Microsoft took everyone by surprise last night at the Game Awards by dropping the design and official name of it’s next generation Xbox, which it has dubbed Xbox Series X. Taking heavy design cues from everything from Nintendo’s GameCube to the NeXT computer, Xbox chief Phil Spencer also announced that the console would “deliver four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way” and be available in stores for holiday 2020.
That design — Microsoft's new unit is a tall cube, which drew immediate comparisons to the PC. The company has confirmed that it can be used in both vertical and horizontal orientations, so don’t ditch your entertainment center just yet.
Featuring features — The Xbox Series X seems fairly future-proofed, with a custom designed CPU based on AMD’s Zen 2 and Radeon RDNA architecture and a next generation NVMe SSD that Microsoft is boasting will slash load times. The platform will support 60fps 4K gaming, with the ability to deliver 8K gaming and 120 fps – though it is unknown if that 8K will be scaled or if using 8K or 120 fps would cut performance in other ways. The Series X will also feature support for ray tracing, variable refresh rate, Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), and Dynamic Latency Input (DLI).
Evolution, not revolution — The “Xbox Series X” moniker is not that far off from the name “Xbox One X,” something Nintendo learned not to do after consumers confusion regarding the Wii and Wii U – even after years into the Wii U’s production. But while the name itself is fairly boring, its philosophical implications for the console are fascinating. It seems Microsoft is positioning this not as a completely new console but as “the latest Xbox,” which you just happen to need if you want to play the latest games. Between all these Xboxes, the Surface Pro X, and Windows 10X, Microsoft may want to start thinking about using the other 25 letters in the alphabet soon.
Backwards compatibility — Microsoft also promised that the hardware would support four generations of console titles, from Xbox through Xbox One, but hasn’t specified if these will be limited to the existing catalog of backwards compatible titles on the Xbox One or if this new product has a solution for including every title released under the brand.
Sharing is caring — While the new controller design is extremely similar to the model currently available in stores, it does also add a Share button similar to the design of the Playstation 4. After acquiring Twitch competitor Mixer, Microsoft finally seems ready to admit that Let’s Play videos and live gameplay broadcasts will not be going anywhere any time soon.
All Hellblade breaks loose — Microsoft has only announced one actual game for the new platform, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, the trailer for which also dropped last night at the Game Awards. The game itself looks breathtakingly good – but with the long history of game trailers overpromising and under-delivering, it’s hard to know if this is what we’ll be getting from the final product. We’re going to venture a guess that Halo Infinite will also make it to the flagship console, bringing the total library of games we can expect to the exciting amount of 2.
Why now? — After the widespread perception of anti-consumer practices during the launch of their last console, the Xbox One, Microsoft had to recalibrate their plan for the platform. With their image still recovering, the company seems to be doing everything to win back loyalty and brand value in 2019. By dropping the announcement of a successor before the holiday shopping season has ended, the company could lose a few Xbox One purchases but this move has likely prevented negative reactions many consumers who would have made those purchases might have had if they announced this in January.
Everything else — Microsoft has also been slowly but surely building out xCloud game streaming and it presumably still has some exciting announcements to make on that front. Phil Spencer also recently indicated in an interview that, unlike competitor Sony, the company would not be focusing on virtual reality (though this device obviously has the specs for it) because "We're responding to what our customers are asking for and... nobody's asking for VR.”