Last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo — aka E3 — gave us a first look at some several hotly anticipated games, as well as new trailers and gameplay footage for titles that had previously been announced. From the open-world platformer ReCore to dystopian thriller We Happy Few, Microsoft’s press conference was loaded with new games and returning favorites that Xbox One owners — and Windows 10 users, thanks to Microsoft’s new Xbox Play Anywhere initiative — will undoubtedly be excited to get their hands on.
The games were just a side dish for Microsoft, though. Xbox head Phil Spencer bookended the 90-minute conference with the announcement of two new consoles, including a new Xbox One model that will be capable of streaming 4K content upon its debut. Then, after an hour of game-focused programming, Spencer returned to the stage to announce the next iteration of Xbox, codenamed Project Scorpio.
Here’s everything we know thus far.
Performance and specs
With Project Scorpio, Microsoft aims to set a new standard for console performance. The system, billed by the Xbox team as “the console [that] developers wanted us to build,” promises to deliver four times the graphical power of the current Xbox One. This power — which should allow the console to run games at higher resolutions with better framerates — is measured in teraflops, of which Scorpio supposedly boasts six, a number that has been further validated by a report from Eurogamer detailing a white paper sent to developers shortly after E3. A teraflop is essentially a measure of graphical potential, which is largely dependent upon the console’s GPU. According to the white paper, the Scorpio’s GPU is around 4.5 times more powerful than the Xbox One.
The Scorpio, confirmed to use an as-of-yet unreleased AMD GPU, should feature four times as many shaders per compute unit than its predecessor, which, in turn, should render the console capable of running games in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second.
— AMD (@AMD) June 13, 2016
As outlined in the white paper, the GPU’s performance will match the AMD’s Polaris line at the very least, and it’s expected to to be custom to the Scorpio. Because all games released on Scorpio must be available on Xbox One and Xbox One S, games may not inevitably reach higher frame rates on Scorpio. According to the white paper, the GPU element speed doubles, but Microsoft has told developers to use the boost as they please. The extra GPU could translate to better shadows, textures, and other minor elements that could add up to make a big difference in presentation. The hardware will make it possible for developers to upscale frame rates if they please.
In an interview with USA Today, Microsoft Studios Publishing General Manager Shannon Loftis said that first-party games launching alongside Scorpio will run at a native 4K resolution, instead of being upscaled.
“Any games we’re making that we’re launching in the Scorpio time frame, we’re making sure they can natively render at 4K,” Loftis said. This may be true for first-party titles, but according to the white paper, it may not always be the case with third-party games. Increased compute power via eight CPU cores makes upscaling 1080p to 4K readily accessible, but since developers have to release their games on Xbox One as well, they might not want to allocate GPU to higher pixel counts. Microsoft is asking developers to use dynamic resolution scaling, which fluctuates based on how much power is exerted by the GPU.
The Scorpio will also abandon ESRAM, which worked with DDR3 to process data in the Xbox One. Instead, the console will feature GDDR5 memory: While the exact amount hasn’t been confirmed, the motherboard appears to support 12 GB based on the white paper’s projected 320 GB/s bandwidth, which greatly surpasses the system memory speed of the Xbox One.
If this all sounds rather abstruse, that’s because it is. Despite Project Scorpio’s appearance in the coveted final slot of Microsoft’s press conference at E3, few details or specifications have been officially announced. Much of what we know comes from the information sent to developers in the white paper, and even that dates back to E3. The six-teraflop figure was thrown around quite a bit by Phil Spencer & Co., but it’s still unclear how the console will reach that level of computing power. Team Xbox was fairly transparent about the fact that gamers without a 4K television shouldn’t spend their money on the ultra-powerful Scorpio, but how many gamers do own a 4K TV?
Spencer also made it clear that Scorpio is intended to exist alongside Xbox One and Xbox One S — and that all games will be available for each console — but it appears developers might be forced to choose which platform their game is optimized for. Do they design a graphically superior title for Scorpio and hope that enough gamers are willing to pony up the cash, or do they settle for a game made to perform well on Xbox One that simply upscales when played on the Scorpio? From the white paper, it appears that it’s entirely up to the developer what they wish to do with the additional power.