It’s that time of decade again. Time for a new Xbox. It took four years for Microsoft to go from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360. The transition from Xbox 360 to the newly announced Xbox One will take right around 8 years, and the 360 won’t be going away anytime soon either. The console business demands long upgrade cycles in order to make early investments in hardware (often sold at a loss) worthwhile. This last round was much longer that it ever should have been, so the Xbox One arrives to a very welcoming crowd.

Yesterday Microsoft finally took the covers off the new Xbox, what it hopes will last for many years to come. At a high level here’s what we’re dealing with:

- 8-core AMD Jaguar CPU
- 12 CU/768 SP AMD GCN GPU
- 8GB DDR3 system memory
- 500GB HDD
- Blu-ray drive
- 2.4/5.0GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n, multiple radios with WiFi Direct support
- 4K HDMI in/out (for cable TV passthrough)
- USB 3.0
- Available later this year

While Microsoft was light on technical details, I believe we have enough to put together some decent analysis. Let’s get to it.

Chassis

The Xbox 360 was crafted during a time that seems so long ago. Consumer electronics styled in white were all the rage, we would be a few years away from the aluminum revolution that engulfs us today. Looking at the Xbox One tells us a lot about how things have changed.

Microsoft isn’t so obsessed with size here, at least initially. Wired reports that the Xbox One is larger than the outgoing 360, although it’s not clear whether we’re talking about the new slim or the original design. Either way, given what’s under the hood - skimping on cooling and ventilation isn’t a good thing.

The squared off design and glossy black chassis scream entertainment center. Microsoft isn’t playing for a position in your games cabinet, the Xbox One is just as much about consuming media as it is about playing games.

In its presentation Microsoft kept referencing how the world has changed. Smartphones, tablets, even internet connectivity are very different today than they were when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. It’s what Microsoft didn’t mention that really seems to have played a role in its decision making behind the One: many critics didn’t see hope for another generation of high-end game consoles.

With so much of today focused on mobile, free to play and casual gaming on smartphones and tablets - would anyone even buy a next-generation console? For much of the past couple of years I’ve been going around meetings saying that before consolidation comes great expansion. I’ve been saying this about a number of markets, but I believe the phrase is very applicable to gaming. Casual gaming, the advent of free to play and even the current mobile revolution won’t do anything to the demand for high-end consoles today or in the near term - they simply expand the market for gamers. Eventually those types of games and gaming platforms will grow to the point where they start competing with one another and then the big console players might have an issue to worry about, but I suspect that’s still some time away. The depth offered by big gaming titles remains unmatched elsewhere. You can argue that many games are priced too high, but the Halo, BioShock, Mass Effect, CoD experience still drives a considerable portion of the market.

The fact that this debate is happening however has to have impacted Microsoft. Simply building a better Xbox 360 wasn’t going to guarantee success, and I suspect there were not insignificant numbers within the company who felt that even making the Xbox One as much of a gaming machine as it is would be a mistake. What resulted was a subtle pivot in strategy.

The Battle for the TV

Last year you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a rumor of Apple getting into the TV business. As of yet those rumors haven’t gone anywhere other than to point to continued investment in the Apple TV. Go back even further and Google had its own TV aspirations, although met with far less success. More recently, Intel threw its hat into the ring. I don’t know for sure how things have changed with the new CEO, but as far as I can tell he’s a rational man and things should proceed with Intel Media’s plans for an IPTV service. All of this is a round about way of saying that TV is clearly important and viewed by many as one of the next ecosystem battles in tech.

Combine the fact that TV is important, with the fact that the Xbox 360 has evolved into a Netflix box for many, add a dash of uncertainty for the future of high end gaming consoles and you end up with the formula behind the Xbox One. If the future doesn’t look bright for high-end gaming consoles, turning the Xbox into something much more than that will hopefully guarantee its presence in the living room. At least that’s what I suspect Microsoft’s thinking was going into the Xbox One. With that in mind, everything about the One makes a lot of sense.

CPU & GPU Hardware Analyzed
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  • Razorbak86 - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Microsoft confirmed yesterday that there is no backwards compatibility with X360 software. That includes both disc and downloadable.

    Sad really, and a missed opportunity, IMO. Since Sony was transitioning from Cell architecture to X86, and had already announced no backwards compatibility, Microsoft could have gained a significant strategic advantage by integrating backwards compatibility, even at a slight cost premium.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    I think you are underestimating the "slight". The chips still are not trivially cheap to make. Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Even if the chips were free, you'd still need to stick them inside the console and provide cooling for them, making the system even bigger. It's a major pain and not worth the cost. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Indeed. I'm happy with the cost going elsewhere. Reply
  • takeship - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Chalk it up to time delays. It sucks that there's no BC out of the box, but I'm hopeful with MS having a straight up hypervisor (VM) in the box, that we'll see it down the road. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    There is no way the x86 CPU in the XBO is going to be able to emulate the PPC based chip in the XBox 360. So it is not going to happen. Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    MS could have added the Xbox 360 SoC to the One to side step emulation entirely.

    It would have been nice to see a high end model with this, even if it was a limited production run.
    Reply
  • Mistake Not ... - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    *Cough* Rosetta *Cough* Reply
  • BSMonitor - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Curious, door open for a "Steam-like" app for Xbox One?? Where by the App handles the "driver" issues related to runny legacy games, etc.. I think Anand mentioned this concept in one of the podcasts.. We have Windows OS... Reply
  • BSMonitor - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    running lol Reply

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