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Last night, Microsoft officially unveiled what we’ve been referring to as the Xbox Next (Project Scarlett). Anyone hoping for the sudden appearance of a coherent Xbox branding strategy had their hopes dashed — the follow-up to the Xbox One is the Xbox X Series. In one stroke, Microsoft has taken a commanding lead in the “most appearances of a rare Scrabble tile” category. Pity the PlayStation 5, with its predictable naming scheme!
Snark aside, the best I can say for Xbox Series X is that it abbreviates agreeably to “Xbox SX” or “XSX.” Microsoft probably likes it because there’s no “Xbone” equivalent. I don’t like Xbox Series X for the same reason I didn’t like Apple Watch Edition: Changing the implied relationship between words can come off a little stilted, and “Series X” sounds a bit different than “Xbox One X.” It’s not unusual for a company to use “Series” as one signifier in a longer label, as in “Xbox Series X, Model 7.”
But you know what? It’s fine. Some console names make more sense than others, but the name on the box isn’t going to determine whether people buy the thing. Here’s the launch video Microsoft debuted last night, along with a look at the chassis:
The Series X appears to be a bit more than six inches deep, six inches wide, and a little over a foot tall (16 x 16 x 31 cm based on visual analysis of the launch trailer). The Xbox One X, for comparison, is 11.8 x 9.48 x 2.3 inches (30 x 24 x 6 cm). Do the math, and the internal volume of the Xbox Series X is nearly 2x larger than the Xbox One X.
Microsoft is showing the Xbox Series X in its vertical orientation, but the console will support horizontal mounting as well. It’s considerably larger than its predecessor, likely to allow for quiet, efficient cooling. If you’re familiar with PC coolers, you’re aware that you can deploy a high-end CPU with a relatively small heatsink — provided you’re willing to put up with a wind tunnel of a fan to compensate. Install a larger heatsink, and you can use a larger, quieter fan to cool the same chip. It wouldn’t surprise me if using the machine vertically made it a bit more efficient; hot air naturally rises and there are PC cases that take advantage of the same phenomenon.
Microsoft didn’t say a lot about performance, but the company did include some tidbits:
From a technical standpoint, this will manifest as world-class visuals in 4K at 60FPS, with possibility of up to 120FPS, including support for Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), and 8K capability. Powered by our custom-designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture from our partners at AMD, Xbox Series X will deliver hardware accelerated ray tracing and a new level of performance never before seen in a console. Additionally, our patented Variable Rate Shading (VRS) technology will allow developers to get even more out of the Xbox Series X GPU and our next-generation SSD will virtually eliminate load times and bring players into their gaming worlds faster than ever before.
We are minimizing latency by leveraging technology such as Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and giving developers new functionality like Dynamic Latency Input (DLI) to make Xbox Series X the most responsive console ever.
There’s not a lot of new here, but it does pull together some threads. It sounds like Microsoft is targeting 4K@60 fps as a default for this console generation. I would assume at this point that we’ll see companies hit that through a variety of methods and 1080p will obviously be supported as well. Console manufacturers have always loved to nod at things game developers could do, so emphasizing that the console can support “up to 120fps” or “8K capability” isn’t meaningful in terms of what developers will do. Dynamic Latency Input is a method for synchronizing inputs with a game’s rendering path, while ALLM sounds like a feature that would allow the Xbox Series X to communicate with your television (or at least, some televisions) and adjust the picture settings for the lowest possible latency.
Visually, the Xbox Series X looks a bit like a Maingear Potenza from a few years back. I’m not saying it’s an exact match, but we’ve seen some boutique manufacturers experiment with this kind of concept before.
According to Microsoft, the Xbox Series X will maintain full backward compatibility with all Xbox One titles, peripherals, and software purchases. Here’s the company’s exact phrasing:
Thanks to backward compatibility, you can expect your gaming legacy, thousands of your favorite games across four generations of gaming, all your Xbox One gaming accessories, and industry-leading services like Xbox Game Pass to be available when you power on your Xbox Series X in Holiday 2020.
Building on our compatibility promise, with Xbox Series X we’re also investing in consumer-friendly pathways to game ownership across generations. Leading the way with our first-party titles including Halo Infinite in 2020, we’re committed to ensuring that games from Xbox Game Studios support cross-generation entitlements and that your Achievements and game saves are shared across devices.
Overall, the new system looks like an interesting platform — and Microsoft didn’t blow the unveil this time with a long discussion about how you’d be able to use the Series X as a social media platform for managing your Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook feeds. Compared with its predecessor, the first Scarlett reveal felt more focused and on-point.