Project Scorpio: The Next Xbox

Last year, I upgraded from my Xbox 360 to an Xbox One S. At the time, I knew that “Project Scorpio” was going to be coming in late 2017, but the time was right for me and I wanted to move onto the Xbox One platform.

The fact the Xbox One S and “Project Scorpio” were announced at the same time was an interesting move. Game consoles aren’t usually announced so early, but this current generation (often called the 8th generation) of consoles is likely to be around longer than others.

Watch the Project Scorpio announcement

Both Sony and Microsoft have adopted the x86 processor architecture found in PCs, and while they’re still highly customised, the development of this common architecture is good for the console makers and the software developers alike.

We’ve already seen an updated PlayStation 4, so an updated Xbox just made sense and we’ll likely see more hardware refreshes in the future. I bet that games for Xbox One will continue to be developed and enjoyed even longer than the previous generation. The Xbox 360 stayed on the market for 11 years and its games can be enjoyed through backwards compatibility on the Xbox One today.

The message is strong

Microsoft has been very clear that “Project Scorpio” is a mid-generation refresh, but this time it’s a performance boost to the machine itself while remaining 100% compatible with the all of the Xbox One games and accessories currently on the market.

“The most powerful console ever.
Holiday 2017.” – Microsoft

They’ve also been clear that “Project Scorpio” has been designed for the fans who want the best. Microsoft stated that they wanted to make the most powerful console on the market – and it looks like they’ve achieved it.

A high-end version of the Xbox One

The performance updates on the machine itself are designed to enable 4K gaming and new VR experiences, though it is expected that existing Xbox One games will also see a general performance boost, even when displaying on 1080p televisions.

Even though it has been stated that there will be no games which will be exclusive to “Project Scorpio”, I have no doubt that there will be some games that will take advantage of the extra power and will be best experienced on the new machine.

Forza on Scorpio

Some existing Xbox One games (Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Forza Horizon 3) already include 4K assets, so the work to upgrade the games to work on high resolution “Project Scorpio” would be minimal. I wonder how many other games have already got high resolution graphics ready for 4K on day one.

Microsoft have really come together

One of the most impressive things about “Project Scorpio” is that it has been built with the full power of Microsoft behind it:

There’s no doubt that Microsoft is a hardware company and their expertise has also allowed for impressive cooling and performance tuning throughout the machine.

Scorpio

DirectX is now built in to the hardware. This is really impressive and means that the hardware has to do less work for games built using DirectX APIs.

Existing games have been profiled for performance and the telemetry of the software has gone into the design of actual silicon. This is a really interesting technique for Microsoft and may help direct performance improvements for their Azure cloud platform in the future.

“Project Scorpio” has been in the works for a while

I recently re-watched the original Xbox One announcement – it was really bad. They announced it just before E3 and had a focus on TV, entertainment, and the use of Kinect.

Since then, the management of the Xbox operation has changed and they’re now way more focused on the feedback of gamers and developers alike.

This time, Microsoft have been talking to industry experts from Digital Foundry, for the tech specifics, and to Gamasutra, to showcase what they’re doing for developers. This way, the industry experts can ask the questions the fans want to know and tell the story as they see it.

This is a marked improvement from what can only be described as a fumbled Xbox One announcement.

This could be the start of something very different

I’m really excited about what “Project Scorpio” has to offer and I’m likely to get one at some point in 2018.

I have a feeling that there’s more to “Project Scorpio” than just a hardware refresh and I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see changes to the way the games are delivered too.

If the Xbox One platform is going to be around for a long time, why bother creating a new game every time? There’s no reason why a games franchise like Forza or Halo couldn’t be delivered as a service with constantly updated content and graphics.

We’ll hear more about “Project Scorpio” at E3 in June. This will likely include the final name and design.

Controlling the Xbox One S

With my Xbox 360 I always enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of ways to interact with the console and the same is true for the new Xbox One S.

The New Controller

The most obvious way of interacting with the console is through a controller. Microsoft’s controllers are widely considered to be some of the best controllers on the market. The Xbox One S comes with a new controller which is a slightly improved version of the original Xbox One controller.

This time the Xbox team managed to reduce the number of components making it cheaper and easier to manufacture. One of the benefits of this new process means that Microsoft provide the option of completely custom controllers: you can choose the colours.

I loved using different coloured controllers with my Nintendo Game Cube, and If I need to get myself another controller any time soon I will be going for the custom designs. The only tricky thing will be deciding which colour to get!

The New Xbox Controller

Another benefit of the new controller is the Bluetooth support. It works with Windows PCs without the need for a dongle and I’ve used this controller with my Surface for a couple of games and has worked really well.

The Elite Controller

While Microsoft found a way to reduce the costs of manufacturing their standard issue controller, they also found a way to appease the more hardcore gamers with the Elite controller. I’ve lusted after this thing since I first heard about it. The plastic feels a lot nicer to the touch with a soft texture. The triggers and bumpers are made out of metal and the sticks can be customised.

The whole device has a high-quality weight to it.

The Elite Controller

It has a switch on the front which allows you two switch between two sets of custom settings. I use a standard setup in the first position and the second position is configured with a custom setup which works really well for games like Halo and Gears of War.

It is no surprise that this has become my main controller!

I am really impressed by the Elite controller and I wish Microsoft would put the same kind of effort into doing mice and keyboards for the PC. I don’t play PC games with a mouse and keyboard but I do use them every day for software development. I’d really appreciate some high quality gear, especially as I spend so much time using them.

The Chat Pad

Being able to enter text using a physical keyboard and not pecking around on the screen is something that I enjoyed on the Xbox 360 and wanted to have the same experience on the Xbox One too. As soon as I got the Xbox One I was entering text on the screen and looking over at my old controller enviously so I decided to get for the occasions I enter text.

It does add some bulk to the controller but it doesn’t bother me at all. I can always remove it if I wanted to.

Chat Pad

The Media Remote

The top device used to control my Xbox 360 must have been the remote control. I knew that as soon as I got an Xbox One I would have to get a remote to go with it. The Xbox One version is a lot smaller than its predecessor and it lacks the number keys (which I never used anyway).

Most of the time I don’t really need to see the controls, but the new backlight is a welcome addition too.

Using the remote I can turn the Xbox on and navigate around the menus. There are dedicated keys for bringing up the OneGuide television interface, as well as changing the volume of the television itself.

Media Remote

I use the media remote a lot and find it extremely useful for apps like Netflix… but I have to say it is probably my least favourite piece of the Xbox hardware I have. It doesn’t feel that great, it doesn’t look very impressive, and to me the design is flawed by the fact that it is rounded on the bottom and doesn’t sit flat on a table without wobbling.

I’d like to see them release a new version of the media remote to match the Xbox One S style, or at least just ‘premium it up’ a bit and remove the rounded underside. Until then I will be continuing to use this version as it is still extremely useful.

The Xbox App

The Xbox App for Windows 10 has become a very useful way of interacting with the console. Like SmartGlass before it, you can use purely as a controller or for text input. But now it’s a fully featured Xbox experience for the PC, with the ability to stream too.

Xbox App

I’ve used this more than I thought I would already, and I get the feeling I will continue to use it more and more as updates for the Xbox One come out over the next few years.

The Xbox App also works with the HoloLens too!

What I don’t have

I haven’t bothered to get a Kinect. Not because I don’t think it is technically good, but because it seems that Microsoft has abandoned it.

The lack of Kinect’s microphone means I cannot use Cortana on the Xbox One. This is a bit frustrating as she’s something I use all the time on my Surface computer and Lumia phone. As I mentioned in my previous Xbox One S article: I am surprised they didn’t add a microphone to the console itself.

Maybe they’ll add a microphone to an update media remote in the future?

Upgrading to the Xbox One S

The original Xbox One was announced over two and a half years ago, but I skipped that version and continued to use an Xbox 360 for my living room entertainment.

The new Xbox One S is much smaller and slightly faster than the original, but mostly it is the same. For me this upgrade is perfect timing, as I have been waiting for a hardware refresh before making the switch from the now-discontinued Xbox 360.

Watch the Xbox One S announcement

For people who already have an Xbox One: it may be better to wait for “Project Scorpio” – which will be a significant upgrade to the Xbox coming late 2017. Microsoft have stated that all three iterations of the Xbox One will be compatible with each other – so I am not concerned about being left behind, though “Scorpio” will almost certainly support VR as well.

Watch the Project Scorpio announcement

Hardware

The industrial design of the Xbox One S is absolutely fantastic. Anyone who wasn’t keen on the “VCR” looks of the original Xbox One would agree that Microsoft has gone in a different direction this time.

Xbox One S Design

At the moment the device only comes in white, though I know plenty of people would have liked to see it in black. To me the white polycarbonate really shows off the features of design itself – it would be a lot harder to make out some of the nice touches if the device was just black and in the shadows.

Internally the biggest noticeable improvement is around storage: the disk in the launch edition is 2 TB – that’s four times larger than the disk that shipped with the original Xbox One. You need it too, as games are regularly over 80 GB.

No Kinect in the box this time

In contrast to the original Xbox One launch bundle, the Kinect sensor is not included this time. In fact, it is prohibitive to get the Kinect for the Xbox One S: you’d have to buy both the £80 sensor and a £30 adapter to make it work over USB. The adapter is free if you are upgrading from an original Xbox One – but I am not, and so I will skip this expense for now. However, skipping the Kinect does come at a cost…

At a high level the Kinect provides three main features to the Xbox One:

  • A camera array which supports video and motion capture
  • A microphone array for voice commands as well as chat functionality
  • An infrared transmitter for controlling audio and video equipment

The infrared transmitter is now built in to the front of the Xbox One S. This means I can control my TV without the need for the expensive Kinect add-on.

But the other two features are not included.

I can understand the fact that the camera and motion detection technology is not built in, as most games don’t use it, but I don’t understand why the Xbox One S didn’t include a microphone array by default. Especially as being able to turn on the Xbox with your voice was one of the most impressive features of the Kinect, and the new Cortana assistant requires a microphone to work.

If they can include an infrared transmitter, why didn’t they include a microphone array too? I don’t get it.

Software

The Xbox One S comes pre-loaded with the “Redstone” version of the operating system which matches the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. It includes features like Xbox 360 backwards compatibly, background music, Windows 10’s Universal apps, Cortana, and loads of other tweaks. This update is available for the previous model too, but for me this is a massive leap from the experience provided by the Xbox 360.

Switching between apps is fast

On the Xbox 360 there was no way to pause a game and then watch Netflix for a while, the Xbox One’s software allows this with ease, allowing seamless switching between games, live television, and apps without long loading times.

Being able to use two apps at the same time is supported, but it isn’t as great as I’d like to be. Some applications don’t support snapping at all, and the interface for snapping unintuitive when compared Windows 10.

Xbox One Dashboard

As a Groove Music user the new background audio features work really well – all of the music from my Music Pass and OneDrive collections are available to stream from the same Universal app that I use on my Surface and my Lumia.

While I could access my music through a subpar app on my Xbox 360, I couldn’t multitask at the same time – there was no way I could listen to music on Groove and then go looking for something to watch on Netflix or iPlayer. As an entertainment device this makes a lot of sense, and I’m really pleased they’ve added it to the Xbox One.

Background Audio

Television

In the UK you can use a USB adapter for the Xbox One to gain access to Freeview. In my area of England this includes over a hundred television channels – including 17 in HD. This works without having to do IR blasting to a cable box, and integrates well with Microsoft’s OneGuide software.

I’m not a big television watcher, but now you have to have a TV Licence to watch iPlayer it makes sense to have Freeview as well.

At least this way everything is handled through the Xbox One itself.

Streaming

The Xbox app for Windows includes access to all of the Xbox Live features you’d expect. Including friends, messages, achievements, and (most importantly) game streaming.

Xbox App for Windows

I have been impressed by how well the streaming works – at the medium quality settings there is no noticeable lag, and the compression doesn’t look bad at all.

Personally I have no interest in installing 80 GB games directly on my Surface Book (which I use for software development) but having the option of streaming directly from the Xbox One S means that playing in another room is now an option.

Streaming TV and Games to Surface…
…and HoloLens

And yes, streaming even works with the HoloLens. In the photo below you can see me streaming Halo 5: Guardians onto the wall in my office.

Halo on the HoloLens

More to come

The Xbox One is still early in its life cycle – especially when you consider how much the Xbox 360 changed in the 10 years it was in the market. I still have more to write around the various options for controlling and using the device, and my thoughts on how the software needs to be improved… but that will come another day.

For now I’m pleased to have finally made the jump to the Xbox One platform, and I’m glad I waited for this beautifully designed Xbox One S.