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SmashPad Speculates On The Next-Gen Xbox

Microsoft finally takes their first public steps in unveiling their next-generation Xbox console with tomorrow’s event at 1 PM EST/10 AM PST. We’ve heard tons of rumors from many sources both legitimate and fake that has made this a hard console to put together because many aspects of the system have gone in various directions based on who you believe. I think I speak for everybody in the community when I say that I’m glad that Microsoft will be talking about it tomorrow so we can have the answers to all of the questions that have been asked for the past few years. Until then, I decided to ask my fellow SmashPad staffers about what they’re expecting so we can speculate one last time before we see how wrong we are.

Without further ado, let’s see what SmashPad writers think the next-generation Xbox console will be:

 

1. This event will only last about an hour, so how in-depth do you expect them to get when talking about the specs of their new console? Will they keep it simple for the televised event? What specs do you expect the system to have?

Alex Quevedo: “I think they'll go into the shallow-end, so to speak, when it comes to the specs, considering it's only an hour. They'll talk about the processor, RAM, its connectivity and memory options— things to compare against the PS4, but they'll save more for later.”

Chris Selogy: “For such a short show, I’m expecting that the power of the system will only be shown with videos and demonstrations to explain it compared to Mark Cerny’s presentation at the Sony PlayStation 4 event. They are going to have a livestream on Twitch.tv afterwards that will probably be where they get into the nitty gritty about the system’s finer details. I don’t expect them to match Sony on the GDDR5 RAM in the PS4, though everything else will be comparable.”

Filippo Dinolfo: “I think we'll see the system itself, the controller, a run down of the specs, and the user interface. I'm expecting an AMD APU, either a six or eight core version with Radeon graphics. We'll likely see between 4GB and 8GB of system RAM. Video memory is still up in the air, it's possible the GPU might have its own dedicated memory, but more likely the APU will have direct access to the pool of system RAM. I'm expecting to see a BluRay drive, Wireless N at the very least, and an HDMI Passthrough port for plugging into the cable box.”

Josh Schwartzman: “They won’t talk about it for the majority of the presentation, but I won’t be surprised if they spend around 15 minutes on the specs. Blu ray, built in wireless connectivity, Kinect support, 3d mapping and some sort of network functions should be the main topic points for the new Xbox.”

2. Xbox Live was certainly a big factor in Microsoft's success this generation, but what changes and enhancements do you think will be done to the service aspects of their next-gen console? Will this be an "Always Online" console or will they just make being logged into Xbox Live a much more integral part of the experience? Is the cable box rumor going to come to fruition and how much of a big deal will they make of that feature? How many of Sony's ideas do you think will be a big part of the new Xbox Live?

Alex: “They'll spend a LOT of time talking about Xbox Live and what they are doing to make it more a part of your life, not just your gaming life. They've already done quite a bit of that; it's not entirely weird to hear that somebody is using their Live mostly to stream Netflix. 

I do believe the cable box integration will come to fruition, mostly because it's about time their TV elements finally came through (how long ago did the IPTV thing come up, anyway?). I don't think they'll go full on with Always On activity, though. That would alienate a lot of people and I don't think this generation can lead the way with that type of jump. Not everybody is ready. However, Microsoft may just try to break that ground… I just don't think they'll be entirely successful at it.”

Chris: “Xbox Live will probably be the biggest talking point besides the games since this is the most important part of the console as far as Microsoft is concerned. I don’t believe that they’ll require an Always Online connection to do anything on the console, but I expect them to make the offline experience as bad as possible to encourage everybody to constantly be logged into Xbox Live.

The friends list on Xbox Live should finally get an increase so that the popular Gold members can keep on adding new people, and I’m expecting them to mirror Sony’s Facebook integration to help expand your ability to find new friends. 

I wouldn't be surprised to see more in-depth cable box features, though I have no use or interest in that stuff. Xbox Live needs to evolve to become more like the social network that Microsoft keeps claiming it is where the things you and your friends do are recorded on your profile in a manner like Facebook or Twitter so that you don’t need to be online at the same time to be able to see what they’re up to and interact with them.”

Filippo: “Xbox Live will probably be a requirement for the system to even be usable. I expect that guest accounts are going away entirely. I don't think that being constantly connected will be required to use the system at all. Single Player games will still work as you'd expect them to. What I think needs to happen though is Microsoft needs to get rid of the Gold requirement to access any of the media features. Is this likely to happen? No. What's more likely to happen is that they'll spin Xbox Live as an All-Access pass to the Media Content they've got on offer, and treat it as a cable company would. As a result, I think we're going to see Xbox Live pivot. Gaming online will become free and the media functions is where they'll make their money.”

Josh: “Xbox Live is still the best online network for any of the three systems in terms of functionality, layout and user enrollment. Microsoft is not going to take a blind eye to updating Xbox Live even further for the next system, possibly enhancing the long-needed improvements over messaging (which takes four tabs to open just to send or read a message) and adding more social networking aspects to it as well. 

As for the Cable Box idea, I think it will be added-on in the future but not at launch. It’s something that sounds exciting, to be able to control your entire TV and its connections through your Xbox, but might alienate some of the older gaming market. 

The Always-On rumor that has been floating around is probably going to happen whether we like it or not, but things have been moving in that direction anyways, with time stamps being added to achievements being earned online and more apps for the 360 that can only be used online as well, such as ESPN and Netflix. I think that if Microsoft does go the Always-On route, than they need to get rid of the Silver accounts and just stick to one value of membership.”

3. If there's been one consistent rumor that has been mentioned pretty much every single time, it's that this new console will include a new Kinect camera out of the box. How much better do you expect this new Kinect to be and how far will they integrate Kinect into their new console's OS? What percentage of the games shown at this event will have big Kinect elements?

Alex: “Kinect should be a solid improvement this time around because they'll know what it will take to keep it interesting. Personally, I still enjoy my Kinect, but primarily to use with first party games, not third party. I think technical enhancements (the possible ability to track finger and facial movements) will allow third party developers to use the feature in smarter ways, rather than just to issue commands (such as in Mass Effect 3). I would like to see the ability to track head movements to help direct your character. As for how many games will include Kinect talk? 90%.”

Chris: “The original Kinect suffered from the hardware being gimped before launch and a lack of support from core games in meaningful ways, so I except that Microsoft will be deeply integrating an enhanced Kinect into the OS in such a way that you may not even want to use the controller to navigate the dashboard ever again. Motion and voice controls will probably be a big part of the non-gaming experience, but I don’t know that it’ll get full support from big third-party games because they’re built for the controllers on every other platform. I’m also expecting the space requirements to be eliminated, at least as far as needing to be 6-8 feet away from Kinect to use it. If Sony’s new Eye camera is on par with the Kinect, I could see that lack of support changing, though I still don’t expect to see the campaign in the new Call of Duty being fully motion-controlled. Solving all of these problems would be a big step to getting me more interested in using Kinect next-generation.”

Filippo: “If this new Kinect sensor Is going to be successful, it has to be accurate to the point of being intuitive. It's got to be sensitive enough to pick up the most subtle of motions and be able to intuit your intent. I don't think we're going to get that kind of accuracy yet. The trouble with Kinect has always been the space needed to be able to use it properly. The new sensor needs to be able to track people and objects as close in as possible. Selling a system with the requirement of a clean room environment just isn't going to fly. I think voice commands will be a bigger part of the OS. That aspect of Kinect did work relatively well, and hopefully the new sensor is able to improve on that. Most importantly though, if Microsoft wants the sensor to get any sort of adoption, it has to come bundled with every system. No exceptions.”

Josh: “Microsoft has spent a lot of time marketing the Kinect, so you can expect it to be the best performing model yet. Rumors of a 3D mapping add-on that lets you put sensors around your room so you can activate a 3D model of yourself sounds really neat, and if that’s the case, imagine the possibilities for future Kinect games. If Kinect does come bundled with the system, than Microsoft has to do a better job of making the games more suited for the Xbox’s targeted audience, which is something they failed to hit these past few years.”

4. We know that Call of Duty Ghost will be premiered exclusively at this event, but what else do you expect from the games side of the show? Will we see new IPs from their first-party studios or will we see the return of some established franchises to bolster the exclusive side of their next-gen lineup?

Alex: “I believe there is a rumor that Respawn Entertainment, the group consisting of old Infinity Ward talent, will be attempting to make a huge impression with Microsoft, so I have to believe that this will come to light. Microsoft is in need of a big time exclusive, after having seen many of theirs go multi-platform while PlayStation saw theirs thrive (Uncharted) and others look to do so (The Last of Us). And because why not: more Madden!”

Chris: “I’m hoping to see some new types of experiences and unique IPs at this event to best show off what the new console can do. Bringing out EA Sports games and Call of Duty with better visuals doesn’t really sell me on their vision of the next-generation’s power. Either this event or their E3 press conference will have to have this stuff to really get me on board, though I’m expecting XBLA to be where the new experiences shine bright. I’d love to see Rare be given a bit of freedom from Avatars and Kinect to make a new Viva Pinata or Banjo game to show that next-gen games can be as colorful and beautiful as can be. I also hope that Microsoft breaks out of the first-party rut that they’ve been in the past few years that just saw their output mostly consisting of Halo, Gears of War, Forza, and Fable. A new generation can do wonders for Microsoft to take some new chances and find some more franchises that they can bank on for a while.”

Filippo: “I could probably write an entire article on how uninterested I am in Call of Duty at this point. That won't be the draw for me. I'm hoping to see the re-emergence of Project Gotham, but that's about it. I don't expect a lot of game announcements at this particular event, since E3 is just a few weeks after.

Josh: “I imagine this is the segment that every person will be the most interested in. Call of Duty Ghosts will sell millions regardless if the main star was a pink unicorn, so we can skip that. I really hope Microsoft strengthens its first-party games outside of Halo, Gears of War and Forza. Xbox Live Arcade was a huge success on the 360 and hopefully more indie developers can get success online as well. I’m really hoping we see sequels to some of the best titles I played last gen, including Castle Crashers, Limbo and Geometry Wars.”

5. How does Xbox Live Arcade evolve with the new system? Do we hear from Microsoft that indie games are a big focus of that service with announcements of relaxed rules to show that they've learned from what XBLA developers have been saying for the past year or two now? Will we finally see Microsoft Points go away?

Alex: “Xbox Live Arcade will continue to develop and I believe it will help push Microsoft's Always On agenda. It will also be used to target a wider range of the casual audience, in conjunction with cable box integration. It will become a bigger family unit- imagine a family of five who have the parents using Netflix and cable, the kids playing the "standard games", but the whole family playing a variety of arcade games. And that will likely have to lead to the removal of Microsoft points and everybody will dance in the street.”

Chris: “Xbox Live Arcade has been a consistent bright spot for the Xbox 360 from the start and I expect that Microsoft has more up their sleeve for their digital distribution service than the bad PR they’ve been doing for it over the past few years. They’ll show that they’ve listened to all of the feedback that XBLA developers have given them by not having major restrictions on patching games, letting them decide their launch price, allowing them to put games on sale more often, and letting them self-publish games without having to sign deals and give up money they really shouldn’t have had to. Look for XBLA games to evolve more to include free-to-play games and other business models that help games find new ways to succeed instead of running into a meat grinder and hoping to survive like is currently the case for XBLA.”

Filippo: “I'm hopeful that MS will improve on Indie relations. I've heard more than a few frustrated Indies give up and take their games elsewhere because MS was less than responsive. A new system can mean a new start. XNA may be going away, but since the system is Windows 8 based it could open the door for a much wider development base. As for Microsoft Points, yes, they're gone. Finally, the bane of our existence is going away!”

Josh: “Microsoft will evolve by changing the way we as consumers value the product. They will give us more options when we sign in, such as newer video apps and media functions. Easier browsing capabilities if the Kinect is included in all systems, and a better online network, that will surely be well worth the price of admission. I always wondered how the current Microsoft Points made it past Q&A; the whole idea of it was just confusing and nonsensical. Moving to a real-life currency system would seem like a logical choice.”

6. Microsoft was critical about Sony not showing the PlayStation 4 itself, so how likely will it be that we see the new console and all that at this event? Are there any new features that you expect the new console, controller, and such to have?

Alex: “I believe the new Xbox will maintain a similar look to the current slim model, but perhaps look like more of a hybrid between a blu ray player and a cable box without a display (I can't imagine they'll throw a display in there) to slim it down even more. Controller-wise, I highly doubt they'll go with any touchpad or massive overhauling. It should look even more like the current version than the console itself will. Also, I can't imagine that the Kinect will be built in, simply because of enclosure issues, but I can see a small additional monitor being placed on the front of the unit.”

Chris: “The system will probably be more bland in design to better blend in with your DVD player, Blu-ray player, and any other device in your entertainment center. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it only support HDMI as Microsoft finally accepts Blu-ray as their media of choice for the sake of gamers and developers not needing to switch discs like primitive beasts. I fully expect there to be a hard drive in every box to give developers as few worries as possible when making games, though I hope they can double the standard 250 GB sizes that are standard on Xbox 360 at the moment. They will probably not mess with the Xbox 360 controller because they’d like to make sure that it can still double as a PC controller, though I’m personally hoping for a built-in rechargable battery pack and that the OS makes it much easier to switch between controllers should the need arise. My last hope is that the disc drive will be a slot-loading drive like the Wii, Wii U, and PS3 have used.”

Filippo: “It's just about guaranteed that we'll see the console itself. If they don't show it, they'll be opening themselves up to a thorough internet-lashing. I'm not expecting to see a lot of new features on the controller. Maybe they'll add a touch pad or wireless charging, but I don't think they'll do anything drastic with it. If they improve the crappy D-pad that'd be nice.”

Josh: “I don’t think we will see the system, but I expect them to show off the controller. Expect something related to social media, because that’s the hottest craze right now and Sony already implemented it into their own controller. But then again, Microsoft is always willing to one-up Sony, so I won’t be surprised if they end up showing the system anyways.”

7. What do you think the name will be? Will it be the long-rumored Xbox Infinite with the sideways "8" that signifies a deep integration of Windows 8 or do we see something crazy like the Xbox 360's name was at the time?

Alex: “The new unit has to be called Xbox Infinite or something completely different. It can't be called Xbox 8 simply because of branding concerns. What happens when Microsoft releases Windows 9 in a couple years and this generation is still going strong? They'll shoot themselves in the foot if they have a console called Xbox 8, or some called 8 and others upgraded to 9. But if they call it Infinite, they are holding themselves incredibly responsible for making the unit a very integrated part of your home entertainment life. Anything less can be too easily branded as a failure.”

Chris: “Microsoft has shown that they don’t really care about having to rebrand the next-generation console with such drastic and silly names, so I would not be surprised if they have another weird name to go with “Xbox 360” and “Kinect”. I don’t see Xbox Infinite being a good choice just because it’s a ridiculous name that says even less about what the system is than the Xbox 360 did at its launch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Windows 8 integration into the system, specifically the Metro dashboard that Xbox 360 owners are somewhat familiar with already with the last two major dashboard updates being designed to resemble. Ultimately, the Wii has shown that name doesn’t matter at all if the console behind it is strong enough to make it work anyway.”

Filippo: “Xbox Infinite or Xbox Infinity don't seem likely to me. The reason being, If this Xbox is Infinite, then why would they ever need to make another one in a few years? Bioshock Infinite has the same problem now. I'm not entirely sure what the new name will be, but Xbox 3 could be a possibility. They might also go with Xbox RT, for the WinRT kernel that's powering it.”

Josh: “I personally like Xbox Next, so hopefully that. I’m really wishing it’s not the rumor with the exclamation point at the end, because that screams desperation. Whatever the name, I expect it to have something to do with integration of another product, the same way Kinect was named.”

8. Do we get any launch information at this event do we have to wait for E3 or another event beyond that to find out the price and when it will be released? What do you expect out of the pricing situation? Will it be more expensive than the Xbox 360 at launch with subsidization options for a cheaper price?

Alex: “I doubt there will be a specific release date, but they'll promise a general Holiday 2013. I do, though, expect some sort of pricing announcement, if only so they can include their subsidization options. They'll have to give all target audiences something they feel that they can afford. I'll expect it to be slightly more expensive than the Xbox 360, but not a $600 price tag. I think everybody knows they can't do that.”

Chris: “I would be surprised if we see both pricing and a release date, but pricing and SKUs would probably make the most sense if they do plan to really push subsidized contracts to make the system cheaper. It would be odd to see Microsoft announce a $499.99 console after the hell that Sony went through for the first few years of the PS3’s life, though being able to drop it to $299.99 with a two-year contract could be big if that process isn’t as painful as a cellphone contract. I’d rather own the console outright, so I would be down for the full price if it’s reasonable.”

Filippo: “The pricing and packaging will probably be revealed at this event. It is something they could easily hold for E3, but if they want to make a splash early, letting this info out would definitely do it. I think there will be two SKU's for the new system. One coming in at $399 and one at $499. Both of them will have the sensor bundled along with a controller, but the $500 package will also include a game and a larger HDD.”

Josh: “Yes they will announce the price and it will be more expensive than the Xbox 360. They will justify the price by the amount of new “entertainment options” that will be available for it from the start: Xbox Live, Netflix, various other apps and the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace. I also expect them to reveal a COD Ghosts bundle that will release with the system and possibly another bundle that includes pre-installed arcade games. I don’t expect them to announce a lower-priced model, especially if the Always-On option turns out to be legit. Either way, expect to pay at least $400 for it when it comes out.”

So there's our opinions on what we expect and hope to see and hear about Microsoft’s next console. I’m sure that we will be plenty wrong about every aspect of the console, though you’ll have to see for yourself when Microsoft officially unveils their new console on Tuesday, May 21 at 1 PM EST/10 AM PST. We will be liveblogging the event directly from our Twitter account, so follow us for the up-to-minute reports of what is announced. 

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