Rumblings have already started regarding the Xbox 3 or 720 or what I think it will be the 1080. I figured I would add my own predictions to the mix. I have no knowledge to really base these predictions on other than watching the technology and video game world. I will break the predictions down component by component and try to give some reasoning for each.
Overall Goal – When the Xbox 360 and PS3 were being designed they were hoping for 1080p but really only barely managed 720p. Many games actually run at 600p or 640p for performance reasons. Even with today’s graphics chips 1920x1080 at 60 fps is possible and in another year it should be almost guaranteed. Also by the time the next Xbox comes out TV and Blu-Ray makers will have drummed 1080p into the consumer consciousness. I think one of if not the major selling points of the next Xbox will be the ability to play games at 1080p with a locked 60 fps. This is where I get the Xbox 1080 naming idea. It also works out well as a combination of 3x360.
Processor – This one I will admit is just a random guess. I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be cell based though. I also don’t think it will PowerPC based only because that architecture appears to be stuck in neutral recently. Although since the last one was a joint design between Microsoft and IBM they could do the same again. My bet however is an Intel CPU, probably a quad core hyper threading CPU that can execute 8 threads at once. It will be in the 3-3.5 GHz range but be much more efficient than the existing 3.2 GHz processor in 360.
Graphics – As I said above the goal of the graphics processor will be to be able to 1920x1080x60 fps with 4xAA probably. There is no reason to do anything beyond 1920x1080 since that will be the top of what consumer displays can do for the foreseeable future. Given another 12 months of graphics improvements hitting a locked 60 fps at 1920x1080 with some head room for AA or AF should be quite doable. The maker of the chip could be any one of nVidia, AMD (ATI) or now even Intel. I wouldn’t even venture a guess at this point.
Sound – This one is pretty much a stab in the dark. I am guessing it will do real time encoding of at least Dolby Digital + or maybe 7.1 channel 48 KHz PCM. It will most likely also support decoding of Dolby True HD and DTS:HD MA and bit-streaming the same.
RAM – I have to believe that the next Xbox will share the uma architecture of the first two. With that in mind it will need really fast RAM for the graphics, probably GDDR5 by the time it is built. I figure a minimum of 2 GB of RAM but a more likely amount of 4 GB. This both based on price and need.
Hard Drive Storage – This one is fairly easy. It will most likely be a 500 GB 2.5” SATA drive. It might be bigger or smaller but probably not much. The other variable is if the next Xbox will be able to have 360 drives attached full time or just for initial transfers. As always more is better especially given the possibility of total digital distribution.
Optical Storage – There is much discussion currently about the death of standard distribution methods and the switch to digital distribution. I don’t think 100% digital distribution will be possible even in a few years. I base this primarily on Internet access speeds and the size of games. I don’t think there have been any dual layer BD-ROM games on PS3 yet, but there have been 3 disc DVD games on 360 which is about the same as a single layer BD-ROM. That is about 25 GB for a single game. Currently the top end of Internet access is about 20 Mb/s. At that speed and a best case scenario it will take 171 minutes or about 3 hours. However on the more common 3-6 Mb/s connections it will take 9-19 hours. Remember these are best case as well, not the way real world access works most of the time. I don’t think it will get all that much better in the next 12-18 months.
With all the above in mind I feel pretty confident in saying the next Xbox will have a BD-ROM drive. This is purely based on availability and storage size. I am not saying it will play Blu-Ray movies, but it probably will just for convenience. I don’t see it being anything else unless some new optical format magically appears in the next 12 months.
Alternative Storage – One of the possibilities I wanted to mention was the idea of using something like USB thumb drives or SD cards as a distribution medium. It is in a way going back to the cartridges of the NES-N64 era, only now they can hold 32 GB and not cost too much. I don’t see this as likely but not impossible.
Network – It better have Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n built in. If wireless is a freaking add-on like the 360 then someone should be fired.
Controllers – Even with the success of the Wii I can’t believe that there won’t at least be an option of a standard controller. Most consider the 360 controller to be close to ideal so I can’t imagine much change if any at all with the next one. I would also bet there will be another controller that will be a cross between the Wii-Mote and the current 360 big button controller.
Online – With the coming revision of Xbox Live it is obvious that Microsoft is pretty sure of its path regarding online. Whatever the next Xbox is or does I am pretty sure it will have the current (or soon to be current) Live with probably just more revisions. Hopefully they won’t break compatibility or the profiles from the current system.
Backwards Compatibility – This one is tough to predict. When the 360 was announced and for a year after release people continued to harp on the 360’s lack of 100% backwards compatibility. Now however the PS3 has totally dropped PS2 backwards compatibility only 18 months after the console launched and no one really seems to care. I think Microsoft will have some level of backwards compatibility simply for PR even if they don’t have 100%. This is all dependent on the architecture and how Microsoft transitions developer tools.
Release Date – There are two options I see at this point either fall 2009 or fall 2010. I am inclined to go toward 2009 since some people are already talking about it. The flip side is that not too much is being talked about yet so it might not be until 2010. Either way it will be announced at whatever is the E3 and then release in Nov.
The other twist that I think is possible is that Microsoft leaves a the 360 on the market for online stuff and tries to target Arcade games to both platforms. A $150 arcade pack could live for quite a while like the PS2 is for Sony playing Live Arcade games.
Pricing – Who knows $400?
There it is, my predictions for the next Xbox. In 12-18 months it will be interesting to see how close if at all I got to the real specs.