M&E Connections

E3 2019: Microsoft’s Next Game Console to Support 8K, Feature Next-Gen SSD

Microsoft’s next video game console, code-named “Project Scarlett,” will support 8K Ultra High-Def (UHD) video playback resolution and feature a “new-generation” solid state drive (SSD), as well as a custom-designed Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) that’s four times more powerful than the Xbox One X, when it ships for the holiday 2020 season, the company disclosed at its E3 briefing in Los Angeles May 9.

The AMD processor serves as “the heart of the system” and the console will also feature high bandwidth graphics double data rate type 6 (GDDR6) memory, company representatives said in a video shown during the presentation. The greater power will enable improved resolution and frame rates as high as 120 frames per second, they said.

Microsoft confirmed June 10 that the new console will have an optical drive. However, several details about the console weren’t provided. For example, the company didn’t specify if that optical drive will be an Ultra HD Blu-ray one. Nor did it provide pricing or specify if the 8K support will be for games or only for streamed movies, TV shows and other non-game video content.

Microsoft declined to provide additional details. “Our focus is on reaching the broadest set of players with our games and empowering our partners to do the same,” a company spokeswoman said, adding: “Nothing further to announce today. We’ll have more to share on Project Scarlett in the future.”

“My initial thoughts are we did not learn much new,” DFC Intelligence owner David Cole told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) June 10. But he added: “I think Microsoft is smart holding its cards fairly close this time. Overall, we feel better about Microsoft than we did a year ago. The competition from Google, Amazon and Apple looks like it will be minimal. This leaves Sony as the big competitor. It is all going to come down to exclusives and Microsoft has made some decent investment in development. Sony still has the upper hand, but we think the new Project Scarlett should be a in a better position than the Xbox One. Microsoft seems to have learned from some of its mistakes.”

Despite that ongoing competition, Microsoft and Sony recently announced they were collaborating on new cloud-based solutions for gaming experiences and artificial intelligence solutions. Under a memorandum of understanding signed by the companies, they plan to “explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services,” they said in a joint announcement.

That announcement said nothing about PlayStation or Xbox, and Microsoft said nothing about the collaboration during its E3 news briefing. Sony, meanwhile, opted to not take part in E3 this year for the first time in more than 20 years.

Project Scarlett is “the most powerful and highest-performing console we’ve ever designed,” according to Phil Spencer, head of Xbox and EVP of gaming at Microsoft. One of the launch titles for the console will be another entry in the hit Xbox game series “Halo,” called “Halo Infinite,” he said at the June 9 E3 briefing.

There are “thousands” of games in development now for Xbox One and Windows PC, he said earlier in the briefing. Of those, Microsoft showcased 60 of them at the event, including 14 from Xbox Game Studios and 34 premiering on Xbox Game Pass, he told attendees.

Microsoft also announced a new platform feature: Console Streaming, which “turns your Xbox One into your own personal and free xCloud server.”

Noting that Microsoft in fall 2018 announced its ambition to bring Xbox games to everybody via the cloud, he said June 9 that it’s doing that in two ways: Through its Project xCloud game streaming service and via console streaming.

Two months ago, the company connected all Xbox developers to xCloud and, at E3, the company is providing hands-on access to xCloud game streaming for the first time, he said.

“Whether you’re using a console in our data center or your console at home, this October you’ll be able to use our hybrid gaming cloud to play your games wherever you go,” he told attendees.

Standout Xbox games shown at the event included CD Projekt Red’s “Cyberpunk 2077,” featuring the voice of Keanu Reeves, which Microsoft said will be released April 16. Reeves made a guest appearance at the presentation to tout the game.

On the Xbox Game Pass front, Microsoft recently announced a version of the subscription game service for PC last month. An open beta of Xbox Game Pass for PC became available for Windows 10 June 9 through a new Xbox app, according to the company.

“Since launch, we have tripled the number of partners in Game Pass, adding more games from more genres,” with new titles added each month, Sarah Bond, head of Xbox partnerships and corporate VP of gaming partnerships and business development, said during the June 9 briefing. Developers participating in Game Pass have been able to reach many new players for their titles, she told attendees, adding: “We have curated over 100 games just for PC” including, for the first time on PC, the full Halo: The Master Chief Collection of games, starting with “Halo: Reach.”

After adding seven new game studios last year, Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, said it has now added developer Double Fine Productions also. That boosted the total number of development studios under Xbox Game Studios to 15, Microsoft said.

Double Fine is headed by game industry veteran Tim Schafer, and his studio showcased the title “Psychonauts 2” at the Microsoft event.

Microsoft also unveiled the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, which it said will ship in 24 markets, including the U.S., at $179.99, Nov. 4. The controller was inspired by fan feedback, the company said, calling it “the world’s most advanced controller, designed with the most passionate gamers in mind.” The Elite Series 2 is the “second iteration of the fan-favorite” Xbox Elite Wireless Controller and was “re-engineered for ultimate performance, customization, and durability, and includes 30 new and improved features such as adjustable-tension thumbsticks, wraparound rubberized grip, shorter hair-trigger locks, and up to 40 hours of rechargeable battery life,” Microsoft said.