With 2017 shaping up to be one of the most important and eventful in the history of console gaming, Microsoft has been making preparations for the release of the Xbox Project Scorpio. This next generation console will be unveiled during the calendar year, and the corporation recently made the unusual move of announcing the exclusive features of the devices via the video game news site Eurogamer. This can be seen as a pleasing example of transparency, but also indicative of the desperate desire of Microsoft to catch up with the market-leading Sony.

Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass Xbox Project Scorpio
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Question marks

There is no doubt that the Xbox Project Scorpio will be a more powerful machine than the existing PS4 Pro. Specs alone confirm that the Microsoft machine will outperform its Sony competitor. But there are numerous question marks facing Microsoft ahead of the release of the Project Scorpio. The company has placed a huge emphasis on the 4K capabilities of this console, but is there really a sufficient audience to justify a console that largely exists to deliver this new technology?

Xbox Project Scorpio will undoubtedly be an attempt from Microsoft to place itself back at the pinnacle of the video games industry, both commercially and technically. Arguably, the Xbox One has been something of a disaster in this respect, with the paucity of power of the original Xbox One meaning that it paled in comparison to Sony’s PS4, while poor marketing negatively impacted on sales of the device.

But the Xbox Project Scorpio is an impressively powerful performer, featuring eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3 GHz, a 1,172 MHz graphics processor and 12GB of RAM memory. It is quite feasible for developers to deliver 4K resolution gaming at 60 frames per second with the Scorpio, while Microsoft has also included full support for HDR color. Any gamer wishing to possess the most powerful console on the market will quite simply be forced to opt for the Scorpio, and it will be interesting to see how this tilts the scales of the gaming industry balance of power.

Guardian interview

With Microsoft ready to go onto the offensive with the Xbox Project Scorpio device, the head of the Xbox team at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, has given an illuminating interview to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. The head of Xbox at Microsoft began the interview by reflecting on the tightrope that all manufacturers teeter on nowadays; namely the balance between price and performance.

The marketplace will never experience the ultimate console system, as practical considerations must always reign supreme. But Spencer suggests that the Xbox Project Scorpio delivers an ideal price / performance ratio, and also indicates that the price tag of the device will be very pleasing for consumers. “When we talk about the price, I think people will see that. It is a premium product, there’s no doubt, but I think relative to the PC that you could go buy at this spec, you’re gonna feel really good,” Spencer told The Guardian.

The executive, however, stopped short of confirming the actual price, which may not even have been set internally by Microsoft as of yet, but the message conveyed was one of a device that would deliver both power and affordability. However, it is reckoned that the Scorpio may retail in the $499 price range.

Xbox Project Scorpio’s Resolution considerations

There is no doubt that the major issue that developers at Microsoft must tackle with the Xbox Project Scorpio is the question of resolution. In this area, it is interesting to note that Spencer does not consider the Scorpio to be an entirely 4K focused device. This obviously makes practical sense, and is an absolute commercial necessity, as the number of consumers that possess 4K televisions is rather small at present.

Spencer instead promised to deliver a Scorpio console that delivers “the best version of the console games on [any] television, whether [users] have a 1080p or a 4K television”. In order to achieve this, Spencer cites the higher frequency CPU, and superior GPU and RAM included in the console. The executive notes that he already has a copy of the console in his home, and that the improvements are very much tangible.

In a previous interview, Spencer had already mentioned negative 4K resolution at 30 frames per second as a specific benchmark for Scorpio titles. Thus, the mega-corporation is obviously aiming for native 4K as a standard feature of Scorpio games. But Spencer also stated that Microsoft is in continual dialogue with developers, acknowledging that there are both commercial and practical decisions involved in delivering the ideal finished title for a new system, no matter how powerful it may be. “I always want to give the tools to the creatives and let them make the decisions,” Spencer noted.

As could perhaps be expected, Spencer has been reluctant to make explicit claims about the final makeup of games on the Xbox Project Scorpio, not least because this may not even be known at this juncture. However, he did imply that gameplay differences between Xbox One and Xbox Project Scorpio titles are unlikely, with most developers liable to focus on visuals and performance instead.

Superior performer

While the Scorpio will obviously be competing directly with the existing PS4 Pro, and obvious parallels can be drawn between them, Spencer was keen to emphasize his belief that the Microsoft lineup will be superior to Sony once Project Scorpio is available. “Three years ago we were in a position where maybe our hardware wasn’t touted as the best in the market,” says Spencer. “Now I can say, OK, from the Xbox One S to Scorpio, I’m incredibly proud of our hardware lineup relative to anybody else’s.”

But will this actually translate to mass-market appeal? Sony has a significant advantage in the marketplace already, with the PS4 generation having significantly outsold the Xbox One. And the market-leader also has a massive head start over the Xbox Project Scorpio. The PS4 Pro will have been available for a year by the time that the Scorpio appears in the stores, and this will obviously translate to a massive advantage in installed user base. Furthermore, Sony has the opportunity to aggressively cut the price of its machine when the Scorpio is released.

Microsoft has also been quiet on any virtual reality tie-in with the Scorpio, while Sony’s PlayStation VR project has sold rather well. While Microsoft has plenty of firepower for the next generation console battle, Sony’s advantages may still see the PS4 Pro outsell the Xbox Project Scorpio.