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Next Xbox Starts to Take Shape

Libe Goad

While still hesitant to spill its guts on the next Xbox, Microsoft gave a few hints of what's to come on Wednesday at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco.

Corporate vice president and chief XNA architect J Allard said the new Xbox will not be just another game system, but an "entertainment gateway" that will work with other media, like digital music and online communication. The console will also be designed to provide ultimate ease-of-use and customization for gamers and a very developer-friendly architecture.

Allard also said they expect the next-gen system to pave the way for the "HD era" of gaming.

"In the HD era, the platform is bigger than the professor," he said in a corporate statement. "New technology and emerging consumer forces will come together to enable the rock stars of game development to shake up the old establishment and redefine entertainment as we know it."

While no mention of the console's specific tech makeup was made, Microsoft gave some general info on how the high definition technology, personalization and connectivity will be executed: Custom music. Developers will no longer have to support custom music for games, because consumers will be able to play their own music while playing any new Xbox game. Marketplace. After searching via game, genre, etc, consumers will be able to go there to download new game levels, skins, maps, weapons, vehicles and content created by other gamers. Micro-transactions. Developers and the gaming population will be able to log into the Marketplace, then buy content created by the gaming community. Buying a fully-loaded car, for instance, might cost a dollar, and then the transaction can go down within the Xbox context. Similar ideas have already been at play in PC games such as Second Life. Gamer cards. Gamer cards boost the community aspect of Xbox Live!, allowing players to find others online who have the same interests, skills and lifestyles. For the developers, the next Xbox will include design principles that will help them better meet the consumer demand for high-definition performance, two of which include significant partnerships with IBM and ATI Technologies

Allard said that will include three main elements: a well balanced system that delivers over a teraflop of computing power, a flexible multicore processor architecture co-created with IBM and with ATI, a custom created graphics processor designed specifically for high-definition gaming.

Microsoft's new box also will steer clear of newfangled development tools and stick with known quantities as DirectX, PIX, XACT and the recently announced XNA Studio.

Based on pre-alpha development kits and conversations with developers, a series of reports on other specs have been floating around various news sources.

Rumor says the hardware may sport the following: A CPU with three 3.0 GHz PowerPC cores, each with 32 KB L1 cache and 32 KB for instruction cache. The three cores will share 1 MB of L2 cache as well. A GPU that will be more powerful than anything on the market currently. In tech speak, that means a graphics processor with 500 MHz speed and also supports Shader 3.0. 256 MB RAM, no specifics on what kind, and memory cards that range from 64MB to 1 GB. Size-to-be-determined optional hard drive, 2 GB of which will be used for games cache. A USB 2.0 camera, that can take 1.2 MPX still shots and VGA video – and will also come in handy for video chat. For sound, hardware will handle the decompression and the rest will be handled by the software. Expect be hearing lots more about X3D Audio as well. Developers have also purportedly been told to create games that are at least 720p (i.e. 1280 x 720 at 60 FPS) and to make all titles online-enabled via Xbox Live.

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Microsoft Watch.





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