Xbox Mini? Xbox Slim? Xbox VR? Anonymous sources say we can expect all of them from Microsoft.


by Sean Hollister via CNET

It used to work like this:

1. Buy a game console.

2. Spend the next five, six, seven, eight years enjoying it, until Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo introduce the next console generation.

Soon, that concept of a “console generation” may be no more. A flurry of rumors suggest that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce new and improved versions of their existing game consoles as soon as this year, and announce them this very month. Sony may introduce the so-called “PlayStation Neo” at E3 in Los Angeles, and as for Microsoft…well, if these rumors are to be believed, Microsoft may have as many as four different Xbox devices to offer.

Here’s what the rumor mill tells us about each one.

Xbox One Slim


The current Xbox One is huge. It makes the rival PS4 look tiny by comparison. But imagine if Microsoft shrunk it down to become the smallest Xbox ever.

According to sources who spoke to Kotaku, Polygon and The Verge, that’s exactly what’s happening: the Xbox One Slim (not a real name) will be 40% smaller than the current model. It will allegedly be cheaper, too, and yet offer 2TB of storage space — double the capacity of the highest-end Xbox One available now.

Rumor says it’ll come with a slightly redesigned Xbox One gamepad, and may natively support 4K televisions as well. We don’t have any leaked pictures of the new Xbox yet, but sources believe it’s slated to ship in August.

While it’s normal for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to release slimmer versions of their consoles during their long lifespans, such as the PS3 Super Slim and Xbox 360 Slim, the next rumor you’re about to read is for something much different.

Xbox One VR


If you wait until late 2017, say some of the same anonymous sources, there could be a much more powerful Xbox One on tap — one that supports virtual reality. The Xbox One VR (also not a real name), codename “Scorpio,” is allegedly a beefed-up Xbox One with a new graphics chip that gives the console four times the horsepower. That’s enough graphical oomph, reportedly, to power an Oculus Rift VR headset.

Microsoft doesn’t have a VR headset of its own, and it denies interest in making one anytime soon. (The Microsoft HoloLens is not a VR headset, and is likely years away). So it’s initially surprising to hear that Microsoft might have an Xbox designed to support virtual reality.

But anonymous sources aren’t the only ones who are suggesting that Microsoft might have suddenly taken an advanced interest in VR. A game developer at a “well-known European studio” let slip to Ars Technica that his company was working on an Xbox One VR title for 2017, and the official E3 exhibitor list now has a category for Xbox One Virtual Reality developers.

Xbox One Mini and Stick


If you believe the sources of veteran Microsoft reporter Tom Warren, Microsoft has been working on a pair of Xbox One media streaming devices for years: one a small set-top box to compete with the Apple TV, and the other a HDMI stick more like a Google Chromecast.

And if you believe Brad Sams, another Microsoft reporter who correctly predicted the Xbox One Elite Controller, Microsoft will actually announce both those streaming devices at E3 this year for roughly $150 (approximately £104 or AU$208) and $100 (approximately £69, AU$138) respectively.

The Xbox One Mini (not a real name) is believed to be a tiny stripped down Xbox that would be able to play lightweight games and apps, taking advantage of the fact that Microsoft is unifying its Windows and Xbox app stores to make some Windows programs available on Xbox and vice versa. Though no rumor has yet corroborated this, it would presumably ditch the Xbox’s optical drive.

Meanwhile, the Xbox Stick (yet another made-up name) is allegedly pegged as a way to stream games from an Xbox in one room of your house to a TV in another room using wireless technology. That wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, given you can already stream Xbox One games to a Windows 10 PC.

Overarching Xbox vision


Why four devices? We don’t know for sure — but they appear to revolve around a new Microsoft initiative, codename Project Helix, to bring the worlds of Windows and Xbox much closer together.

This March, we learned that Microsoft intends to release every new game it creates for Windows and Xbox simultaneously. One month later, Microsoft announced that it would fulfill its long-standing promise to let the Xbox One run Windows apps — not just games.

Both announcements rely on developers building so-called “universal” apps set of tools and practices dubbed the “Universal Windows Architecture” (UWA).

But Microsoft needs new hardware to get developers excited enough to build those apps in the first place. If Microsoft can tell developers that their UWA apps will run on a host of new devices that consumers are likely to have in their homes, including ones as cheap and portable as HDMI sticks, that could be some serious incentive to build for Microsoft’s platform — where Microsoft gets a cut of every sale.

If it works, it could be pretty nice for gamers too: In March, Xbox boss Phil Spencer imagined a future where your game library would never go out of date. Traditionally, each new generation of game consoles isn’t “backwards-compatible” with games from previous generations. They typically don’t work due to differences in the architecture of the processors inside.

But if Microsoft can get developers to build universal apps that work across different types of hardware, console gamers could enjoy the same benefit as today’s PC gamers — whose games just keep looking better, instead of going obsolete, as they upgrade to more powerful processors and graphics cards.

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