New Details on Xbox Durango Point To Mandatory, Always-On Kinect

Last year, an enterprising fellow with access to an Xbox Durango early development kit got himself into trouble by trying to sell it on Ebay. Now, the same mole has popped up with early data on the next-generation Xbox that confirms some rumors we've heard, shoots down a few others, and tosses in a new twist.

The source in question is one SuperDaE, and he's passed accurate data to journalists at Kotaku before, accounting for the high profile behind these latest leaks. According to SuperDaE, the Xbox Durango will ship with a more capable version of Kinect. That's not particularly surprising, in and of itself -- but what will raise eyebrows is the assertion that Kinect must be calibrated and turned on for the system to even function.

This is particularly disquieting given that Microsoft has already filed a patent application covering the use of a motion detection device to determine who is in the room watching content at any given time. The patent abstract describes a system in which:
Content is distributed an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content... The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken
On the plus side*, the new Kinect is substantially more powerful than the old, with a 1920x1080 resolution, wider sensor, and the ability to track up to 6 people rather than just two.

Image courtesy of Kotaku. The labeling is blurry, but you can see the additional data points on each hand.

Kinect 2.0 can distinguish between your thumb and other fingers and tracks 25 skeletal points, up from just 20.

Other new features include:

  • A mandatory hard drive (500GB)
  • Multitasking, possibly including the ability to switch between two games at once with no performance impact.
  • Background game installations.
These are major new features for consoles, even if they've been available for more than a decade on other platforms. The system's specs -- an eight-core 1.6GHz CPU, 800MHz GPU, and 8GB of DDR3 are all in-line with previous leaks, though the HDD size is new. Durango also ships with integrated 802.11n wireless and gigabit Ethernet. Video outputs are via HDMI.

One tidbit about the diagram above. It'll be interesting to see how much of the core is integrated into a single SoC as opposed to on-package via MCM (Multi-Chip Module). If AMD built both CPU and GPU, as most expect, it's possible that the Xbox Durango is a unified die (the ESRAM might or might not be on-package).

The interconnects between those various blocks will have an impact on just how well the console can leverage its total compute power. One of the interesting implications of the current data is that it implies all GPU and CPU communication passes through the north bridge -- there doesn't appear to be any direct linkages between them. In the Xbox 360, the GPU had direct access to the CPU's L2.

The Gathering Storm

There's a fine line between encouraging demagoguery (in an online, nerdy sort of way) and expressing personal discontent. Yes, these are rumors. It's entirely possible that they're rumors leaked by rabid Sony fanboys aimed at discrediting Microsoft's console in the run-up to the PS4 unveil.

But even acknowledging the possibility that the Kinect and used game restrictions are nothing but FUD, I don't like the direction these ideas imply. Making Kinect mandatory is a bad idea for a host of reasons. It introduces another point of failure -- what do consumers do if the camera malfunctions? It's all well and good to encourage developers to support the device, but what about the physically handicapped? Kinect as a peripheral is fine -- Kinect as a mandatory product doesn't sound like very much fun.

Microsoft needs to quash these rumors if they're incorrect, and it can do that without revealing anything confidential about the Xbox Durango's specs or capabilities.

If, on the other hand, the rumors are true, my interest in the Xbox Durango is effectively zero. There are more gaming services and alternative console options on the market today than ever; I won't buy a product that claims the right to spy on my living room and locks out digital sales. I'm not saying that these rumors are accurate, or that Microsoft is committed to these ideas -- but if things play out this way, I personally won't invest in an Xbox.