The Xbox 720 rumor mill starts a-churning again now that it's 2013. The latest Xbox 720 rumor comes courtesy of Microsoft's own Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb. Major Nelson is the Microsoft Director of Programming for Xbox Live, and runs a pretty nifty blog about the goings on in the Microsoft gamin 'verse. A recent post contains a countdown clock to the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles. Speculation from speculators is that the countdown clock is a bona fide hint that the Xbox 720 will debut at E3. What other reason would Microsoft have for hyping the conference so early in the year, unless it was to build excitement for a major announcement? And, unless the Kinect is getting some sort of sexual robotic hose attachment, that announcement is likely for the Xbox 720.
(Gizmodo is reporting that the Xbox 720 will NOT have the '720' attached and will be known simply as Xbox. As someone who will be trafficking in the next gen console rumor mill, this would be a devastating blow to SEO efficiency. Xbox rumors? Xbox release date? BLECH. Where's the tangy zip?)
In addition to the E3 debut rumors, there is a bevy of other whisperings about what the Xbox 720 will include. Chief among them is inclusion of a Blu-Ray player, clearly a case of Microsoft doing what the 'other guy' is doing. For now, Playstation 4 rumors aren't as firm as the Xbox 720 rumors, in part because of a report from tech site SemiAccurate that detailed Microsoft's efforts to manufacture enough core processor chips, named the 'Oban,' if they wanted to secure a 2013 holiday release. According to the September report, it's not going well. OXM explains the problem that "for every wafer, or sheet of silicon chips, created, only a tiny percentage are actually usable. Think of it like a sheet of baseball cards. If one sheet makes 30 cards, but only one card comes out without any issues or defects, that's a bit of a problem."
Beyond the 'Oban' chip, the Xbox 720 rumors include predictions for a few other specs. Patent filings made by Microsoft seem to indicate that the Xbox 720 will use an improved Kinect-ish device and two CPUs, one for gaming and one for multimedia tasks. There is also talk of how the company will incorporate Xbox SmartGlass into the next gen console. Given the look of the Wii U controller, don't be surprised if the Xbox 720 has a controller with an embedded touch screen. The Xbox SmartGlass component could be used as an all-in-one remote that incorporates television, gaming and web browsing through the Xbox 720. And since Microsoft just acquired home automation company id8 Group R2 Studios, the all-in-one Xbox SmartGlass could also control home lighting, thermostats and security systems, too.
What about the hardware? Any Xbox 720 rumors about what's going on under the hood? Again, nothing official from Microsoft, but analysts are anticipating that the Xbox 720 would have at least 8 GB of RAM and four hardware cores. Considering that the Xbox 360 currently runs on a (rather paltry) 512 MB of RAM, 8 GB would be a monster improvement. Given the high cost of memory, 8 GB has some speculating that the final price point for the Xbox 720 will be in the $500-$700 range.
Xbox 720 rumors also suggest that the device will have a few features in the 'cool gadget' department, including an 'always on' mode, energy-saving functions during media playback, true 1080 support with 3D capability and PVR functionality that will let you record TV onto the Xbox 720.
What I find particularly exciting about the next gen Xbox, be it the 720 or 'just Xbox,' is seeing how Microsoft is going to incorporate all of the technological advancements that have occurred since the Xbox 360 was released in 2005. This was a time when flip-phones were all the rage. (Seriously, just look at this article of the best phones in 2005 to get a sense for how far we've come in the last eight years.) Even the 360 specs are pathetic compared with modern smartphones. I can't believe my Samsung Galaxy S3 has double the RAM of my Xbox 360. (Can Android run Skyrim? Is anyone working on this?!?)
Just looking at the game forecast for 2013 gives a sense that developers are on the fence waiting for the 720, too. Other than GTA V, there aren't a lot of big ticket franchise games on the schedule. Halo 5 will be on the next Xbox. So will the next Elder Scrolls game, and ditto for Borderlands.
And, as someone who got a 360 launch system, I am inevitably worried about the bugginess of the new console. Will it have a red ring of death situation? Will it be plagued by a lack of quality titles? These are the kind of questions that only Microsoft can answer.
Hopefully the answers start at this year's E3 conference.