Recently, Eurogamer received a leaked white paper from the development portal of Project Scorpio that contains a few clues on the console’s tech specs. The document is titled “Reaching 4K and GPU Scaling Across Multiple Xbox Devices” and the two main highlights of it are the lack of ESRAM in the Scorpio and the suggestion that the new console might not be native 4K. The document states that because the Xbox One and Xbox One S still have the ESRAM and a Scorpio exclusive is a big no-no, “optimizing for ESRAM remains critical to performance on Microsoft platforms.”
In addition, the document suggests that developers can use the extra fancy GPU for things other than resolution. That they are not required to make their games 4K, but that “additional GPU” can be used for “higher fidelity shadows, reflections, texture filtering and lower draw distances. Another option developers might consider is frame-rate upscaling – running graphics at 60Hz but the CPU at 30Hz and interpolating animation.”
Both of these statements strongly suggest that the Scorpio is not native 4K. Though this seems to contradict what Microsoft has said before, it might actually be a good thing for the console and the company as a whole. But let's start with Microsoft's apparent hypocrisy.
So back in September, General Manager of Microsoft Studios Publishing Shannon Loftis said, “any games we're making that we're launching in the Scorpio time frame, we're making sure they can natively render at 4K.” Sounds a lot like Project Scorpio is supposed to run native 4K. That said, in light of this new information, I think Loftis is referring specifically to games and not the console. And I don't think it's a bad thing that the Scorpio doesn't run native 4K. Granted, we were misled, but unlike the PS4 Pro, the Scorpio seems far more capable of doing both backwards compatibility well and the higher end upscaling to 4K. Judging by the alleged specs from back in 2016, which if they changed were hopefully improved upon (meaning Scorpio could still run at native 4K for all we know), it is entirely possible to call this mid-generation console a next generation device.
It seems to me that with a lack of ESRAM and the much higher GPU there will be enough space, as it were, for the console to perform at peak capabilities. Despite the ESRAM's lower latency advantages, the “Scorpio's far higher system memory bandwidth outstrips ESRAM's wide bandwidth capabilities.” Not that we should necessarily take Microsoft at its word, but this is supposed to be from a document to developers. And even one developer, who has had a lot of nasty things to say about the Switch, praised the Scorpio as “a full blown next-gen machine” that just happens to be backwards-compatible to your current library.
If this is true, and the Scorpio really does have all this technical room, it could very well be that developers decide Scorpio is the better deal for their new games. Especially for the larger, more detailed games, like what CD Project Red is working on (Cyberpunk 2077). These high-end developers might enjoy the luxury of being able to add extra bells and whistles to their games for Scorpio yet still have them be compatible with the Xbox One. Thereby, we might be seeing some great game competition between Sony and Microsoft again. It won't just be a list of cancelled games (I would have played that Fable game too!) and somewhat interesting multiplayers on one side, and a wide variety of genres on the other.
Not being native 4K might just be the best thing for the Scorpio if it truly utilizes all the apparent technology that has been confirmed so far. It could give developers opportunities that they might not have with the PS4 Pro, which may be a smart move on Microsoft's part and bring more developers to the Xbox. I think I might actually be starting to believe that video Microsoft showed at last year's E3. Someone stop me.