Back at E3, Microsoft mentioned that they were working on a next-generation console. At that time, I noted that this new console is a family of devices and was going by the name of Scarlett.
Since uncovering that little bit of info, I was able to dig up a few tiny bits of content about how Microsoft is developing its next-generation consoles. And yes consoles because right now, they are planning two different pieces of hardware.
First, Microsoft is building a traditional console that you would expect from the Xbox brand. I think it’s important to point this out so that those who prefer to have all their hardware locally, will have an option with the next generation Xbox.
As for specs for this device, that’s still not known at this time as it’s the early days of development for that piece of hardware. But what I am starting to hear more about is the second device, a streaming box that is designed to work with the company’s upcoming game streaming platform.
Scarlett Cloud as one person called it, is the game streaming service that we have all been envisioning ever since Microsoft showed off a demo game streaming at its all-employee meeting back in 2013. But this time, Microsoft has a path to bring it to market.
The second ‘console’ that the company is working on is a lower-powered device that is currently planned to ship with the next generation device that is designed for game-streaming. But the catch here is that Microsoft thinks it has figured out how to handle the latency sensitive aspects of gaming.
The cloud console will have a limited amount of compute locally for specific tasks like controller input, image processing, and importantly, collision detection. The downside of this is that it since more hardware is needed locally, it will raise the price of the streaming box but it will still cost significantly less than what we are accustomed to paying for a new-generation console which should help expand the platform’s reach.
And that is very important as Microsoft doesn’t typically make much money on the hardware sales but they do on things like Xbox Live, Xbox Gamepass, and game sales. If Microsoft can create a next-gen console that requires lower up-front payment and longer subscription payments (remember, all games will run in the cloud, so you will need to pay ‘something’ to access them), this is a huge win for Xbox and Microsoft.
The portion of the game that runs locally, some have referred to it as a slice or splice, means that the game is ‘running’ in two locations at the same time and utilizes Microsoft’s cloud to stitch it all together.
The benefit here is that Microsoft’s cloud platform reaches around the globe with data centers in every major market. This makes streaming the games platform available globally but this also likely means that it can run on any type of device. Of course, Microsoft would love you to buy their hardware but the company’s end-goal is that you can access ‘Xbox’ from any device, anywhere and Scarlett Cloud is looking to deliver on this idea.
One person familiar with Microsoft’s plans said that this may reduce latency in all aspects of the game as well. If a multiplayer game is using Azure as it’s central server, Scarlett Cloud console will be closer physically to the multiplayer server resulting in less latency.
When it comes to games, all Scarlett games will run on all Scarlett devices. Meaning, both consoles will be first-class citizens and there is not expected to be an awkward ‘this game only runs on the non-cloud Scarlett’.
The cloud version of Scarlett is further along in the development cycle than the traditional console that will also be released in 2020. This device does make me wonder if it has any relationship to the Xbox Hobart streaming device that was nearly released two years ago but was canceled late in the development cycle.
Microsoft has become quite confident in their streaming solution and now that they figured out how to bring it to market after many years of development, they are pushing forward with those plans.