Project Scorpio is Microsoft’s “true 4K,” VR-ready upgrade to the original Xbox One, with the company already boasting that it’ll be the most powerful console we’ve ever seen. With the manufacturer only having released a sliver of information pertaining to the system at E3 2016, we’re therefore very excited to see more of it and find out exactly how next-gen this iterative upgrade will be.
While Microsoft has mostly kept quiet in regards to what it has up its sleeve for Project Scorpio, various reports, developer comments and other such information has painted a broader picture of what we should expect come its launch. Though there’s plenty of speculation surrounding the console, I’ve filtered through the less established rumors in order to provide a concise rundown of what Microsoft has planned. Here’s all the substantive Project Scorpio information that we’ve received thus far:
Microsoft hasn’t given the Project Scorpio an official price tag yet, though it’ll certainly be valued higher than the Xbox One and Xbox One S. With it being the first “true” 4K console (i.e. it’ll support more games at a native 4K resolution than the PS4 Pro) it’ll likely set buyers back a pretty penny, though it’s imaginable that Microsoft would still want to keep its price reasonable if it wants to court more buyers to its Xbox One family. As such it’s speculated that its price point could run from $449 to $499, which would ensure that it wouldn’t look dramatically overpriced next to the new Nintendo Switch or Sony’s 4K console (which will likely receive a Holiday 2017 price cut).
However, Phil Spencer’s comments regarding the Scorpio suggest that its virtual reality capabilities could lead to a higher price point. Speaking to The Verge, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer said that “having something at six teraflops that will get millions of people buying it is very attractive to some of the VR companies that are out there already,” adding: “We’ve architected it such that something will be able to plug right in and work.” Considering that the PlayStation VR requires its own processor in order to work on the PS4, this suggests that Project Scorpio will at least boast hardware similar to that of low-end VR-ready PCs, which run between $600 and $900. This would make it one of the most expensive consoles ever released, putting it out of the reach for many, but if its hardware really is capable of supporting VR right out of the box then it’s unlikely that it would be priced any cheaper.
Microsoft is keeping quiet about Project Scorpio’s VR capabilities, but there’s a solid reason to believe that the company is maintaining its partnership with Oculus in order to bring a version of the Rift to the console. While the current Oculus Rift could in no way run on a home console, it’s possible that the VR company is developing a separate headset for Microsoft and the Scorpio. The two companies already collaborated to bundle a wireless Xbox One controller with every shipment of the Rift, so it’s possible that this working relationship will be rekindled for the Scorpio.
Microsoft hasn’t stated exactly which VR headset manufacturer it’s working with, though, so it’s still possible that it has another company in mind. Unlike Sony and its PlayStation VR, it’s highly unlikely that Microsoft will be developing the Scorpio’s headset in-house, which will be a major selling point for those looking to invest in a proper console virtual reality experience. While the PS VR was impressive technology at its price point, it still fell short of the Rift and the Vive, and Microsoft certainly has a lot of room to one-up Sony in this department.
However, Microsoft’s removal of a reference to virtual reality on its website did lead many to speculate that it was scrapping its plans for a VR headset. In a statement to GameSpot Microsoft insisted that this was not the case, stating that it would be delivering “high-fidelity VR experiences.” Hopefully it will receive more support than the PS VR, which has few new games on the horizon following its underwhelming launch line-up.
Project Scorpio is slated for a Holiday 2017 release. If it is to follow in the footsteps of the original Xbox One, then we can expect that the Scorpio will release in the latter half of November. The Xbox One was released on Tuesday, November 22, so it’s possible that the Scorpio will be launched on the same Tuesday in 2017, which would give it a November 21 launch date.
Microsoft has yet to reveal the hardware packed inside Project Scorpio aside from its claim that it’ll be the “most powerful console ever.” However, Digital Foundry reportedly received a whitepaper sent to developers, which reveals key information regarding just how powerful the new system will be. According to DF, the Scorpio will be doing away with ESRAM — the high-bandwidth scratchpad unique to the original Xbox One — in favor of a GPU that boasts “significantly more bandwidth” than the previous hardware, though developers are still encouraged to develop games with ESRAM in mind in order to ensure compatibility with the old Xbox One hardware. A 6 teraflop GPU has also been confirmed, with it boasting 4.5 times the amount of compute power than the Xbox One as a result.
The whitepaper also suggests how developers may want to make best use of the Scorpio’s hardware, adding that devs may wish to use GPU resources on “higher fidelity shadows, reflections, texture filtering and lower draw distances” or “frame-rate upscaling – running graphics at 60Hz but the CPU at 30Hz and interpolating animation.” According to the doc, a 4.5x compute power boost would efficiently upscale games from 1080p to 4K, though with the average base resolution of Xbox One games being 900p, it remains to be seen whether or not developers will wish to spend the majority of the Scorpio’s resources on pixels.
The whitepaper indicates that the Scorpio won’t be able to render every game in 4K (a given considering the expensive hardware required to make 4K a possibility on desktops), but that it has been capable of easily rendering at least one 1080p Xbox One game in a UHD resolution. While this means that it will require developers to get extra juice out of the original Xbox One hardware in order to ensure parity between the vanilla console and its superior predecessor, it does suggest that we’ll be seeing more native 4K games on the Scorpio. Although this doesn’t exactly echo Microsoft’s claim that it will be a “true 4K” console, it should certainly be more impressive than the PS4 Pro.
A “next-gen” upgrade
Outside of the aforementioned document leak and Microsoft’s own comments, the biggest indication of Project Scorpio’s power we’ve received thus far is from Thomas Mahler, the CEO of Ori and the Blind Forest developer Moon Studios. Writing on NeoGAF, Mahler claimed that the Scorpio was a “next-gen upgrade,” unlike the “half-assed” PS4 Pro.
Mahler wrote: Scorpio is a next-gen machine with the added benefit that all your old games will still be compatible. From this point on, similar to PCs, you’ll not lose your library when you buy a next-gen system. I guess since NeoGAF is confsued [sic], Microsoft will need to do a little work to make it clear to everyone that Scorpio isn’t just a half-assed upgrade (which the PS4 Pro kinda is…), but a full blown next-gen machine that’s just backwards-compatible to your current library.”
For those who were underwhelmed by the PS4 Pro, Mahler’s comments suggest that the Scorpio is going to blow its rival out of the water and deliver a next-gen gaming experience with the backwards compatibility of an iterative upgrade. While this will mean that Scorpio owners will get their money’s worth, it does also raise questions of how the original Xbox One will fare in the wake of its release. Will developers be able to make their games cross-platform in a manner that will take full advantage of the Scorpio while still accommodating original Xbox One owners? Or will the Scorpio wind up negating its predecessor and leaving it in the dust? Only time will tell.