Editorials

The Implications of Xbox One S and Project Scorpio


An Xbox E3 2016 Retrospective

Microsoft delivered on both hardware and software at their E3 press conference on Monday, June 13. However, the former may have stolen the show. Hardware provided the bookends of Xbox’s showcase. They stood as pillars, or vertically mounted towers, symbolizing the way forward for Xbox. Phil Spencer introduced the sleek, white Xbox One S at the beginning of the conference and reemerged in the final moments with a message for the future. It was the one thing people were holding their breath for and it was withheld until the very end of the ninety-minute event, and rightly so. Phil Spencer confirmed that the rumors were true: Project Scorpio is real and it will launch Holiday 2017. Now that there are facts and specs available, we can move past the rumors. However, those murmurings in the industry weren’t exactly wrong. Xbox’s Project Scorpio will be a 4K console that is compatible only with 4K televisions.

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Here are the facts about the new Xbox hardware coming soon. The Xbox One S, which does not have out-of-the-box Kinect support or an external power brick, will be available with the options of 500GB, 1TB and 2TB hard drives. The three editions keep the console at competitive price points of $299 USD, $349 and $399 respectively. With the launch of the forty-percent slimmer console, the original Xbox One will drop to $279. The 500GB $299 console will not hit the market until later this year, while the 1TB and 2TB edition launch in late August. The new console iteration will support 4K video and high-dynamic range. In other words, you can play the new 4K Blu-ray movies, but not 4K games (more on that later). It is interesting to note that the Xbox One S will be cheaper than the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra-HD Blu-ray Player. The last time that happened, the PlayStation 2 sold tens of millions of units with the incentive of a cheap DVD player built in. The Xbox One S will not do the same numbers, but it is something to consider when in the market for new A/V components. The Xbox One S wireless controller will be fitted with Bluetooth for better connectivity with the console as well as Bluetooth-compatible PCs and tablets without a USB. The faceplate is one piece to give it a smooth look, while the back-plate is fitted with grip-pad handles similar to the Elite controller. The Xbox One S wireless controller will be sold separately as a customizable accessory through Xbox Design Lab starting at $79. For the next year and a half, the Xbox One S will be the standard for Microsoft’s console gaming.

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At the end of that year and a half, Xbox will take another step toward progressing the console environment as they see it. Project Scorpio will deliver the most powerful console to date, at least as we stand without specific information on other devices like the PlayStation 4 NEO. The new, upgraded console will have an eight-core CPU, a six teraflop GPU, a true-4K graphics card, and high-fidelity VR compatibility, which would make it the most powerful console to date. This also stands even on the backs of rumored specs for other future consoles.

That is all well and good, but the most important part of Xbox’s conference wasn’t the Xbox One S, the custom controllers, the plentiful gameplay demos or Project Scorpio specifically. What matters most about the event was Xbox and Phil Spencer’s message to the industry and to gamers.

“This product that we are announcing today is absolutely the culmination of all of your feedback, and something that we think will truly move Xbox forward.”

“We think about removing barriers.”

“This is the console that developers asked us to build.”

“It’s the ‘we heard you’ console.”

“Every single thing we’ve done for the Xbox One will continue to work.”

“These two systems [Xbox One and Project Scorpio] are a part of the same family. The games will work on both. The accessories work on both.”

These are bold statements for Xbox given their struggle to launch the Xbox One and the resulting diminishment of sales as gamers moved to the PlayStation 4. They may be interpreted as marketing-speak or fluff because they don’t hold specific facts about the hardware in development at Xbox. But, the truth is, Xbox has been nothing but transparent in their layout of the Xbox One specs, even if they take a cagey approach in other areas like sales data. Xbox’s issue stems from the reveal of the original Xbox One and the subsequent backpedaling in 2013 ahead of their third mainline console launch. Now the message is clear. Xbox wants to bring hardware to developers and consumers that can meet demands, not scrape by just under the line of requirement. Xbox intends to build on the foundation of criticism and lessons learned from the past three years. This is a message of progressive cooperation and the admission of newfound humility from a recognizable division in a major corporation. Every step taken since the promotion of Phil Spencer to Head of Xbox in March 2014 has been towards this very moment. We still do not know if Xbox can pull off Project Scorpio with as few bumps in the road as possible, but it is going to be a benchmark in the console brand’s history.

But, what does Project Scorpio do for Xbox right now? What does this announcement in June 2016 do for Microsoft, for Xbox division, for the Xbox One and the Xbox One S this very moment? Maybe it creates a considerable decline in sales of the current version of their console. Perhaps it divides the early adopters from the latecomers and hesitant consumers. I cannot imagine that a wave of current Xbox One owners will rush to pre-order the slim console with the confirmation that a bigger and better box, offhandedly referred to as a “monster” is coming in roughly eighteen months. The original Xbox One will be dropped another peg further as an underpowered version of its own line, and will not continue to sell at an acceptable rate despite the $279 price tag.

Despite the looming future of a new console, there is still value in owning and even buying a Xbox One this summer. If you have yet to jump aboard the Xbox One ship, upcoming titles like Inside, ReCore, Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2 might be enough to sway you. Not to mention, there are a plethora of console exclusives that have come before them that are exemplary titles like Halo 5: Guardians, Sunset Overdrive, Rare Replay, Forza Motorsport 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Quantum Break just to an a few. It is understandable that consumers may be wary of buying a new Xbox now with another considerably upgraded version coming so soon afterward, but there are games available on the Xbox One that make the purchase worthwhile in the present.

It is likely the announcement of Project Scorpio will hit the Xbox One sales hard enough to write off this generation’s Microsoft console in the eyes of the industry. It has good functionality, enjoyable games and an always-improving Xbox LIVE network that remains one of the most reliable online gaming services. I do not think that is enough to save this generation’s Xbox, but I also do not believe that is at the forefront of Xbox’s collective minds. The statements made by Xbox staff point to the blurring of generational lines to avoid killing the Xbox One and abandoning the faithful fans. Even though they’ve promised a brighter future, the present will continue to hold good games and continued support for players. The Xbox One S isn’t just a slim console; it is an excellent alternative to the original. Hopefully, it will tide gamers over until Project Scorpio comes fully into view. Surely there will be more information on Project Scorpio within the year as well as specs for the PlayStation 4 NEO. For now, we will have to wait on the comparable data and enjoy all that console gaming has to offer.


Billy Arundell is OmniGamer's Reviews Editor. He has an unapologetic love for Gears of War and would rather spend his evenings with BoShek at the cantina. You can follow him on Twitter @billyarundell.

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