Xbox Series X: Specs, backward compatibility, and everything we know so far

Xbox Series X: Specs, backward compatibility, and everything we know so far

by Jyoti
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Project Scarlett is the next-generation Xbox, coming in 2020.

Every new generation of video game consoles has promised more-detailed visuals, more-immersive experiences and more-ambitious games. With Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox, previously called Project Scarlett and now known as Xbox Series X, coming in 2020, there’s a lot of anticipation about what it’ll bring.

What we already know is that it’ll be much faster, loading games in a fraction of the time typically required, thanks to a custom storage technology Microsoft is building for the console. It’ll also offer new visual effects, called ray tracing, allowing lights and sunshine to look more realistic. It’ll also look more much more unassuming, like a normal PC, and not a hulking game machine we’ve become accustomed to looking at over the years. Microsoft provided more details about these specs and other features in a blog post Monday.

The new Xbox will go up against Sony’s PlayStation 5, also being released later in 2020, and Nintendo’s popular Switch handheld.

What does Xbox Series X mean? And wasn’t it called Project Scarlett?

The tech industry loves to use codenames during project development for all sorts of things. Microsoft in particular called 2013’s Xbox One “Durango,” it called 2017’s Xbox One X “Scorpio,” and the Kinect motion sensor was originally known as “Natal.”

Microsoft used Project Scarlett until Dec. 12, when it announced the new name as Xbox Series X.

Microsoft told GameSpot in an exclusive interview that the name is meant to suggest there’s much more the company will do with the device than what we see now. The company wouldn’t say what, but it’s safe to assume more accessories, more capabilities, different variations of the console and more connections to the cloud.

When will Xbox Series X come out?

In 2020, likely around the same time as the PS5. In 2013, the Xbox One launched a week after the PlayStation 4.

How much will it cost?

We don’t have an official price yet. The Xbox 360 cost $399 when it launched in 2005. The Xbox One cost $499 when it launched in 2013.

xbox-project-scarlett-03-e3-2019
The new design for Xbox Series X.

What’s so special about Xbox Series X?

Graphics
Microsoft unveiled the next Xbox’s specs Monday in a blog post from Microsoft Xbox Chief Phil Spencer. A custom designed AMD processor will have 12 teraflops of GPU processing for developers to use. This will make it double the powered-up Xbox One X. With this much power, game developers can make bigger worlds, more realistic graphics and go up to 120 FPS.

The Xbox Series X will use Microsoft’s Variable Rate Shading (VRS), which will let the GPU prioritize individual effects in a game rather than having to cycle every pixel on the screen. Hardware-accelerated DirectX Raytracing will also add improved lighting effects and accurate reflections into games.

Both Xbox Series X and the PS5 will have graphics chips designed with AMD and support up to 8K video signals. A leak of the several performance tests done by AMD is suspected to be benchmarks for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X GPU according to a report from Eurogamer on Dec. 30. The tests showed the new Xbox has a target of 12 teraflops or 12 trillion floating-point operations per second, which was confirmed by Microsoft. In comparison, the PS5’s GPU will reportedly have 9.2 teraflops. Sony has yet to confirm its new console’s benchmarks.

xbox-shortbullets-jpg
Some of the specs and features of the Xbox Series X.

Processor
Like the GPU, the Xbox Series X CPU is also custom-designed and based on the AMD Zen 2 processor. It will have four times the processing power of the Xbox One.

On Jan. 6, Spencer updated his Twitter profile to now display an image of what is assumed to be the system on chip (SoC) for the new Xbox.

Xbox Series Chip
The SoC for the next Xbox.

“8K” and “Project Scarlett” markings can be seen on the chip.

One possible change with the next Xbox is how it processes sound. Previous consoles would have the CPU process the audio, which in turn means it does more work. According to the description of a GDC panel scheduled for March 18 with Robert Ridihalgh, senior technical audio specialist at Microsoft, the next generation of Xbox consoles will have “dedicated hardware-acceleration.” This means audio will be handled by something other than the CPU and could produce better audio while also letting the CPU handle more game processing.

Storage
This will account for some of the biggest differences. The Xbox One uses a hard disk drive (HDD), which inside looks like a record player spinning at the speed of a 747 jet.

Xbox Series X, and the PS5, will use solid-state storage, or essentially chips that can speedily store and read information. This means the console will launch quicker and games will load much faster, among other things.

The recent spec reveal from Microsoft confirmed the new console’s SSD, as well as a feature called Quick Resume. This lets players resume where they left off across multiple games. For Xbox One owners, they can jump right back into a game when they put their console to sleep, but only for the one game.

Discs
In May, Microsoft launched its first Xbox without an optical disc drive, meaning it wouldn’t work with the typical game discs you buy in the store. Instead, customers could only play games downloaded from the internet.

The appeal of the device, called the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, was its price. Microsoft promised that the price of the All-Digital Xbox would always remain $50 lower than the suggested retail price for its entry-level Xbox One.

In the meantime, Microsoft has promised that at least some version of the next Xbox will support game discs.

“What we know is physical media for many people is still where their library is,” Spencer said in a June interview. “We’re obviously leaning into the compatibility across all of our generations in a big way.”

Other features
Microsoft wants to reduce the lag players experience that not just in the game. One type is input lag, which is the amount of time it takes from a button press on the controller to happen on screen. The new Xbox will use Dynamic Latency Input to reduce the lag via the console’s high bandwidth, proprietary wireless communication protocol. This means pressing a button on the Xbox wireless controller will sync immediately with the action in the game.

Display lag is another type of latency between the console and the monitor. Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) — which is already on the Xbox One — and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) will sync the console and display to have the same refresh rate with a minimal amount of lag.

Do we know about any games yet?

There’s Halo: Infinite, which is expected to be a launch title for the console. And the company announced a new game from its studio Ninja Theory called Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

Smart Delivery is a new feature for the upcoming Xbox allowing owners of certain games to only buy it once to work on either the Xbox One or Xbox Series X. Halo: Infinite is confirmed to have this option along with CD Projekt Red’s upcoming sci-fi RPG, Cyberpunk 2077 according to a tweet from the developer.

Xbox Series X will use upgraded versions of the chips built for the Xbox One, many of the older games available today will run on the new device. This backward compatibility, as it’s often called, required a lot of work to make older games created for the original Xbox from 2001, or the Xbox 360 from 2005, run on modern hardware, because they used entirely different types of hardware.

In an interview with MCV, Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, says Microsoft will not do a platform reset as developers will make games for both the current generation and next-gen Xbox consoles.

“As our content comes out over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices,” Booty told MCV on Jan. 10. “We want to make sure that if someone invests in Xbox between now and [Series X] that they feel that they made a good investment and that we’re committed to them with content.”

What does this have to do with Project xCloud?

project-xcloud
The promise of Project xCloud is we can play visually sophisticated games anywhere — even on a phone.

There’s a new trend in the video game industry called cloud gaming. The technology, first made popular a decade ago by the startups OnLive and Gaikai, promises to let you run video games in a way similar to how you stream movies from Netflix and Disney Plus. In this case, you’re able to play video games over the internet, rather than having to buy a bulky game console and plug it in to your TV.

Unfortunately for fans, the technology’s had a rocky history. Both OnLive and Gaikai were bought by Sony, which itself has been running a streaming game service for the past half decade. Google launched its game streaming service, Stadia, last month to mixed reviews, mostly from critics complaining that it costs too much.

Meanwhile, sources told CNET that Amazon is planning to launch its own game streaming competitor, possibly in 2020.

As for Microsoft, it’s been building a game streaming service code-named called Project xCloud. The service, which is offering prerelease access to the public, is expected to be made available alongside Xbox Series X.

Is this the last video game console?

Probably not. Spencer, Microsoft’s Xbox chief, said in an interview that he isn’t sure what the future will bring but that he’s fairly confident the console has a place in our lives for the foreseeable future.

“So when we introduce streaming for us, which I think is the natural kind of thing to ask in this generation, ‘Hey, is this the last one?’ I think what I see is streaming is going to enable this high-quality content to hit more screens around you,” he said in June. “And I actually don’t think that’s going to lead to fewer screens around you.”

Originally published Dec. 13 and updated as new information is revealed.

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