A version of this article originally appeared on TIME.com
Microsoft calls Project Scorpio – the company’s edgy codename for its revamped, boutique Xbox One due by holiday 2017 – the “most powerful console ever.” And on paper it certainly looks to be. Since it’s not a new console but a refresh of an existing one, designed to live squarely in the Xbox One-verse of current-gen content, it’s raison d’être can be summed as follows: graphics, graphics, graphics.
Xbox Scorpio is about delivering native or near-native 4K visuals, in other words, as well as the raw crunch power for whatever angle on virtual reality Microsoft’s got cooking. With a zippier central processor and buckets of pixel-chewing horsepower, it’s a gaming behemoth, in theory outclassing Sony’s own 4K-angled PlayStation 4 Pro by sizable margins. (Read more: PlayStation 4 Pro offers breathtaking graphics, so long as you have a 4K TV.)
Here’s everything we know about the new console so far.
Assuming it delivers something like the following presumptive specs: an 8-core AMD processor (we don’t know which one yet, but Microsoft has hinted it’ll be newer than what’s under the PS4 Pro’s hood, possibly something based on AMD’s new Ryzen/Zen tech if rumors out of CES 2017 are credible); 320 gigabytes per second of memory bandwidth, a measure of how fast data can be moved around (contrast with the PS4 Pro’s 218 gigabytes per second); and a graphics processor capable of hitting 6 teraflops of performance (contrast with the PS4 Pro’s respectable but much lower 4.2 teraflops).
A quick word about graphical performance in view of PC gaming’s ongoing roost-ruling. Yes, Nvidia’s flagship GTX 1080 graphics cards range from 9 teraflops to 11 teraflops of graphical compute, but consoles by design are generally able to do more with less than PCs. And even the basic 9 teraflops version of the GTX 1080 starts in the $550-$650 range — higher, I’d wager, than Xbox Scorpio’s eventual tag. Assuming that’s right, 6 teraflops in a set-top console in 2017 is a big deal, at least to the extent buyers care about native (or nearly so) 4K graphics, as well as support for a compelling higher-end virtual reality part.
The Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One all launched in November. I assume we’ll see either a Microsoft one-off event or June E3 games show unveiling, preorders at that time or shortly thereafter, then an early November launch window. Earlier wouldn’t be worse, but the Xbox One S is just out of the cradle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft wants to give its slimline model plenty of 2017 breathing room.
In any event, the official word for now remains “holiday 2017.”
In a manner of speaking, of course. What’s “pricey” or “cheap” or “just right” in a world where many of us happily sign years of our lives away to payments that fund $700-plus smartphones?
You can have an Xbox One S, the revamped slimline model Microsoft released last August, for $299. Microsoft says Xbox Scorpio will naturally cost more, though it hasn’t said by how much. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro goes for $399, while a standard PlayStation 4 runs $299, so that’s the market narrative heading into 2017.
I’ll avoid the “clueless pundit presuming to know someone else’s business model absent contextual knowledge of the underlying costs” shtick, and just note that if Xbox Scorpio comes in at or near PS4 Pro level, Sony could be in trouble, though note “trouble” in this case refers to a fight that’s likely happening amongst a subset of the console demographic. An important water-carrying one when it comes to shaping a conversation that’s a form of guerrilla marketing, granted, but a subset nonetheless.
This ostensibly includes both games and peripherals, aping Sony’s commitment to seamless interoperability of all PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro content and accessories.
That said, two caveats. One, it’s not safe to assume a virtual reality headset won’t require Xbox Scorpio, since VR support has been part of the company’s public rationale for boosting the Xbox One’s performance footprint this substantially. And two, we’ve seen mixed messaging from Microsoft so far on whether Xbox Scorpio game (or peripheral) exclusivity is truly verboten.
It’s entirely possible, in other words, that Microsoft and/or developers will opt to cordon off certain peripherals and games as “Xbox Scorpio only.” But it’s also safe to assume that everything that works with Xbox One will be forward-compatible with Xbox Scorpio, meaning you’ll leave nothing behind if you opt to upgrade.
Here’s the theory: Microsoft’s first party Xbox games are now being designed to work on both Xbox and Windows 10 platforms. If you already have a Windows 10 PC capable of crunching 4K or VR headset visuals, therefore, Xbox Scorpio loses much of its allure. If you can play franchises like Forza and Gears of War and Halo at 4K on the computer you already own, why add a second box to the equation, especially if you’re looking to broaden your horizons with another console’s exclusives, be it a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch?
According to this theory, Xbox Scorpio is after the sort of gamer looking to get into 4K without spending $1,000 or more on a high-end computer. And remember that 4K televisions, though they’ve come down a bit in price lately, are still pretty pricey. Even were Xbox Scorpio to hit the PS4 Pro’s $400 price point, the price of a decent sized, decently outfitted 4K TV can still easily be upwards of $1,000.
It’s an interesting conundrum that’s arguably a perk, because Microsoft gets a piece of your wallet (Xbox games and services) either way.
You could argue Sony voted first with PS4 Pro last year, even if PlayStation 4 architect Marc Cerny said (during PS4 Pro’s public unveiling) that it’s neither the start of a new generation nor a blurring of the current one.
But Microsoft Xbox marketing honcho Aaron Greenberg added this to the conversation with unalloyed candor: “We think the future is without console generations,” he told Engadget in August last year.
How companies vote matters, but how we vote matters more, so it’s best to view all of this as an experiment in both predicting and shifting consumer behavior.
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