft's E3 2019 showcase on June 9 and the company was helping to build the hype by hiding secret messages in its three countdown trailers to the show, which suggested the next Xbox console(s) would be making an appearance. 

The first video had the code R55, the second G36 and the third B0. All three were picked up on by an observant Twitter user who worked out that they're the RBG code for the color Scarlet, the codename for what's believed to be the next generation family of Xbox consoles. In a roundabout confirmation of the theory, Microsoft awarded the Twitter user a free month of Game Pass for their efforts. We now know the eagle-eyed user was right and Project Scarlett was officially revealed during the conference.

Sony's cloud gaming patent
According to a recently accepted United States Patent and Trademark Office patent (spotted Digital Trends) filed by Sony back in 2014, the company is working on a "system for combining recorded application state with application streaming interactive video output". 

In other words, a cloud gaming service which could rival the Google Stadia (or a cloud streaming new Xbox) and could potentially launch with the PS5.

Players would be able to stream a game through a hosting server. So if you have a device that connects to the internet, be that a mobile device, console, or PC, you can connect to that server and the game you're wanting to play will be streamed to your monitor or screen, allowing can play using your preferred input device. Imagine Netflix for gaming. 

Rather than downloading a game, it is instead streamed directly to your device and you would play real-time, cutting the need to delete games to make storage room on your device and reducing the hardware requirements - although you wouldn't technically own the title.

A diagram illustrating how the streaming service would work, included in Sony's patent (Image credit: Sony/ United States Patent and Trademark Office) 

A diagram illustrating how the streaming service would work, included in Sony's patent (Image credit: Sony/ United States Patent and Trademark Office) 

Sony also points out that this cloud gaming service would benefit game developers as the service would prevent piracy (as the games exist only on the server) and developers would be able to design games to specifically utilize the service's capabilities. 

But how would player's pay for this service? Sony details two particular models in its patent. The first would see Sony itself collecting a subscription fee from users, then paying royalties to the developers. The second sees the developers themselves collecting a subscription fee from players, then paying Sony a fee for using the hosting service. However, neither model specified a price range. 

We expect Sony would implement this cloud gaming service alongside the PlayStation 5, although the company hasn't specified if this is the case. But it looks like Microsoft's xCloud service will have some stiff competition between Sony and the Google Stadia.

Sony confirms the PS5
In an interview with Wired, Sony's Mark Cerny has confirmed the next-generation PlayStation console won't be launching later this year but he refused to confirm whether it'll be called the PlayStation 5.

Running off a bespoke version of the third generation AMD Ryzen chipset (8 cores with the company's new Zen 2 microarchitecture), the forthcoming console will be capable of supporting ray tracing – a complex lighting technique that has so far been the reserve of incredibly high-end PC GPUs. The chipset will also be capable of delivering a new "gold standard" in immersive 3D audio, particularly for those that enjoy playing with a headphone headset attached.

One of the other major upgrades here will be the integration of a bespoke solid-state harddrive, which would work differently to how you can connect an SSD to your existing PS4.

Sony showed a demonstration of an early devkit to Wired in the interview. During a game of Spider-Man a fast travel loading screen took 15 seconds on a PlayStation 4 Pro, but the same task took under a second on the next-gen devkit. It's estimated to be some 19 times faster than a standard SSD in terms of read times.

Essentially, you should expect your games to load a lot faster on this next-gen console. That said, the integration of this technology may cost a lot so there may be a price hike.

Considering we expect Microsoft to officially announce the next Xbox at E3 2019, this seems like a calculated move from Sony, especially considering details of the PS5 were revealed on the same day that Microsoft officially announced the date the Xbox One S All-Digital would launch globally.

The next Xbox will be more powerful than the PS5 – according to industry insiders
According to a tweet by reporter Ainsley Bowden (via T3),  "very reliable" sources for Xbox and Microsoft information have confirmed Microsoft's flagship next generation console (codenamed the 'Xbox Anaconda') will be more powerful than the PS5.

Check out the tweet below:

Bowden's claim hasn't been confirmed, so it's worth taking it with a pinch of salt. However when asked by a speculative Twitter user about the sources of this information, Bowden replied that the informants "have been accurate for years on leaks". 

Despite the uncertain sources of this information, we actually wouldn't be surprised if the next Xbox is in fact more powerful than the PS5. 

Nevermind the fact that Xbox head Phil Spencer said last year that Microsoft's next generation consoles will "set the benchmark for console gaming" but, in terms of specs, the Xbox One X is more powerful than the PS4 Pro. So it wouldn't be a huge shock to see Xbox once again being slightly more advanced when it comes to next generation consoles.

xbox one s all-digital edition

Image credit: Microsoft

Xbox One S All-Digital Edition
Thanks to the ever-churning rumor mill, we already knew Microsoft was working on a disc-less version of the Xbox One S (called the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition) - a new 4K HDR streaming-capable console that doesn’t use discs or physical media of any kind. 

However, Microsoft has now officially released the cheaper, disc-less Xbox One S All-Digital Edition.

The All-Digital Xbox One S became available globally on May 7, 2019 for $249 (around £190, AU$349) and joins Microsoft’s Xbox One family of consoles, allowing it to play the same games as the slightly more expensive Xbox One S. 

In fact, based on the specs, you can't tell the difference between the two when they’re side-by-side. (Specs include a 1TB HDD, 8-cores, Custom Jaguar CPU @ 1.75GHz, Custom GPU @ 914 MHz, 12 CUs, 1.4 TFLOPS, 8 GB DDR3 @ 68 GB/s, 32MB ESRAM @ 218 GB/s.) 

To complement the system, Microsoft also unveiled a new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate plan that combines both an Xbox Live Gold membership plus a membership to Xbox Game Pass for $14.99 per month, which is available to all Xbox One owners. As before, you can still buy Xbox Game Pass separately for $9.99 and Xbox Live Gold for $9.99 per month, but this deal does save you 25%.

Leaked specs
Thanks to a report by a French gaming site, we may finally know the specs of the allusively codenamed Lockhart and Anaconda next-generation Xbox consoles. 

According to a report by french gaming site JeuxVideo, two next-generation Xbox consoles will be revealed at E3 2019 - you may know them by their codenames Lockhart and Anaconda.

In addition, the site claims the next Xbox specs which were leaked last year weren't far off what we can actually expect Microsoft to announcement later this year.

According to the report, the Lockhart console will be the entry-level machine, with lower performance and therefore a lower price. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the alleged Lockhart specs is that it won't have a disc-tray – essentially functioning as a cloud streaming box for digital games, apps and other media. 

However, the Anaconda is rumored to be much more high-end system, with very high performance and a higher price point to match – allegedly similar to the Xbox One X's on release.

Both consoles will allegedly have SSDs, which should improve overall performance and loading times.

According to the report, both consoles are due for release in 2020 alongside Halo: Infinite (which will be one of the generation's launch titles)

So what were the alleged specs leaked last year?

Xbox Lockhart specs:
CPU - Custom 8 Cores (16 zen threads 2)

GPU - Custom NAVI 4+ Teraflops

RAM - 12GB of GDDR6 memory

Storage - SSD 1TB NVMe 1 + GB / s

Xbox Anaconda specs: 
CPU - Custom 8 Cores (16 zen threads 2) 

GPU - Custom NAVI 12+ Teraflops

RAM - 16GB of GDDR6 memory 

Storage - SSD 1TB NVMe 1 + GB / s

Image credit: Microsoft

Image credit: Microsoft

Next Xbox consoles are codenamed 'Anaconda' and 'Lockhart'
According to Windows Central, two next-genertaion consoles are expected to arrive alongside an additional 'Scarlett Cloud' Xbox console - codenamed 'Anaconda' and 'Lockhart'

The 'Anaconda' is rumored to be replacing the premium Xbox One X model, which may ship with a solid state hard drive to improve frame rate performance, and is likely to see a boost in graphics and all-round performance. The 'Lockhart', on the other hand, is due to be a successor to the Xbox One S - offering a cheaper alternative. 

Project xCloud

Microsoft is working on a cloud gaming service called Project xCloud and has recently revealed more details about the service.

While Microsoft’s game-streaming service isn’t ready for primetime yet, it’s further along than anyone thought: Project xCloud, which is currently being beta tested by Microsoft employees, can already stream 3,500 games from the cloud with another 1,900 games potentially titles on their way. 

Microsoft unveiled these and other key details in a blog post on the Xbox Wire, and says even more details will be revealed soon. 

The key points in the post are that Microsoft has a number of games that are already compatible with the service from the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox game library, and claims that any game published on the Xbox One could be xCloud-compatible without any extra work from developers. 

To stream these games to customers, Microsoft has deployed xCloud servers to data centers across 13 Azure regions – including North America, Europe and Asia – and says that it will continue to build more centers as development continues. 

Just as interestingly, Microsoft says developers like Capcom and Paradox are currently running tests on the servers, and has updated its developer kit to include cloud-specific APIs. In some examples provided by Microsoft, the new developer tools allow creators to make multiplayer matches in the cloud more seamless by moving all connections to the same server and enables games to scale font size depending on the screen you're using.

Image credit: Microsoft 

Image credit: Microsoft 

But regardless of Microsoft's move into streaming services, the company says there will always be a place for consoles:

"We’re developing Project xCloud not as a replacement for game consoles, but as a way to provide the same choice and versatility that lovers of music and video enjoy today. We’re adding more ways to play Xbox games. 

"We love what’s possible when a console is connected to a 4K TV with full HDR support and surround sound – that remains a fantastic way to experience console gaming.  We also believe in empowering gamers to decide when and how to play."

Image credit: Microsoft 

Image credit: Microsoft 

What the analyst says...

We spoke to Matias Rodriguez, VP of technology for the Gaming Studio at Globant, about what it will take for Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles to get the lead on the competition and, at this point, whether the next Xbox or PS5 looks to be more powerful.

He told us: “While hardware advantages such as CPU and GPU are often criteria people look at when it comes to the business and sales performance of a console, more telling signs of the performance of a console include software SDKs, bindings to game engines (such as Unity and Unreal), and, most importantly, the toolchain that allows gaming studios and publishers to build content for the console’s platform.

“Given this, and how statistically speaking, Xbox and PlayStation have taken turns being the reigning-supreme console, I predict Microsoft will take the lead this time.”

But what are the key factors in the next-gen console war? Rodriguez gave us a rundown of the attributes he believes will sway players’ preferences when it comes to picking up one of the consoles.

Exclusives
“The first key evaluation criteria consumers consider when they are in the market for a new console is exclusives,” says Rodriguez. “Currently, Sony is the clear leader in this area with exclusives such as God of War and Uncharted. Microsoft fell short with Forza, Sea of Thieves and Halo Wars 2, but has acknowledged the shortcoming; and Phil Spencer, executive vice-president of gaming at Microsoft, went on a crusade to bring top first-party studios into the Xbox ecosystem. 

“His crusade proved successful with the addition of Obsidian and Ninja Theory studio – preparing Microsoft for next-gen consoles. It was also revealed that Microsoft will be delivering the new Halo game, Halo Infinite, which is expected to outperform and replace the current Halo that is on the esports ecosystem.” 

Currently Halo Infinite is one of the only first-party titles from Microsoft that we're expecting on the next Xbox (apart from perhaps Gears 5), and, while the series is definitely a huge draw to fans, it may not be enough to sway PlayStation players towards the next Xbox. 

Meanwhile the PS5 is offering the possibility of The Last of Us: Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding as exclusives on its next-generation console. When it comes to exclusives, Sony seems to have the edge.

Next Xbox

Image credit: Microsoft

Backwards compatibility
“This is where Microsoft has the advantage over PlayStation in the current generation, due to its native support and not having streaming as a requirement,” says Rodriguez. “PlayStation acknowledged Microsoft’s advantage and Mark Cerny, lead architect at Sony, has already teased that the next-gen PlayStation will be able to support more than next-gen games, though specifics haven’t been disclosed. 

“Microsoft already has the current functionality for back compatibility, and seems to be partnering with Nintendo to deliver Xbox content to the Switch platform, which is assumed to be streamed.”

Microsoft definitely has the upper hand when it comes to backwards compatibility. As Rodriguez points out, Microsoft already has backwards compatibility integrated, allowing Xbox players to play select Xbox 360 titles, and will no doubt implement the same strategy in making the next Xbox compatible with Xbox One titles. 

While Sony has said the PS5 will be backwards-compatible with the PS4, it still lacks the ability (as far as we know) to let us play PlayStation or PlayStation 2 titles – something which would go down a treat with players. Whether this is something Sony plans on allowing in the future is unclear, but it doesn’t seem likely right now.

Cross-platform / progression
“Microsoft has been more publicly open when it comes to allowing cross-platform and cross-progression on their titles between Xbox and PC,” Rodriguez explains. “Additionally, there have been announcements around streaming into the Nintendo Switch which could give Microsoft a leg up over PlayStation.”

It’s no secret that Sony isn’t a fan of cross-platform – the only titles which actually allow for full cross-platform play between PlayStation and other consoles are Rocket League and Fortnite. Despite Sony claiming it’s “open for business”, some developers have accused Sony of “playing favorites” (via Kotaku). Whether or not Sony is going to ease up on its cross-play restrictions isn’t clear, but mounting pressure from fans and developers may sway the company in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is pretty open to cross-platform play, allowing play between Xbox One and PC, Switch and even mobile in some cases. For players who love playing online with friends (without the restrictions of which platform that friend may be playing on) then cross-platform could be an important factor in choosing a next-generation console. Get with the times, Sony.

Image credit: Microsoft

Image credit: Microsoft

Cloud game streaming
“Both Sony and Microsoft have platforms and services in place to support cloud game streaming, so the advantage will come in the form of exclusive content and accessibility,” Rodriguez tells us. “In regard to exclusives and in terms of delivery mechanisms, both Microsoft and Sony have solid distribution channels, but it seems that Microsoft may have an advantage over Sony by delivering to Nintendo Switch consumers – representing potential access to millions of players that most likely have a PC or Xbox at home.”

While Microsoft does seem to be going digital with its disc-less Xbox One S All-Digital (and rumors of a disc-less next-gen console), Sony has just had a patent approved for a cloud gaming service that could rival both the Google Stadia and next Xbox. We don’t know much more about this streaming service from Sony (or whether it’ll launch alongside the PS5) but if it does then it will be a game-changer, and will potentially prevent the Stadia having the edge over its competition.

Developer relationship / dev environment
“This has been a key element for success for Microsoft as they work to make sure that Xbox development is aligned with game PC Development,” Rodriguex explains. “This area was a huge learning curve for Sony with its PS3, and as a result the PS4 has improved significantly in its dev environment. It’s expected that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will continue providing a solid development environment, as well as an indie-friendly publishing ecosystem.”

Arguably, Microsoft is the most friendly of the gaming giants when it comes to indie titles. The ID@Xbox program allows indie developers to self-publish titles for Windows and the Xbox One, and it’s likely the program will continue into the next-generation (or some form of it at least). In addition, Microsoft titles tend to run across both PC and Xbox One, making life easier for devs. 

If Sony can kick it up a notch and get the PS5 onto a PC level (which seems to be the case), then the platform may become more hospitable to devs and players alike.

Next Xbox

Image credit: Microsoft

What will the new Xbox be called?

The hardest part of this future-gazing is actually trying to guess what the console might be called, given the naming progression that’s come before. Microsoft isn't going to abandon the Xbox brand anytime soon, surely, but the subtitle is a little harder to pin down. It's unlikely the next Xbox will keep the codenames Xbox Scarlett, Xbox Anaconda or Xbox Lockhart.

If it’s a brand new console generation it’d make sense to call it Xbox Two, but Xbox 720 made a retrospectively perplexing amount of sense at one point so let’s not be too confident in that. We wouldn't be entirely surprised by an Xbox Zero – or even Infinite, to take a leaf from the next Halo game.

The rumored streaming console may also ditch the numerical naming altogether – Xbox Cloud, anyone?

  • We've also done some speculating about the future of the PlayStation: check out everything we want to see from the PlayStation 5
  • Mad Box: a gaming console that wants to take on Xbox and PlayStation