When Microsoft took to the stage at this year’s E3, they announced not one but two new consoles: the Xbox One S, which went on sale earlier this year, and Project Scorpio, which will bring up to native 4K resolution gaming when it hits store shelves in 2017.
Microsoft’s announcements were a first for the industry. Usually throughout the course of a generation, processing power stays consistent, and will only see one big upgrade every six years.
Now with Project Scorpio – and the more recently announced PS4 Pro – the industry is changing to embrace more iterative hardware upgrades.
We sat down with Microsoft’s Albert Pinello to discuss Project Scorpio, and its impact upon the concept of the console generation.
The ‘most powerful console’
Microsoft made headlines when it announced that Project Scorpio was the “most powerful console ever created”, and with 6 TFLOPS of computing performance it certainly feels as though there’s a certain amount of truth to its words.
The headline feature of the new console is resolution.
“The number we’ve picked, the 6 TFLOPS, the memory bandwidth, was designed for us to be able to let developers of existing Xbox One games to take their engines and run them at 4K,” said Pinello. “Native, true, 4K resolutions, and that was our internal benchmark for picking the specs that we chose for Project Scorpio.”
But Pinello was quick to explain that the eventual resolution games will run at will be in the hands of developers, “I think we’ve said from the beginning that it’s really going to be up to the game developers. Game developers will choose to take that 6 TFLOPS and do what they think is best for their visions for the game … if somebody wants to make a 1080p game and make it the most amazing looking game of all time on Scorpio? Great, I think that sounds fantastic!
“We’re going to give game developers a canvas to get a level of performance that they haven’t been able to achieve on consoles before, and I think the game developers will figure out what makes sense for their customers and the experience they’re trying to build.”
With such a massive leap in performance it would be tempting to call Project Scorpio the next generation of Xbox, but that’s a sentiment Microsoft is trying to avoid.
According to Pinello, “Scorpio is part of the Xbox One family … all of your games and accessories will work. Your existing games will run better on Scorpio, and … we didn’t want to leave gamers behind.”
This “focus on continuity” is what prevents Project Scorpio from being a fully-fledged Xbox Two. Every Xbox One game will play on both the original Xbox One and the Scorpio, and it will be the same disc for both. “When they plug it [the game disc] into an Xbox One S it will play an Xbox One S performance, and when they put it in a Scorpio it will play at Scorpio performance. I don’t foresee a world where there’s two different discs at retail.”
So while the Scorpio might offer a generational leap in performance, it remains firmly in the same generation as the Xbox One.
The mobile phone model
But what does this mean for the future of the games console? Is this generation a one-off, or will we see this model replace console generations entirely? I asked Pinello whether he thinks the console market is going to emulate the mobile phone hardware cycle.
“I hear people use the mobile phone analogy to sort of describe it and I think that I can understand why that makes sense. People use the PC analogy and I think that makes sense. The challenge of course is whenever you say that you always go into the negatives, or you go into how that market – the mobile phone market – is different from consoles.