Microsoft announced two major console initiatives today at its E3 press conference. The Xbox One Scorpio, billed as the most powerful console ever, will arrive for holidays 2017, but the new Xbox One S will launch in August, with a significant number of updated features of its own. This version of the console is the typical type of update we’ve come to expect from companies like Microsoft and Sony — improved features and capabilities, but without any fundamental changes to the CPU or GPU.
The Xbox One S is 40% smaller than the Xbox One, with a starting price of $300 rather than the $500 that the original Xbox debuted at in 2013. The power supply is integrated into all versions of the Xbox One S chassis, making it the first Xbox to offer this feature. The 500GB version will sell for $300, a 1TB flavor will be $350, and a 2TB Xbox One will cost $400. Frankly, customers are better off buying the 500GB flavor and adding their own external drive. Internal drive upgrades are possible on the Xbox One, but since the platform doesn’t exactly make that easy, it’s probably simpler for most people to just use an external HDD (a 3TB external WD drive is $114).
This new version of the Xbox One will also support 4K video and Ultra HD Blu-ray, with an updated Xbox One controller with a textured back, Bluetooth support, and extended range. The system also includes an IR blaster, which allows for TV control without a Kinect unit. Both the controller and a vertical stand for the Xbox One will supposedly ship separately from the $299 unit (no word on whether updated controllers are included in the $349 or $399 platforms or not).
Any time a company announces a next-generation product that’s some ways in the future, it runs the risk of harming current sales if customers choose to wait for the new hardware rather than buying existing models. It’s called the “Osborne effect” after the long-defunct Osborne Computer Corporation. Whether or not Osborne was actually killed by the Osborne effect is a matter of some debate, but the name has stuck. By announcing Scorpio at the same time as the Xbox One S, Microsoft is betting that the price cut and 4K video features will keep customers buying, even if a newer, better platform is coming 18 months from now.
I don’t think Microsoft has quite stepped over into Osborne territory, but this new Xbox One seems like it’ll only be worth the money if you really want a new UHD Blu-ray player. High Dynamic Range is a nice feature, as is the decreased size, but I’m not sure those capabilities by themselves will sell the platform. If Microsoft is waiting until 2017 to launch its own updated platform, it raises the question of when Sony will be ready with its PS4 Neo refresh. That console was originally rumored to debut this year, but is Microsoft’s launch date an early indicator that Sony, too, might hold back until late 2017, so as not to simultaneously launch both an updated PS4 and PlayStation VR? We’ll have to wait and see. A late 2017 launch for the PS4 Neo would be good news for Microsoft — a 2016 or early 2017 launch window would give Sony an enormous opportunity to further extend its sales leadership over the Xbox One.