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.
Now we can confidently say that not only is a new Xbox - the Xbox Two - now in development, but it's closer than ever to being unveiled (and there is more than one next generation console on the horizon).
The official story started last year when Xbox Chief Phil Spencer told the thousands of attendees at E3 2018 that the console - or, rather, series of consoles is in development: "Our hardware team is deep into developing the next generation of Xbox consoles, where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming."
Since Spencer's announcement details have slowly bubbled up all around the net on the purported system. First we got a codename for the collection – Xbox Scarlett – and now we've heard rumblings of the first games to be designed for the next-gen Xbox: The Elder Scrolls 6, Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite.
But perhaps the biggest revelation has been a recent leak which reported the alleged specs of two upcoming next-generation consoles (codenamed Anaconda and Lockhart). The report also claims these consoles will be announced at E3 2019, with a release date rumored for 2020.
Meanwhile an updated, disc-less (and cheaper) Xbox One S is launching in May, 2019.
What's the latest on Microsoft's next Xbox?
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 Xbox One S All-Digital will launch globally on May 7, 2019.
Xbox Two news and rumors
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 announced the cheaper, disc-less Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will launch globally in May.
The All-Digital Xbox One S will be available globally starting 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 shared by Microsoft, you won’t be able to 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 has 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, and will be 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%.
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
How would streaming work?
Rumors of a streaming-only Xbox started emerging in July 2018 and now we know a lot more about how it might actually work.
According to a report, the Xbox Scarlett Cloud (aka Project xCloud) will utilize a semi-custom AMD Picasso chip. In case that series of APUs sounds familiar, these are the same chips AMD is rumored to introduce as its next-generation Ryzen 3000 mobile processors, which have been recently spotted in a few HP laptop benchmarks and even in an upcoming AMD-powered Surface Laptop.
This new streaming Xbox won’t just be powered by a laptop CPU of course. Microsoft will undoubtedly want the chip stripped of unnecessary components and have a custom packaging made for its upcoming console. Interestingly, this new chip is said to offer even better performance to power, which may allow it to fit into an even smaller form factor than the Xbox One S and Xbox One X.
While Microsoft has officially announced the Xbox One S All-Digital, it's unlikely this is Project xCloud we've been hearing about. So expect Microsoft to have a next-generation streaming console up its sleeve.
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.
A console just for streaming...but streaming won't be the only way to play
Reports from Thurrott suggest we may even see a streaming-only console launch alongside the mainline Xbox Two, to help establish Microsoft's nascent streaming model as a fully-fledged gaming experience of its own.
It would likely be pitched as a low-cost alternative, given the reduced hardware requirements when streaming games directly from the cloud – probably higher in price than a standard streaming box but cheaper than other Xbox consoles. Though it's pretty certain you'd require a monthly subscription to access the Xbox library.
Thankfully, all next-gen games are still expected to run on both consoles (that would get confusing quickly). And if Microsoft manage to fix the latency issues currently holding back the streaming model, we could really see this taking off.
The good news is that, while Microsoft is hard at work developing a game-streaming solution called Project xCloud, it won't replace traditional consoles. According to a post on the Xbox Wire, Microsoft wants Project xCloud to provide choice to players in where they game. If the TV is occupied, they want you to be able to game on your computer. If that's occupied, you might be able to play games on your phone, or even your Nintendo Switch!
But regardless of where you play, Microsoft 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."
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?
What will it the new Xbox be capable of?
What’s slightly easier is predicting the features that are likely to appear in this new Xbox.
The Xbox One X is a huge step forward for Microsoft, bringing native 4K gaming and near-PC power into a console. It's currently the most powerful console on the market so where can Microsoft go from here?
A powerful console focused on games
We like to think Microsoft has learned a lot of lessons from the difficult launch of the Xbox One. The Xbox One didn’t have the advantage of being the only HD console option on the market like the Xbox 360 did, and additionally its launch ended up being marred by a Kinect bundle that pushed its price way higher than it should have been.
As a result, the PlayStation 4 took (and has maintained) a commanding lead in terms of market share.
Microsoft has definitely addressed a lot of these issues with the Xbox One X. It's a piece of hardware that's almost entirely focused on games, and it's not bundled with any superfluous hardware. In fact, Microsoft's gone so far as to drop the Kinect port entirely. We imagine this focus will continue into the future.
Budget and premium options
With the One S and the One X Microsoft is embracing both an iterative and a tiered model. The company is not only launching incrementally better pieces of hardware over time, but it's also supporting previous versions of the console and allowing them to exist as budget options.
As a case in point, the One X is still expensive (much more so than the PS4 Pro), but the Xbox One S is still being presented as a worthy and attractively priced 4K upscaling alternative that will still be capable of playing all the same games, not just from this generation but the previous generation too.
However, after each console has had its chance at being the budget model, they've each fallen away into obscurity. We've already seen this with the original Xbox One, and it's likely that the Xbox Two will eventually have the same effect on the Xbox One S.
We imagine Microsoft may want a certain degree of market saturation for the Xbox One X (or at the very least 4K TVs) before launching the Xbox Two but when the console does launch it’s less likely to feel like the same leap that moving from Xbox 360 to Xbox One did.
An additional streaming-focused console could also prove to be a low-cost alternative, given the reduced hardware requirements needed for cloud-based play.
Trial and error, rather than a jump into the unknown
In some senses we feel that it’s reasonable to assume we’ll be slowly drip-fed a lot of the technology that will end up in the Xbox Two.
This has the big advantage of allowing Microsoft to establish what works and what doesn't work over time rather than having to take a big leap of faith with a brand new piece of hardware.
VR and AR support is likely
We've learned that certain things are unimportant for consoles this generation, like motion-sensing and touch-screen, but the new technologies like VR and AR are proving to be very exciting fields for developers.
Microsoft has already confirmed that the Xbox One X will support Windows 10 virtual and mixed reality headsets but it’s not being forceful with pushing them. They were notably absent from the console’s presentation at E3 2017 and we still have plenty of questions.
If PlayStation VR continues to grow in strength we expect Microsoft will be more clear about the Xbox One X’s stance on these headsets and much more active about developing the technology for its successor. Xbox Two could very well be the HoloLens console. If the technology flops, Microsoft can easily phase it out from its next generation plans like the Kinect but much more neatly and less to the detriment of initial sales.
Meanwhile, if the Xbox One X’s 4K visuals fail to make the console appeal as much as Microsoft hopes they will, we don’t doubt they’ll still be a feature of the Xbox Two, but they may be less of a focus in the overall marketing.
The latest and greatest audio visual technology
Recently Microsoft has been really keen on integrating the latest audio visual technologies into its consoles - Dolby Atmos support, 4K and HDR are all here. This is something we can see continuing into the next generation.
It’s clear Microsoft wants gaming on Xbox to be a full sensory experience and it’s possible that the next console will include some kind of projection system similar to Project Ariana that Razer showcased at CES 2017 whereby gaming environments were extended beyond the screen and into the player’s room. With something like this, Xbox Two has the potential to be an immersive gaming machine and we already know technology of a similar ilk was being considered in the Illumiroom project from back in 2013.
- Xbox Two vs PS5: predicting the future
An increasingly cross-platform ecosystem
In the way that Nintendo is bridging the gap between its handheld and home console divisions with the Switch, we can see Microsoft moving its PC and console users closer as we move onto the Xbox Two.
Cross-platform play, accounts and digital purchases are being encouraged in the Windows 10 and Xbox stores and this is something we can see Microsoft continuing to push into the new generation, particularly if it’s going to continue to manufacture consoles that boast near-PC specs. However, Sony has vehemently said it will not take part in cross-platform play with competing consoles.
Learnings from the PC
It’s likely that the new Xbox will likely have more of a Steam-esque interface that puts games first and doesn't confuse the customer. A system with a more indie- and mod-friendly focus is also important (we’re already seeing this with Indie@Xbox), and if the console consumer base doesn't jibe with mid-lifecycle console upgrades, perhaps a more PC piecemeal approach with more swappable parts will be in order.
When will the next Xbox be released?
So we know we're getting another console (or two), but how soon will it really be with the Xbox One still in its first year?
Rumors suggest Microsoft is planning a 2020 release, which would be only 3 years after the iterative Xbox One X, but 7 years after the Xbox One first came to market and a good time, perhaps, to move onto the new generation. Even if the reports are reliable, we still envisage this being pushed to early 2021, though if the PS5 launched before that it's likely Microsoft won't want to be too far behind.
With the steady and considered steps Microsoft is making and the way the company seems to be listening to feedback from its users more than ever, we anticipate that the Xbox Two could be its most considered launch yet. In the meantime, a lot hinges on the Xbox One X.