Xbox 720 Rumors: Release Date May Introduce Install-Only Games, Always-On Console Specs In 2013

on March 20 2013 12:04 PM
Xbox 720
Have the 'always on' connectivity and backwards compatibility conspiracies finally been resolved? Microsoft

For a few months now, it’s been rumored that Microsoft’s next-generation gaming console -- unofficially dubbed Xbox 720 by fans, but codenamed Durango by developers -- but, on Tuesday evening, VGLeaks decided to release an alleged Xbox Development Kit for the apparent console, which reinforces a great deal of what we’ve already heard about the Xbox 720.

In its teardown of the new Xbox SDK, VGLeaks found three main executable elements among the files in the devkit, including tools and plugins for Visual Studio 2012, which is the main program used to open Xbox 720 projects in C++. While many files showed off tools and documentation centered on prompts and applications for both the console and Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral, some of the most interesting information came in the Hardware Overview for the Xbox 720, which illuminated many details about the console’s specs -- assuming the details are true and the documentation is indeed from Microsoft.

Among the many allegations made in the Xbox 720 documentation, which, according to Microsoft, is “preliminary and subject to change,” the next-gen Xbox is said to feature always-on specs to allow for seamless downloading and playing, but also introduce the concept of “install-only games,” as opposed to letting users play prepurchased or pre-owned physical game discs.

“Every Durango console will have a hard drive, although its exact capacity has not been chosen,” the documentation said. “It will be large enough, however, to hold a large number of games. All games will be installed on the hard drive. Play from the optical disc will not be supported.”

In our March 6 report about the PS4 and Xbox 720 consoles, we said there’s a great chance Microsoft and/or Sony could dump the physical game disc and kill off the optical drive once and for all. With the level of insistence on cloud-based operations and functionality from both Microsoft and Sony, it’s entirely possible both companies feel confident enough to release their games without the need for a physical disc or even a store. Furthermore, making games install-only backs up previous claims that Microsoft is aiming to put an end to used games; however, retiring the game disc entirely may not be a smart option for Microsoft, as current levels of connectivity both in the U.S. and globally aren’t quite sufficient to support massive 50 GB downloads with such slow connection speeds.

That said, the concept of install-only games reinforces another rumor found from the alleged Xbox 720 documentation, which said the console will be “always on, always connected.”

“Durango will implement different power states so that it can always be powered on but will draw minimal electricity when not in use,” the overview said. “The console will be ready instantly when users want to play and will always maintain a network connection so that console software and games are always current. With this ‘always on, always connected’ design, users will quickly and easily enjoy their connected entertainment experiences with no waiting for the console to restart or install updates.”

The “always-on” notion makes much more sense than the “install-only games” rumor, since many computers are able to quietly download updates in the background, even when they’re asleep. If games can be downloaded from the cloud, having the Xbox 720 be “always on” would allow gamers to download games while they’re out or away from the console, instead of spending those quality minutes watching a download bar load to 100 percent.

While all rumors about next-gen consoles, gadgets or devices should be read with a grain of salt, we do believe the documentation from VGLeaks is indeed genuine. That said, the documentation itself was written last year, so it’s possible Microsoft has made many changes to the Xbox 720, so the always-on capability may or may not be included for the final release.

That said, the documentation reveals how the Xbox 720 introduces hardware accelerators to its specs, including “move engines” that can perform compression and decompression dynamically while moving data around the system -- this not only helps support hardware tasks like CPU and audio processing, but it also makes all tasks like these far more power efficient.

“The Durango console is designed to offer game developers modern hardware that is more powerful than the Xbox 360,” the overview said. “It uses a familiar x64 architecture and tools and, compared with the Xbox 360 development, will reduce development time and effort spent on performance optimization.”

Furthermore, the documentation also confirms the inclusion of Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral, which will upgraded to a high-fidelity sensor that’s required in order for the Xbox 720 console to operate.

The Xbox 720 is said to feature HD video, better screen resolution, enhanced infrared illumination for monochrome images and low-light conditions, as well as new depth sensor technology for both games and sensors to play in “a wider field of view,” which “allows play in smaller spaces and removes the need for a tilt motor.”

Specs for the alleged Xbox 720 are also said to include a full set of system API for Natural User Interface, or NUI, which features improvements like identity and skeleton tracking, as well as low-latency wireless connectivity and “improved ergonomics” to the Xbox game controller. Other specs reportedly include a Blu-ray disc drive (so much for killing off the optical drive) and an all-digital 7.1 PCM audio output through HDMI.

What do you think about the Xbox 720? Would you buy the console if it were “always-on” and games were install-only? What other specs are on your next-gen console wish list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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