A View from David Zax
The Xbox 720: Too Good to Be True?
Visions from a leaked document. Are they real?
This week has had the tech blogosphere in a frenzy speculating over the future of Microsoft generally, and the future of its Xbox console in particular. A leaked document purports to show what the “Xbox 720,” or the next-generation Xbox console, might look like. Among the highlights: that it would cost $299, be released in 2013, and would implement a kind of “Kinect Glasses,” taking a page from Google. Though the document was uploaded to the site Scribd in early May (and purports to be from August 2010), it only attracted wide notice once the Verge and other tech blogs started taking note.
First, a quick sketch of the highlights of the document (which has since been removed from Scribd at the request of a law firm that represents Microsoft). I wrote recently about what I called the almost surreal transformation of the console that I bought to play “Lego Indiana Jones” on into the heart-center of my living room. The 720 would plant Microsoft’s flag even more squarely at the center of your entertainment life.
The Microsoft document envisions a sixfold performance increase in the Xbox 720, and with a hardware design that would allow the device to be, as the Verge puts it, “scalable in the number of CPU cores and their frequencies.” The folks behind the document predict that the Xbox 720 would last for 10 years, and that Microsoft would sell over 100 million units. The device would feature Kinect 2, which would be more accurate, have a better camera, dedicated hardware processing, stereo imaging, and support for tracking four players simultaneously.
The most eye-catching, so to speak, of the innovations promised in the document are a pair of Wi-Fi or 4G enabled augmented reality glasses. Microsoft has apparently been calling the Google Project Glass-like things “Project Fortaleza.” The site Nukezilla actually reported on the rumor of these glasses back in May, but few took note. The document calls the glasses a “breakthrough heads-up, hands-free” technology delivering “ambient experiences” and, most tantalizingly, “seamless integration of the digital world with the physical world. Your living room itself could become a virtual gaming environment, potentially. The leaked document suggests that Microsoft would need till 2014 before it sees fit to bring the glasses to market.
Before we get too too excited, it’s a good idea to take a gut check on whether the document is real or fake–its provenance is unknown, after all–and whether the visions promised in it are likely to come to fruition. Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland has the smartest take on the potential veracity of the documents. In a word, it seems pretty real–it’s just too elaborate, and what’s more, it contains some prophetic information, having predicted features that Microsoft announced, like SmartGlass. Then again, writes Orland, the document is a “little too good to be true.” Perhaps this is more of a blue sky document; a vision of what the Xbox 720 could be, in a perfect world, before the realities of manufacturing the thing set in.
Even if only a fraction of what Microsoft envisions here pans out, the Xbox 720 will be a strong entrant in the console market indeed, and looks to only further advance that surreal transformation of the Xbox into the main means by which you entertain yourself. I may even throw away my copy of “Lego Indiana Jones.”