Microsoft Unveils Project Scarlett Console: SSD, Ray Tracing, 2020 Debut

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Microsoft announced the Xbox Next at E3 yesterday, and while we still don’t actually know what the next-generation system will be branded, we do finally know something about what kind of specs it will pack.

First, let’s touch on availability. Microsoft has specified that it expects to launch its next-generation console for holidays 2020, implying a November-December timeframe. That would roughly align with the Xbox One,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce which debuted on November 22, 2013. It also means the Xbox One won’t be quite as long-lived as its predecessor, despite receiving a major mid-cycle upgrade in the form of the Xbox One X. The Xbox 360 lasted eight years, from Nov 22, 2005 (there’s that date again) through to 2013. The Xbox One/X, in contrast, had a seven-year lifespan. Microsoft’s E3 reveal trailer for the platform is embedded below:

As for features, we know the console, like Sony’s, will feature an SSD, with performance up to 40x higher than current systems. That’s not impossible for SSDs, which offer access times typically measured at 0.1 microseconds or less, compared with the 10-12ms access time for HDDs.

If nothing else, hopefully, this means the inevitable remake of Mass Effect will feature fewer elevator rides to nowhere. The other stats are pretty much what you’d expect. Zen 2 and Navi are both on tap, as is ray tracing (no explanation yet, however, of what ray tracing capabilities or effects will specifically be supported).

Supposedly the platform will support both 120fps output and 8K resolutions, but we do not expect 8K as a playable target resolution for mainstream AAA gaming titles. The console may technically be capable of output at that resolution, but so are modern PCs — if you’re playing an old enough game with super-sampling enabled. Similarly, 120fps gameplay may be possible, but console games have historically targeted either 30fps or, more recently, 60fps.

4Could the Xbox Next buck this? Yes… but only by sacrificing more visual fidelity than most developers would likely choose to spend. With that said, it would be downright interesting to see more game developers experimenting with this sort of tactic, or simply offering gamers an option to play at lower detail and higher speeds. Perhaps the message here is less about the likelihood of broad support and more about making flexible capabilities available should devs choose to take advantage of them. Either way, we don’t expect 8K games to be any kind of standard.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the legendarily terrible debut of the Xbox One. Instead of spending its unveil discussing everything but gaming, Xbox head Phil Spencer assured the audience that gaming performance would be front and center. “For us, the console is vital and central to our experience,” Spencer said. “We heard you. A console should be designed and built and optimized for one thing and one thing only: gaming.”

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the console including how it matches up against the PS5 as far as speeds and feeds. Price is also a major question that hasn’t been answered yet. These decisions have clearly already been made, given how far along the two designs are, but both companies may be holding their fire on the topic to make certain they don’t wreck their current-gen sales or tip their hand too early to each other. Despite recent news of cloud gaming collaboration, Microsoft and Sony remain very definite competitors in the ongoing console wars.

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