Microsoft's follow-up to the Xbox 360, currently code named 'Durango,' will likely be unveiled on May 21 at a "small venue" with a focus on initial details and a 2013 company roadmap, sources tell The Verge. Because this May event is only one month from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June, its likely Microsoft won't actually show the physical console and will instead focus on hardware specs, social and online gaming features and a timeline for release. Perhaps most important, there's no word on whether Microsoft will require always-on Internet connectivity to use the the new platform.
Putting aside the decision to keep the event small, this move appears to parrot the steps taken by Sony in February when it unveiled the PlayStation 4 at an extravagant showing in New York City. Company executives spent a lot of time talking PlayStation philosophy but never displayed a physical console. With E3 right around the corner, Microsoft has no reason to jump the gun either.
In another move seemingly cribbed from Sony, Microsoft is reportedly outfitting the new Xbox with an AMD x86 chip, giving it a PC architecture that will not play old games. Other notable specs rumored for the new console include a 1.6GHz 8-core CPU, 8GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive.
Always-Online Rumors Take Center Stage
More pressing than any hardware spec, confirmed launch title or release date is the rumor that Microsoft will bake in so called "always-online functionality" to its new Xbox. Always-online functionality would require players to maintain an active Internet connection at all times just to use the new console.
The benefits of this are unclear - at least for players - while the negatives have been argued time and again and even displayed in real-time with debacles like Electronic Arts' SimCity launch disaster, which has contributed to the game publisher reaching the finals of The Consumerist's Worst Company In America Poll for the second year in a row.
It's hard to imagine Microsoft thinks it can get away with enforcing such a monumental shift on Xbox players. By restricting console use to the quality and reliability of the players' Internet connections, Microsoft would make players beholden to company servers and whatever digital content management restrictions publishers decide to impose.
Such a move would be a disaster waiting to happen, though it illustrates the contentious future of an industry stuck in a constant in a tug-of-war between big gaming companies and committed, tech-savvy gamers. If Microsoft is smart, it will keep quiet in May on the always-online rumors, but even that won't soothe the angry mob.
Image of current Xbox suite courtesy of Microsoft.