It sure is a weird time to be a console gamer. The Xbox One only launched about two and a half years ago, but, just like the PS4, it may see a significant hardware refresh as soon as this year. On top of that, we may soon see a new family of streaming-centric Xbox machines designed to take on Apple TV. It's too early to tell whether the next Xbox will be a 4K-ready powerhouse or simply a slimmed-down redesign, but here's everything we've heard so far.
Hardware: Slim Redesign This Year, VR-Ready Powerhouse in 2017
Xbox chief Phil Spencer first sparked the conversation about an upgraded Xbox One in early March, when he vaguely stated that "you'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation" at a Microsoft event attended by Polygon. Spencer seemed to hint that the company's next console could be a more powerful machine that still runs the core Xbox One software, allowing you to still play all of the games you currently own.
A recent Kotaku report from May contains a ton of potential evidence in favor of an upgraded Xbox. According to sources close to Microsoft, the next Xbox is codenamed Scorpio and will launch in 2017 with a stronger GPU capable of supporting the Oculus Rift. Microsoft is reportedly seeking a partnership with the Facebook-owned VR company -- no big surprise, as Microsoft's Xbox One controller already comes bundled with every Oculus Rift headset.
Speaking of the Rift, the official E3 website may have inadvertently leaked the next Xbox's VR capabilities. As pointed out by NEOGaf user Obliterator, E3 exhibitors such as Rebellion, Maximum Games, 3DRudder and Readily all have "Virtual Reality > Xbox One" listed under their product categories.
These reports line up with Spencer's recent words on his vision of the next Xbox. Speaking to Game Informer in April, Spencer said "I'm not a big fan of Xbox One and a half. If we're going to move forward, I want to move forward in big numbers."
But before Scorpio arrives, you may see a slimmed-down Xbox One by the end of the year that packs a larger 2TB hard drive (the Xbox One currently maxes out at 1TB). The refreshed Xbox One could be announced as soon as this E3 in June.
Multiple New Xbox Machines to Take on Apple TV, Chromecast
While many are expecting a successor to the Xbox One, the next piece of Xbox hardware may end up being a more modest streaming media machine. On his latest podcast, noted Microsoft scoop-er Brad Sams claimed that Microsoft has multiple new Xbox machines in the works, including a small Chromecast-esque streaming stick and a "lunchbox-sized" Xbox Mini that would take on the likes of Roku and Apple TV. The latter machine, Sams said, will likely be able to play lightweight games from the Windows Store, but not triple-A titles like Quantum Break and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
According to Sams, Microsoft may be looking to once again offer an affordable, streaming-friendly device to fill the void left by the recently discontinued Xbox 360. He claims that the streaming stick will likely sell for close to $100, while the Xbox Mini will cost between $150 and $175.
Sams also claims that Microsoft is looking into bringing 4K media playback to Xbox One, but not necessarily 4K gaming. Of course, none of this has been confirmed by Microsoft, but considering that Sams successfully scooped the announcement of the Elite Wireless Controller last year (as well as a handful of big Windows reveals), his reports have some credibility to them.
Project Helix: Merging Windows 10 and Xbox One
A recent report from Thurrott suggests that Microsoft will unveil "new hardware" at E3, though not necessarily a new console. The company is expected to reveal a new controller (Microsoft debuted its premium Elite Wireless Controller at last year's E3), which may retain the current gamepad's core design while possibly introducing a new color.
Thurrott's report also vaguely states that "the company is exploring new interactions between the PC and the Xbox One." You can already stream Xbox One games to your PC — perhaps Microsoft will soon let you do the reverse. After all, Spencer did say that PC-to-Xbox streaming would eventually arrive last summer.
Speaking of Windows 10 interactivity, Sams noted on the above podcast that Microsoft may be looking to make the Xbox interface available on Windows 10. This makes a ton of sense for folks who use their Windows PCs as living room entertainment machines, and want a more intuitive UI for browsing apps and movies.
This information lines up with Kotaku's reporting on Project Helix, which sources say is Microsoft's new initiative to bring the majority of its flagship titles to both Xbox and Windows 10. Titles such as Quantum Break and Killer Instinct are already playable between both platforms, and now that Halo 5's map-making Forge tool is coming to Windows 10, it seems like only a matter of time until the core Halo series hits PC.
Price and Release Date
If Microsoft does have a new Xbox up its sleeve, it could show its face as soon as E3 2016 in June. A series of purported FCC filings discovered by NEOGaf user ekim show what could be a model number for a refreshed Xbox One. Several of the NDAs discovered in these filings expire on June 25, which is just days after Microsoft's E3 press conference on June 13.
This lines up with the aforementioned Kotaku report, which says to expect a slimmer Xbox One with more storage to debut at this year's E3. You may have to wait until 2017 for the more significantly upgraded model, which is reportedly codenamed Scorpio.
There's currently no estimated price for the next Xbox, though Sony's upgraded PS4 (codenamed Neo) is rumored to sell for $399. That price makes sense for a half-step upgrade, though the next Xbox could potentially cost more if it ends up being significantly more powerful than the current Xbox One.
What We Want: Virtual Reality and A Slimmer Look
With PlayStation VR arriving this October, it's imperative for Xbox to have some sort of equivalent for virtual reality enthusiasts. Fortunately, Microsoft already teams up with the biggest name in the game: Oculus. Every Rift headset comes with an Xbox One controller, and you can stream Xbox One games to the Rift and play them in a virtual theater view.
However, if the next Xbox is powerful enough, it could potentially provide the same immersive Oculus Rift experience that you'd get on a high-end PC. Not only would this potentially allow you to play Halo and Forza in VR, but it would also open the door for Oculus exclusives such as Lucky's Tale and The Climb to come to Xbox.
While it doesn't take priority over power, we'd love to see the Xbox One slim down. The current model is unpleasantly chunky compared to the super-slim PS4, and it's about the same size as certain compact gaming PCs that provide more power. Considering that Microsoft offered multiple slimmed-down versions of the Xbox 360, we're fairly hopeful that we'll see a skinnier Xbox One in the future.