Xbox 720 to be always-online?

Written by Edward Chester

March 20, 2013 | 15:11

Tags: #durango #games-console #new-xbox #online #xbox-720

Companies: #microsoft

It is again being suggested Microsoft's upcoming new console, the so-called Xbox 720, may require a constant internet connection in order to play games. This follows official online documentation about the device being leaked online.

Screenshots of the documentation for the software development kit (xdk), used by game developers to understand how to write games for the console, shows it saying the console "will always maintain a network connection."

Further to this it uses lines such as “With this, Always On, Always Connected,” design”, leaving little doubt that Microsoft is more than a little keen for users to be in constant contact with the outside world.

However, the document doesn't explicitly say whether or not the Durango (the codename for what's expected to be called the Xbox 720) will actually be unusable without some sort of connection. Indeed lines such as "users will quickly and easily enjoy their connected entertainment experiences, with no waiting for the console to restart or install updates," suggest the requirement may simply be there for the convenience of keeping the console prepared for action.

The news follows the disastrous launch of the city-building game, SimCity, which requires an always-on internet connection to be played. At launch, and for some days afterwards, its publisher's servers were completely overloaded, leaving users unable to play their brand new game, even in single player mode. With this stark sign of the potential pitfalls of the always-online approach, many potential customers will be wary of Microsoft also taking the Xbox 720 down this path.

Xbox 720 to be always-online? Xbox 720 to be always online?

What cannot be doubted at this stage is the wording used to describe the requirement for the second generation version of Kinect to be constantly attached. The webcam-like tracking device can be used to control the console using gestures, suggesting perhaps that users will be expected to activate the device by speaking or waving to the machine, rather than picking up a controller.

Likewise the documentation explicitly describes how games "will be installed on the hard drive", and that, "Play from optical disc will not be supported."

The Xbox 720 release date is expected to be in the latter part of this year with an initial unveiling at E3 in June. As well as a new, always connected version of Kinect, the new console is also strongly rumoured to use an AMD APU, alongside the recently announced PlayStation 4 and Wii U.

Would an always-connected requirement be the death knell for the Xbox 720 or do you like the idea of everything being always up to date?

Below is the full text, as best we can make out, taken from the screenshot:

The Durango console is designed to offer game developers modern hardware that is more powerful than the Xbox 360. It uses a familiar x64 architecture and tools, and compared with Xbox 360 development time and effort spent on performance optimisation. Hardware accelerators, including ‘move engines’ for common tasks, will be added to the console. Move engines can perform common game tasks like compression and decompression while moving data around the system. The console also has dedicated hardware support form common audio processing tasks that reduce the amount of CPU time that must be devoted to audio. The GPU provides considerable computing power, and supports Direct3D 11.

Durango will implement different power states so that it can always be powered on, but will draw minimal electricity when not in use. The console will be ready instantly when users want to play, and will always maintain a network connection so that console software and games are always current. With this ‘Always On, Always Connected’ design, users will quickly and easily enjoy their connected entertainment experiences, with no waiting for the console to restart or install updates.

Every Durango console will be sold with a new high-fidelity Kinect Sensor, which will be required for the system to operate. The console will provide HD videos, and will use new depth sensor technology to provide better screen resolution and less noisy depth data. Active infrared illumination will provide high-quality monochrome images even in low ambient light conditions. A wider field of view allows play in smaller spaces and removes the need for a tilt motor.

System software will offer a full set of system API for Natural User Interface (NUI), and the API set will be corresponding API used by Xbox 360. Skeleton tracking, identity, and other NUI functions will be performed by the system and for that reason, titles no longer need to allocate title resources to NUI.

The Durango controller will make the best-in-class Xbox 360 controller even better. It will have low-latency wireless connectivity to the console, and improve ergonomics. System interactions that use the controller will be simplified to make them easier for noncore gamers.

Every Durango console will have a hard drive, although its exact capacity has not been chosen. It will be large enough, however, to hold a large number of games. All games will be installed on the hard drive. Play from optical disc will not be supported.

Durango consoles will have Blu-ray disc drive. Disc media will be used for distribution, but during gameplay, games will not use content from optical disc. An installation system is being designed that will allow gamers to begin playing while the game is being installed on the hard drive rather than waiting until installation is complete.

Audio from Durango will be all digital – 7.1 discrete PCM output through HDMIU and S/PDIF. Hardware accelerators will be included for decoding and decompressing common audio formats. There also will be a dedicated processor to perform common signal processing in hardware.

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