Microsoft is reportedly preparing a brace of hardware options for 2020, including a new standalone Xbox console — call it Xbox Next, since the company’s numbering scheme is tied to phases of the moon, astrological signs, and where LeBron James is playing (as near as we can tell). But there’s also talk of a new streaming platform and a few new details on this system have trickled out. Both systems are codenamed Scarlett — the name refers to a family of products — but we’re focused on the streaming system today.
Scarlett Cloud as one person called it, is the game streaming service that we have all been envisioning ever since Microsoft showed off a demo game streaming at its all-employee meeting back in 2013. But this time, Microsoft has a path to bring it to market.
The second ‘console’ that the company is working on is a lower-powered device that is currently planned to ship with the next generation device that is designed for game-streaming. But the catch here is that Microsoft thinks it has figured out how to handle the latency sensitive aspects of gaming.
The cloud console will have a limited amount of compute locally for specific tasks like controller input, image processing, and importantly, collision detection. The downside of this is that it since more hardware is needed locally, it will raise the price of the streaming box but it will still cost significantly less than what we are accustomed to paying for a new-generation console which should help expand the platform’s reach.
This just isn’t a crazy idea. In fact, it sounds like a buffed up version of what we do already, with client-server synchronization models. Instead of streaming a literal H.265 game stream and playing it back through a video decoder with handheld controller support (which is what you basically need for a streaming solution), Microsoft wants to do some processing locally while handing off the rest to the remote servers. It’s not even clear how much GPU horsepower this kind of console would need. “Image processing” could refer to CPU-based post-processing and collision detection and controller support are also obviously handled on the GPU.
We’re not suggesting that the console wouldn’t have a GPU, just that it might not need all that much hardware in comparison with the “premium” offering. The idea here is that part of the game code would be running locally and part remotely, with backend servers stitching the two together. Calling this an AI or ML-driven task may be a stretch — it’s certainly possible that we’ll see brands dive to rebrand everything with “AI” the same way cloud computing pushed firms to suddenly discover cloud-related tie-ins they could leverage for brand management — but it’s also possible that Microsoft has ideas for this process that would qualify it as AI/ML. And all Scarlett games will run on all Scarlett devices. There’s no chance of MS fielding a title that only works on the offline version of the console.
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