We Got Next - Part One (Xbox)
GameSpy reveals details on the next Xbox console.
By Raymond M. Padilla | March 8, 2005
For several GameSpy editors, Game Developers Conference (GDC) is one of
the best and most enjoyable events held each year. One of the primary
reasons for GameSpy's GDC love is that the editors get to interact with
some of the best talents in the business. Recently, some of GameSpy's
friends in the development community shared a ton of details on
Microsoft's next console system. Keep in mind that all of this
information is based off of alpha development kits and current
projections for the final hardware. Everything is subject to change. In
the first part of our Xbox expose, I'll cover the console's hardware
components and software goals. Since the final name of the next Xbox
hasn't been revealed yet, I'll refer to the system by its codename,
The Guts of the Next Box
# CPU - Xenon's CPU has three 3.0 GHz PowerPC cores. Each core is
capable of two instructions per cycle and has an L1 cache with 32 KB
for data and 32 KB for instructions. The three cores share 1 MB of L2
cache. Alpha 2 developer kits currently have two cores instead of
# GPU - Xenon's GPU is a generation beyond the ATI X800. Its clock
speed is 500 MHz and it supports Shader 3.0. Developers are currently
working with an alpha 2 GPU. Beta GPU units are expected by May and the
final GPU is slated for a summer release. The final GPU will be more
powerful than anything on the market today; in game terms, it would
handle a game like Half-Life 2 with ease.
# System Memory - Xenon will have 256 MB of system RAM. Keep in mind
that this number should not be equated to typical PC RAM. The Xbox has
64 MB of system RAM and is a very capable machine.
# Optical Drive - As many have speculated, Xenon will not use Blu-Ray
or HD-DVD. Games will come on dual-layer DVD-9 discs. While the media
is the same as that of the current Xbox, the usable space on each disc
is up to 7 GB. The drive is slated to run at 12X.
# Memory Units - Xenon will use 64 MB to 1,024 MB memory cards. 8 MB is
reserved for system use, leaving a 56 MB to 1,016 MB for user data.
# Hard Drive - As many have speculated, Xenon's hard drive is optional.
2 GB of the drive will be used as game cache. The final drive size is
still being determined.
# Camera - Xenon will have a USB 2.0 camera. It's capable of 1.2
megapixel still shots and VGA video. Photos can be used in-game and for
gamer profiles. The camera can also be used for video chat. It's
unknown if the Xenon camera will allow for EyeToy-like gameplay.
Developers are currently using a simulated camera driver.
# Sound Chip - Xenon does not have an audio chip in the traditional
sense. Decompression is handled by hardware, while the rest of the
chores are handled by software. DirectSound3D has been dropped in favor
of X3DAudio. The former was deemed too inflexible.
Raymond's Reaction - The Xenon is an extremely impressive piece of
hardware. It will allow gamers to see things like complex lighting in
gameplay, amazing details through high-level shading (impeccable
clouds, fur, grass, cloth, water, marble, ground, etc.), incredible
textures, and new post effects (increased motion blur, heat distortion,
depth of field, light blooms, etc.).
While people have already been correctly speculating about the
removable hard drive and the standard DVD media, I was surprised at the
inclusion of the camera. I haven't heard a single rumbling about a
Xenon camera prior to GDC. The optional hard drive is a bit
understandable; the only gamers that care about it will buy it anyway,
while casual gamers won't care about the performance and convenience
gains a drive offers. The standard DVD isn't too surprising considering
that HD-DVD drives will be too expensive for inclusion in a console
system in 2005.
Microsoft is requiring developers to make all Xenon titles Live
enabled. One of the key reasons for this will be revealed in the second
part of this story.
Developers are being instructed to plan their games for
high-definition. The baseline is 720p at 1280x720 for gameplay and
video clips, 16:9 aspect ratio, 5.1 Surround Sound, and anti-aliasing.
These features are the current minimum requirement.
All Xenon games can be played using custom soundtracks. Owners can also
play their own music directly. Supported formats are MP3 and WMA. Files
can be encoded up to 320Kbps CBR or VBR stereo. The system is branded a
Music Player Service.
For gameplay movies, Xenon uses Xenon Motion Video (XMV). XMV is based
on Windows Media 9 and uses the mandatory codec for HD-DVD. The goal
for video is 720p running at 30 frames per second with 5.1 Surround
Raymond's Reaction - Mandatory Live "awareness" isn't a big surprise.
Online is one area where Microsoft is trouncing the competition.
Microsoft's progression with online console gaming has progressed
wonderfully (see Halo 2) and the future plans are even more
interesting. (Again, see part two of this feature tomorrow for more
It's nice to see that Microsoft is being aggressive with HD
performance. Having all games run at 720p (potentially) makes for an
incredibly engrossing experience -- particularly owners of HDTV sets.
Users with standard televisions needn't worry; 16:9 content will be
letterboxed to fit within a 4:3 aspect ratio by default. Developers are
being instructed to make sure that any critical text will fit into and
look good in 4:3.
By spec, all HD-DVDs devices will also be able to play regular dual and
signal layer DVDs. I'm going to speculate and say that most likely
these devices would be able to play WM9 HD encoded media off "normal"
dual layer DVD-R/DVD+R disc and if that's the case, the XBOX 2 should
be able to (at least) play homebrew "HD-DVDs" envoded using WM9 to
blank dual layer DVD media. Microsoft may elect not to make this
possible, but at such little effort I don't see why they wouldn't allow
it (all the technolog is in the box).
I don't know if commerical HD-DVDs are actually going to ship on DVD9
media or not (I've heard mixed information). I honestly don't see why
they wouldn't. If the WM9 codec is a forced part of the HD-DVD
standard, then you could easily squeeze a 2-3 hour feature film on one
HD-DVD (using WM9, the compression rate result is about 45-Meg for one
minute of HD video at 720p) or about 5.4-Gigabytes for 2 hours; well
within the 8-Gig limit of dual layer DVD media.
I suspect Microsoft has more planed for the HD-DVD support than they
are letting be known (yet).