For months, the Internet has been buzzing about the upcoming Sony PlayStation 4 Neo, a major refresh of the game console that’s said to deliver significantly improved graphics, a faster variant of the CPU core (with a bump to 2.1GHz, up from 1.6GHz) and maybe support for Ultra HD Blu-ray playback. Throughout it all, there’s been little information on what Microsoft might respond with, even though the Xbox One is significantly less powerful than the current PS4 and is arguably in even more need of an update than its Sony rival. Now, a new report claims that Microsoft is prepping a new system for 2017 with support for the Oculus Rift.
The report, by Kotaku, claims that we’ll see a 2TB system arrive later this year in a smaller, thinner form factor, but that a faster and more powerful Xbox One won’t arrive until 2017. Like Sony, Microsoft is rumored to be moving to an Apple-like model in which games will be supported across a range of devices. This allows both companies to confine support to a static set of products, then migrate that support over time. Neither company has unveiled details of how this support model will work, however, so our ability to draw inferences as to its function is limited.
One major point Microsoft is apparently pushing going forward is the idea that all games should have simultaneous releases across the PC and Xbox markets and be cross-compatible, including franchises like Halo. This was a popular idea when the company first announced it, but that popularity has taken some significant hits of late. As of this writing, most of the Windows Store titles have been ugly trainwrecks. The first game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, ran reasonably well, but Windows Store titles don’t support modding, multi-GPU configurations, and have limited support for features like disabling V-sync. Unlike games built on Steam, they’re also locked to a single operating system. This fits well with Microsoft’s “Windows 10 is the only OS we’ll ever release again” philosophy, and exceptionally poorly with anyone who cares about multi-OS support. Some of these missing features have been added in updates, some are on the table for inclusion in the Anniversary Update, and some, like modding support, have no ETA.
Kotaku is also reporting that the platform might ally with Oculus Rift to bring full support for the VR platform to the next Xbox One, and that its GPU will be technically capable of 4K. This “technical” capability is almost certainly a bullet point rather than a genuine feature, much as it will be for the “PlayStation 4K.” While 14nm graphics and Polaris should deliver a significant improvement over current-day visuals, no $100 SoC is going to be 4K capable at significant frame rates.
What’s also striking about this report is the fact that Microsoft apparently isn’t planning to launch an updated platform until 2017, well after Sony (the PS4K is expected to arrive this year, possibly just before the launch of PlayStation VR.) That would mean Microsoft is going to cede the banner of improved console performance to Sony through the Christmas 2016 season, and no refreshed Xbox SKU with a 2TB HDD is going to stem the tide of cash flowing to Sony if it takes an even more decisive lead in the console wars.