It feels like the current generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles have been around forever, if clumping up iterations into the same generation (such as the Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X for Microsoft, and PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Slim, and PlayStation 4 Pro for Sony). New consoles are on the horizon, however, and Sony recently revealed some tantalizing details about its PlayStation 5. How can Microsoft respond?
Before we go any further, forget about the disc-less Xbox One S All Digital edition that is up for preorder for $250. That is not the next-gen Xbox we want to focus on. It's not a next-gen console at all, and is basically an Xbox One S without the optical drive, which makes the price somewhat of a head scratcher as far as we're concerned.
Instead, we're looking ahead to Project Scarlett. This will be the true successor to the Xbox One family, and it will have to bring some heavy hitting hardware to compete with the PS5. That's because we already know that Sony has tapped AMD to provide an 8-core/16-thread processor based on its Zen 2 architecture and a custom GPU based on Navi.
The most likely scenario is that AMD is building a custom system-on-chip with both the CPU and GPU on a single package, though that particularly detail is not of importance here. What is important is that the next Xbox will have to boast similar specs. And it probably will.
Before Sony revealed high-level details about the PS5, it was rumored that Microsoft's next-gen Xbox would sport a Zen 2 processor coupled with Navi graphics, for 4K gaming. Essentially that means we are looking at a Ryzen 3000 series foundation, and like what we expect from the PS5, an SoC design seems likely.
It's hard to imagine the specs being identical, though. Whatever differences exist, a point of focus looks to be real-time ray tracing. Interestingly enough, Sony confirmed that the PS5 will be using a version of Navi that supports ray tracing (probably a later iteration, rather than the first-gen Navi products that will emerge later this year).
Microsoft would have to offer the same feature, lest it be behind the curve right out of the gate. It doesn't even matter if there are not a lot of games that support ray tracing at the get go, at least not in terms of marketing and optics. Simply put, that's not an advantage Microsoft wants to concede to Sony. And we'd be shocked if it did—remember, Microsoft has a vested interest in ray tracing already, with its DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API.
Beyond the CPU and GPU, it will be interesting to see how storage plays out on both consoles. We know that Sony is going with a solid state drive, though it has not been confirmed if the PS5 will solely rely on an SSD, or a hybrid solution that is part hard drive, part SSD.
Either way, we anticipate Microsoft doing the same. Prices on NAND flash memory have plummeted over the past year, so it's finally feasible for consoles utilize SSDs, either in whole or in part. That said, HDDs are still cheaper, which could affect just how storage the initial batch of PS5 and next-gen Xbox consoles bring to the table.
Finally, will either console go disc-less, like the Xbox One S All Digital? Probably not. That would be a big blow to anyone who lives in an area without sufficient broadband connectivity, which is particularly lacking in some rural sections of the country. That said, there was a rumor that Microsoft would include a dedicated streaming SKU of Project Scarlett. That rumor dates back to July of last year, though, and on hindsight it may have been in reference to the Xbox One S All Digital.
We still have plenty of time to speculate. Sony will not be launching the PS5 this year, and barring a big surprise, neither will Microsoft. However, Microsoft has promised some big announcements at E3 this summer, which might include a partial reveal relating to its next-gen Xbox, especially since Sony is already generating buzz for the PS5.