Leaked planning documents from August 2010 indicate Microsoft is — or was — intending to launch a successor to the Xbox 360 by the end of 2013. The new console, referred to in the documents as "Xbox 720" or its codename "Yukon", would be six times more powerful than Xbox 360, with true 1080p output, full 3D support and a Blu-ray drive.
The leaked 56-page document was posted to Scribd, but has since been deleted "at the request of Covington & Burling LLP", a law firm which lists Microsoft among its clients. While that is suggestive, the authenticity of the documents has not been confirmed and so the following should be taken as rumour only. Even if the documents are legitimate, they were a draft from two years ago, and plans can change.
The leak describes the console's system specifications as having either six or eight ARM/Intel x86 CPU cores clocked at 2GHz, and 4GB of DDR4 memory. Launch units would have an additional 3.2GHz PowerPC CPU with three cores, the same as the Xbox 360, to provide backward compatibility. The plans indicate this backward compatibility hardware would be removed in later models, around three years after launch.
The system's GPU is not defined, but it would be capable of rendering at 1080p and supporting full 3D.
Microsoft plans for the next Xbox to have TV tuner and PVR functions for recording live TV, allowing it to be positioned as "the only box" consumers need for all their living room entertainment. An always-on low-power state would enable background recording while a separate processor would ensure that game performance is not impacted by recording tasks.
Describing something similar to the SmartGlass technology revealed at E3 earlier this month, the documents say it would be possible to play recorded shows, streaming media and possibly games on any "connected device" (such as a tablet) and there would be second screen functionality.
The new console would have a unified Windows 8 foundation enabling developers to build apps that target TVs via the Xbox in addition to PCs, tablets and smart phones. It would also support concurrent apps with multitasking.
"Yukon will enable the next step in cross screen functionality," the leaked documents claim. "At its most basic Yukon will be little different than a PC, Windows Phone or Slate albeit with a unique I/O interface. Developers and Creators will be able to deliver application experiences across three screens easily and dependably via HTML5 authoring and the scotch platform. The platform will enable cross platform game development to allow companion gaming experiences."
Microsoft's strategy with the Xbox from the start has been to take over your living room, with games as merely one component of the experience. With that in mind, the documents suggest Microsoft is more concerned about competition from Apple and Google than Sony and Nintendo.
"The battle is for the TV," it states, "and while we have advantages with Xbox, exclusive content and LIVE service, the competition especially from Apple will be intense as they push less functional but considerably lower priced approaches."
Microsoft expects Sony's next console to incorporate Google TV in some capacity.
The documents highlight cloud gaming pioneer OnLive as a possible "acquisition target", and show Microsoft plans to implement a cloud gaming service on Xbox and other devices by 2015: "Xbox experiences served up from the cloud. Instantly on any screen." This could make Xbox 720 the last Xbox, as it states consumers will "never need to upgrade hardware again".
Kinect 2.0 would be bundled with Xbox 720, with incremental improvements to the sensor technology including better accuracy, improved voice recognition, stereo imaging and support for tracking up to four players. Processing performance would be improved with dedicated hardware, and games would be able to "offer peripherals and accessories that heighten game immersion" — meaning props that the player can hold in their hands, which would interact with the sensor.
Looking further into the future, Microsoft's research center in Brazil is apparently working on an augmented reality glasses project codenamed "Fortaleza". Described as a "breakthrough heads up and hands-free device", these "Kinect Glasses" would initially be Wi-Fi enabled and launch in 2014, a year after the console. A 4G mobile version could be added another year later.
Microsoft will supposedly be revealing the Xbox 720 in January 2013 and launching it before the end of next year, with a price tag of US$299 (NZ$380).
We suspect that while this may have been the plan at the time it was written in 2010, the launch date has most likely been pushed back at least a year and the price tag won't be set in stone until much closer to release. If any of this is to be believed, that is.