Microsoft has revealed the guts of Project Scorpio, its next Xbox, and it’s a lot of numbers and neat technology. But questions still linger around the project, not the least of which is just what role Scorpio has, exactly.
If nothing else, Microsoft was shooting straight when it said it was making the most powerful gaming console in history. Project Scorpio has a 1172MHz custom GPU, a CPU with cores 31% faster than the Xbox One, a substantial RAM upgrade, and vapor-cooling technology mostly seen on custom gaming PCs. What’s caught the attention of some is that Microsoft is sticking with Jaguar, AMD’s microarchitecture from 2013, which likely will help with the backwards compatibility. The back of the console will be just like the Xbox One S, so all this power will be flowing largely out of an HDMI port, although Microsoft claims Scorpio can run 1080p games in 4K without compromises or the extensive patching of the PS4 Pro.
The numbers and the tech are impressive, although Microsoft isn’t discussing price just yet. But at the same time, it’s pretty clear clock cycles don’t matter in the console market. The PS4 Pro is similarly aimed at a 4K, graphics-fan market, and it’s hardly selling at the same rate as its little brother. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch, which has pretty good graphics for a tablet but is hardly a bulldozer, sold 1.5 million units in its first week despite repeated problems with the dock, and Nintendo is rumored to have already doubled its orders to 20 million by the end of 2017.
In general, the 4K push reflects a problem in video game console engineering, which is that everybody has an enormous living room with an equally enormous television in it. They don’t, and the fact that we mostly buy smaller TVs and sit about ten feet away from them to watch and play means a 4K television is effectively useless. Yes, there will always be people who claim they can tell the difference, but what’s more likely: Thousands of gamers have hawk-like visual perception? Or thousands of gamers are lying to themselves to justify an expensive TV?
Weirdly, Microsoft’s already run into this problem with the Kinect. And, to be fair, if it has an aspirations to make the HoloLens a household item, they’ll need a powerful Xbox in the living room. But right now, it’s not clear just what need the Scorpio fills, beyond the need of being really cool.