Did Microsoft Just Kick-off the Next-gen Early?
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The lines between console generations have officially been blurred. The PlayStation 4 Pro released as a mid-generation upgrade to Sony's console, enabling 4K resolution support for those with compatible displays and performance improvements for select games. The benefits of owning a PS4 Pro are contingent upon developers actually taking advantage of them, making the system a luxury item for the most dedicated PlayStation fans, particularly when a cheaper, perfectly functional alternative exists. (I say all this despite owning a PS4 Pro; I'm happy with it, but it's no necessity.)

Microsoft's upcoming console, currently known as Project Scorpio, at first appeared to parallel the PS4 Pro in most ways, though evidence is emerging that the two may be more different than we originally thought. The biggest takeaway is that Project Scorpio may not be targeting upper-level Xbox One owners so much as positioning itself as an entirely new device. In essence, Project Scorpio could be making an early break for next-gen, even though we're only a little over halfway through the duration of a typical console generation.

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An analysis of the Project Scorpio architecture over at Eurogamer indicates that the console is not only targeting 4K, but has approximately 4.5 times more GPU computing power than the Xbox One - it clocks in at 6 teraflops. This should help Microsoft meet its goal of making existing Xbox One games run at 4K resolution with HDR rendering. It's also purportedly set to make use of a technique called "sparse rendering," or checkerboarding, to improve visual fidelity.

A comment on NeoGAF by Thomas Mahler, CEO of Moon Studios (who developed Ori and the Blind Forest), also counters assertions that Project Scorpio is simply Microsoft's version of the PS4 Pro. He says, "All consoles now are x86 PCs and the architecture will remain the same, that's why Sony was able to quickly iterate on the PS4 and make a beefier version of it. Scorpio is a next-gen machine with the added benefit that all your old games will still be compatible."

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Arguing that Microsoft's messaging is what's creating the confusion, Mahler continues, "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." We don't need another Wii U situation on our hands; Microsoft needs to ensure that customers are aware of exactly where Project Scorpio stands in their product lineup if it is to succeed at retail.

All of this information paints Project Scorpio as a fully next-generation console, leading me to speculate that the current dearth of Xbox One exclusives might be the result of a strategic shift on Microsoft's part. Scalebound, one of the few remaining Xbox One-only titles, was among our most-anticipated games of the year, but was unceremoniously cancelled earlier this month. Yet with Microsoft going on record that there will not be any Scorpio-exclusive games, I don't have my hopes up that Scalebound will ever be revived, nor do I know what to expect in terms of how developers might utilize Scorpio's improved specs in a way unlike the PS4 Pro - unless, of course, Microsoft completely revamps its strategy and makes it clear that this new console is indeed the start of a new generation.

Derek Heemsbergen
Derek Heemsbergen
@EmbryonX

Contributing Writer
Date: 01/26/2017

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