Leaked Xbox Presentation Spills Details of Xbox 720 Console, MS Strategy

A leaked presentation from circa 2010 has the tech world buzzing. The original document and mirrors have been pulled, but we saved a copy before that happened. While there's no confirmation from Microsoft on whether the document is accurate, it lines up extremely well with what we've seen Microsoft announce so far this year, as well as previous speculation on the company's next-gen Xbox 720, codenamed Durango.

At 56 pages long, there's quite a bit of data -- we'll hit the most salient points.

Future Platform Hardware -

The slide below doesn't explicitly call out AMD's architecture, but other slides have a "Radeon" logo in the corner; a not-so-subtle hint at who's providing the GPU.

Xbox 720 High Level System Specs - Click for high res.

There's a lot of information here, and it's not the easiest slide to parse. The purple block in the center refers to core components that remain in deep sleep / hibernate mode. This implies that Microsoft intends the Xbox 720 to be a device you never really turn off, much like Windows 8 devices. Around that target, we see system specs -- the system calls for a 32MB EDRAM buffer, up from the Xbox 360's 10MB. It's not clear if the eDRAM is connected to the GPU, CPU, or both; more on that in a moment.

The spec sheet calls for 4GB of DDR4, but this could be inaccurate. There's some question over DDR4's patent encumbrance, and 4GB isn't a lot of RAM for a next-generation console. The specs on the CPU (2GHz ARM/x86, 6-8 cores) are similarly imprecise. What's more interesting is that the system is designed to be scalable across both number of cores and the frequency, will offer 6-8x as much performance as the original Xbox 360, and will support a huge range of modern standards for I/O and wireless communication.

This doesn't mean the console will be upgradeable, and it's not clear what the benefits of the higher-performing models will be, but Microsoft is clearly interested in being able to offer improved hardware experiences as time goes by. As for the 28nmG/22nm SOI comment, this was presumably a placeholder depending on what the various foundries adopted. We aren't currently aware of any foundry planning a 22nm SOI buildout.

There's no mention of download-only games, which is interesting given previous rumors that the Xbox 720 would lock out used game owners. Moving to the cloud, however, might accomplish the same thing.

Kinect 2 and Product Positioning -

According to the document, Kinect 2 will be an incremental upgrade to Kinect, with support for up to four simultaneous players and a better RGB camera. Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 to be the only box you need for premium living room entertainment, which presumably means the company will target a wide range of partners (Netflix, Comcast, Hulu, etc) and simultaneously make certain the box can handle all pertinent Blu-ray and DVD playback.

The cost, as mentioned on the previous slide, is $299 with a $225 COGS (Cost of Goods Sold). That implies that Microsoft, like Nintendo, is aiming to make money or at least break even on hardware sales. The SmartGlass demoed at E3 fits nicely into the company's long-term plans, which call for transmedia experiences and the eventual adoption of gaming headsets and augmented reality glasses.

The Kinect angle is interesting given the way we've seen the standard evolve in the past 18 months. The slides point to Kinect as a sort of Super Wii motion controller, but Microsoft's more recent demos have focused on Kinect as a voice controller or alternate input device in applications.

Outside of party games and certain scenarios, it's not clear that controller-less gaming is actually a step forward. Throwing more processing power at the problem may or may not solve it. Being able to capture input more quickly and accurately won't help if game developers don't find ways to translate that input into control schemes that are simpler and more intuitive than "Press A to open the door."

Microsoft wants to drive prop-driven gaming as well, but the company chose a hilariously bad illustration of the concept.

This was a terrible idea in 1950. It's still a terrible idea. Of all the games to play with a prop controller...

Finally, roundabout 2015, the company wants to start introducing cloud gaming. The idea here is simple: By handling all the hardware rendering in a centralized location and streaming the video output, Microsoft can control the entire experience, theoretically eliminate piracy and hacking, and seamlessly upgrade games or features without the need to push downloads out to users.

How Trustworthy Is The Source?

The document's age is apparent when you compare what Microsoft has done with the timeline set forth in this draft proposal. The Xbox 361 "a new, low-cost Xbox for every room in your house," hasn't materialized. Neither has Microsoft's Xbox Paid TV service, though the company did strike a deal with Comcast to provide TV on-demand to Xbox Live Gold subscribers.

What the 2010-era PDF does show is a vision of Microsoft's product roadmap that lines up very well with what we've seen in the last 2 years as well as what's leaked from other sources about the company's plans. The idea that Microsoft wants to offer a cohesive brand experience across multiple products is scarcely a surprise.

The notes on backward compatibility and hardware are a nice touch -- if Microsoft kept to these plans, the new Xbox 720 will be perfectly backwards compatible with the old 360 version.