Microsoft has an interesting strategy at the moment for its upcoming consoles. The company has announced what is already the most powerful console for the next generation, a few titles that will be released, and more details but the one thing everyone keeps talking about is Lockhart.
Is this a brilliant marketing move or is it simply because we don’t know all the details which makes it more interesting? Either way, much of the gaming world is waiting to hear from Microsoft about its more affordable console but it does look like we might have to wait a bit longer than anticipated.
Initially, the console was going to be announced in June but the latest reports say August, but I can’t independently verify that yet. Here’s a fun fact though, the original launch plans for Lockhart was that it was going to be released in Mid-October. That may not sound all that surprising, but Anaconda, the series X, was going to release in late August; clearly plans have been adjusted since the conception of the hardware.
No surprise that those dates have slipped and the announcement timeline for Lockhart has been far more fluid than we have seen in previous years. That’s why it’s a bit hard to lock down the exact date but the announcement should be coming sooner, rather than later.
But what will the console look like? That’s a good question; the popular idea that it is a smaller cube fills the hearts of many as it reminds them of the Game Cube but that may not be logical.
Why? One thing that Microsoft mandates is when they let employees/third-parties travel with the hardware, they ask them to disguise the product. This is a standard practice in the industry but for the Anaconda, Microsoft recommended employees put the hardware in a PC tower, subwoofer, or something else that is quite large. For Lockhart, Microsoft has said that the hardware should be disguised by using Durango or Scorpio covers which means the device is not the same shape as the series X.
Another consideration is that for the series X, Microsoft is using a split motherboard design. The company is doing this to maximize cooling but this is a more expensive approach. First, you have two PCBs, you need two manufacturing lines, and twice the testing of the product – it’s not the cheaper route but the X is performance-focused. With the series S, using a single PCB would reduce manufacturing complexity and the price but on the other side of the coin, you could make the argument that by using a split design, the same as the X, it would make the overall cost of the next-gen platform less expensive. But, to make a split motherboard and to make it smaller than the series X to achieve the smaller design, would increase cost, not reduce it.
One of the misconceptions about Lockhart is that it is going to hold back next-generation games. It’s a valid concern and the idea sprung up about a year ago when details were murky about the path ahead for the next generation consoles. Specifically, developers were not fully versed in how development (or profiling as it is now called) was going to actually work on the hardware which resulted in myself, and others, hearing mixed messaging from those briefed early on the plans.
As we have learned more during the past year, those concerns have faded as Microsoft has built a strategy of using the same base components across both devices (like Raytracing support and CPU specs) that should make it easier for developers to target the same visual fidelity for both consoles but at different resolutions. Meaning, the series X will be optimized for 4k gaming while the series S is optimized at 4TF for 1080P displays.
But the big unknown will be the pricing. If the consoles were only $50 difference, even though consumers are typically very price sensitive, the overhead of launching two consoles with that difference doesn’t make much sense. The minimum price difference needs to be $100 or more to create enough of a gap to make the additional marketing and the cost of educating the consumer worthwhile.