What’s in the Next Xbox? Blu-ray, ‘Always Online’ Requirement Claims Site

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It sounds like nonsense because it probably is: an Xbox with a Blu-ray drive? But that’s what VG247’s claiming, that the next Xbox — they’re dubbing it the Xbox 720, which you can bet is precisely what Microsoft won’t call whatever’s next — will include rival Sony’s Blu-ray technology, countering a still-more-plausible report by MCV in early March that the next Xbox will do away with optical media entirely. Also: The new system will debut holiday 2013.

The Blu-ray claim doesn’t add up, not with high-definition video rentals and purchases moving online as well as all the hypothetical proprietary large-scale optical storage solutions Microsoft could turn to, if it’s trying to sidestep a mega-download size and storage capacity bullet. Why would Microsoft pursue a sunsetting format and bring rival Sony into the next Xbox’s revenue fold with license fees? It makes no sense.

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I can’t imagine a future gaming device with Blu-ray support that isn’t Sony’s next PlayStation, and that alone. Blu-ray add-on drives were rumored for the Xbox 360 for years but never materialized, even after Steve Ballmer supposedly said it was happening back in 2009. That prompted Microsoft spokesperson Larry Hryb to type up this:

As we have said in the past, we have no plans to introduce a Blu-Ray drive for the Xbox 360. In fact, the future of home entertainment starts very soon when Xbox 360 becomes the first and only console to offer instant-on 1080p streaming HD movies. With a library of thousands of TV shows and movies to choose from, Xbox 360 owners can instantly watch the movies they want, when they want, in the highest form of high definition.

VG247’s sources also claim the next Xbox will employ dual AMD-based GPUs from the chip manufacturer’s 7000-series, just like the rumor about Sony’s next PlayStation, but that the GPUs won’t use traditional multi-GPU rendering technology and will instead “work independently, drawing separate items simultaneously.” The next Xbox will also supposedly have a CPU with either four or six cores divided between system processing and dedicated Kinect support (Kinect technology is rumored to be inbuilt on the next Xbox — no great logic leap there).

Probably the most galling claim: The next Xbox will require you be connected to the Internet at all times to eliminate (or at least mitigate) piracy. That’s similar to rumors about the next PlayStation, which also reportedly requires an online connection to play games. Rub you the wrong way? Me too, though that’s my knee-jerk reaction to a clearly simplistic rumor. No doubt the actual mechanic, assuming any of this is even true, would be more nuanced, perhaps involving select games, or merely as an initial authentication process comparable to the one used by PC service Steam, which itself includes an offline access mode.

Always-on connections are problematic because not everyone wants to play World of Warcraft or Call of Duty-whatever in multiplayer mode. That, and even a relatively well-covered country like the U.S. has gaping Internet access holes (much of northwestern Iowa, for starters, speaking from firsthand experience). And the Internet’s topology is still far less dependable in terms of all the potentially service-derailing usage scenarios than, say, your phone landline or cable TV connection. Would you buy a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone if the only way you could game with it was having a persistent Internet connection? What if you lose your connection mid-game? What if you want to play at a remote lakeside cabin with slow, dodgy satellite (or heaven forbid, dial-up) access while on vacation?

Depend on none of this information: To the extent any of it’s true, it just means we’re in for a lively debate about what rights consumers ought to have (or retain) as we shift from localized application execution and control to cloud- and subscription-based services.

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