The next Xbox: What to expect from the ‘720’

The Xbox 360’s controller is widely regarded as the finest ever designed.
As such, expect very little change to the form. Chances are it will feature
the ‘Aberdeen’ model’s transforming d-pad as standard, but it’s unlikely to
feature a touch-panel similar to the PS4’s.

Always online?
The elephant in the room. Rumours have been circulating for months that the
Next Xbox will be ‘always online’. Though exactly what that means is
unclear. It seems extremely unlikely that Microsoft would release a games
console that wouldn’t even play offline games if it wasn’t connected to the
internet, but their silence on the issue has been deafening. There are
murmuring of games needing to be at least ‘activated’ online with codes,
which will effectively block second hand games from working. Broadly
speaking, however, the ‘always online’ tag is more likely referring to the
console’s ingrained connectivity. To a certain extent, the Xbox 360 already
incorporates online functionality as a major function, so the chances are
the Next Xbox simply sets connectivity front and centre rather than as an
intrusive form of DRM. However, Microsoft need to tread carefully here and
supply a clear, concise answer to the questions that ‘always online’ raises.
Sony have already said that while connectivity is important to the
PlayStation 4, they won’t block second hand games, and the machine will work
just fine offline if you simply wish to play a single-player game. It could
be a PR misfire if Microsoft take the opposite tack.

Backwards compatibility
The question of whether new console’s can play their predecessor’s games is
always a hot topic at these early stages. The manufacturers, however, see it
as a costly and unnecessary distraction that most gamers will have forgotten
about just weeks after launch. The PS4 won’t be native backwards compatible,
and it’s unlikely the Next Xbox will be either. The 360 did have a decent
line in emulation, however, meaning that many original Xbox games could be
played. If Microsoft can reveal any form of reasonable backwards
compatibility for the Next Xbox, it should prove a PR victory, if only in
the short term.

Microsoft has stated that this reveal will not feature a litany of new games,
as they prefer to save such fireworks for their E3 conference. However,
expect the handful of titles they will reveal tomorrow to be bona fide
heavyweights. It’s already been confirmed that Call of Duty Ghosts will make
its first public appearance at the conference tomorrow, the FPS behemoth
making its next generation debut. It’s a smart move, with the most popular
video game on the planet appearing under Microsoft’s banner, if only for a
day. Elsewhere, a new Forza is a good bet to show off the shiny new
graphical capabilities of the machine, while we can also expect at least one
title to show off Kinect 2.0

Sony placed games front and centre at the PlayStation 4 reveal, leaving their
other entertainment solutions to take a backseat. A noble cause, but don’t
expect Microsoft to be so coy. They will be pushing the Next Xbox hard as an
all-in-one entertainment box, likely to detail music and video solutions
that far outstrip their already substantial offerings on Xbox 360. The one
rumoured revolution is using the Xbox to stream live TV beyond the current
deal with Sky, with users able to pause and rewind much as they would on a
Sky+ or TiVO box. Microsoft’s recent acquistion of Skype means it’s almost
certain that the video-calling service will feature in the Next Xbox.

Date and pricing…
…or what not to expect. The reveal tomorrow will be all about the tech and
the console itself. The business model for the Next Xbox will likely have to
wait until at least E3, if not beyond. You can be sure Microsoft will want
to go toe-to-toe with Sony this Christmas, so they may allow themselves a
‘Holiday 2013’ window, but don’t expect a sniff of the price. A tag of $500
has been doing the rounds, and there’s also the outside chance the Next Xbox
will be the first video games console to be offered on a subscription based
model. But those discussions are likely for another time. For now, Microsoft
will be content to let their hardware take centre-stage.