The rapid development of Project Scorpio has caught many observers of the video game industry off guard, even if the existence of the console itself is no such surprise. Microsoft was expected to release a beefed up successor to the Xbox One at some point, but the rapidity with which the console has been made public knowledge is an acknowledgement of Sony’s PlayStation Neo strategy.
Microsoft has already been left behind in the existing console generation,with the PlayStation 4 comfortably outselling the Xbox One in virtually every geographical region on the planet. With Sony taking an aggressive policy towards its console lineup, and publicly confirming the release of the PlayStation Neo in 2016, Microsoft felt bound to respond in kind.
Project Scorpio – 4K goal
Early reports on the Project Scorpio console have indicated that this will be an ultra-powerful performer, and one that could even be superior to the forthcoming Sony offering. But the big question on everyone’s lips is…will the Project Scorpio be able to deliver true 4K gaming?
It is suggested that Project Scorpio will be capable of 6 teraflops of processing power, which would make the machine approximately 500% more capable than the existing Xbox One. In addition, early figures linked with Project Scorpio suggest that the console will be armed with a significantly improved 320GB/s of memory bandwidth. This is certainly a massive improvement over the Xbox One, and suggest that the Project Scorpio will be pushing the Ultra HD resolution range.
Certainly it will be extremely difficult for the console to deliver 4K based on existing PC architecture. PC graphics cards intended to deliver 4K gaming often touch 9 teraflops, and although Microsoft can achieve more efficient performance in a console relative to a PC, it is still doubtful whether 6 teraflops will be able to handle 4K at a decent frame rate.
Another question would be whether Microsoft can really deliver such a powerful console at an affordable price point. 6 teraflops is normal for PC Graphics cards, and the price point of PC desktops will certainly not be attractive to the average console gamer. Microsoft certainly hasn’t confirmed the 6 teraflops figure, or indeed any information related to the specifications of Project Scorpio, so it is easy to remain a little sceptical about this mooted figure.
What we do know is that AMD will be powering Project Scorpio when it hits the stores, as a statement from the company has already made this plain “We are proud that Microsoft has chosen to expand their Xbox One family of devices with two new consoles featuring AMD’s high-performance semi-custom SoCs that support revolutionary new technologies like HDR, 4K and high fidelity VR to enable the next generation of immersive gaming experiences,” AMD comments.
But it is interesting to note that the PlayStation Neo has been linked with a much more realistic spec list, with Sony expected to arm the forthcoming console with performance in the region of 4.2 teraflops. Memory bandwidth is also to be improved over the PlayStation 4, but at a figure of 218GB/s is still far behind that of Scorpio. This would suggest that the Project Scorpio console will ultimately be more modest in its specifications than suggested by the rumor mill, as otherwise it will surely be inordinately expensive and rather impractical.
There is no apparent indication that Microsoft will produce its own virtual reality headsets, and this is certainly not an eventuality which has been mentioned by top brass at the company. The consensus of opinion is that Microsoft will deal with virtual reality by ensuring that one of the existing assets, probably Oculus Rift, is compatible with the Project Scorpio console. Certainly the current capabilities of Project Scorpio here indicate that Microsoft has virtual reality in mind.
Microsoft has already partnered with the Facebook-backed Oculus Rift in order to ensure that every headset ships with an Xbox One controller. They advantages of a unified platform are obvious, making it easier for developers to port the existing Oculus Rift games to Xbox One without any additional programming. However, the cost of Oculus Rift could be disadvantageous for Microsoft, with the unit costing roughly double that of the announced price point of the PlayStation VR system.
It is also worth noting that Microsoft has its HoloLens device already available, and the electronics giant may push some sort of collaboration between this and Project Scorpio. Of course, HoloLens is only an augmented reality project, but it would nonetheless represent a step forward from conventional gaming, and could work extremely smoothly with the high spec machine which Project Scorpio is required to be.
Both Sony and Microsoft have been at pains to emphasise that their forthcoming video game consoles will present a unified gaming system. All of the releases from Microsoft, including Project Scorpio, will be able to play from the same library of games, with the manufacturer keen to point out that the Xbox One will not be excluded from its future strategy. Microsoft was perhaps rather guilty of abandoning the original Xbox console in the past, and thus wishes to assure its installed user base for the Xbox One that it will very much remain a relevant machine for years to come.
Disc-based gaming and streaming
Rumors have been plentiful in the past that Microsoft would eventually abandoned disc-based gaming, and opt for a console based on streaming. However, this seems extremely unlikely with Project Scorpio, as broadband is simply not fast enough to deal with 4K resolution gaming, or even anything close. The more powerful system may place more of an emphasis on the streaming of games, but Microsoft will fit the console with a 4K Blu-ray player, continuing to bow to the desires of consumers.
Release date and pricing
It is early days for Microsoft to be indicating either the precise release date or pricing for Project Scorpio, But ‘Holiday 2017’ has been tentatively mentioned. This would obviously place the console in the pre-Christmas marketplace, but would also mean that Sony gains a 12-month head start with its own PlayStation Neo concept.
Pricing is extremely difficult to predict, but the console will retail in the ballpark of the Xbox One release price tag. Whether this is feasible considering the specification linked with the console remains extremely debatable, but it does help explain the later release date; perhaps Microsoft is waiting for peripherals and components involved in the manufacturing of the console to reduce in price.