The Xbox TV, Xbox 720 and Project Durango take shape, the 50 shades of Microsoft Xbox…

Like 50 shades of porn for gamers Microsoft continues to drip feed the rumour mill details of their future Xbox consoles. Via websites The Verge and Xbox World new rumours reveal the hardware specifications of two Xbox models.

Microsoft appears to have far grander aspirations than simply controlling the console market. Far more than a gaming console Microsoft is building an entire home entertainment eco-system. Xbox Live is now the gateway to Microsoft’s entertainment empire, getting people in the door, logged on, is the new ratings war.

All of the information available so far suggests the Xbox 720 is central to the new media empire. A brave new world of tightly integrated gadgets that requires the 720 to be far more than a mere console. In the future it may be known as an entertainment server, delivering all of your electronic entertainment needs.

Project Durango

Xbox Live, 10 years on.

As more details of Project Durango appear an image takes shape, the big picture is massive. Durango encompasses far more than a single next generation console; a next generation entertainment eco-system is probably a more apt description. Pushing the gaming console paradigm towards entertainment is no easy feat. With the integrations of many devices into the eco-system, from smartphones and tablets to the living room TV Microsoft is preparing to connect them all to the Xbox.

Project Durango changes the console paradigm by borrowing from the PC world. The consoles will use AMD’s crossfire technology to allow various configurations to be built around a single chipset.  A lower end Xbox TV will run solely off the integrated graphics while a high end console will include a more powerful dedicated graphics chip with its own memory.

Virtual desktop technology will be applied to remote devices connecting to the Xbox, allowing devices such as a tablet to watch a movie while the Xbox continues playing a game on the living room TV and music is served up for the kitchen; a true next generation media hub.

Integration of all of these devices into the Xbox eco-system is already well underway, with the SmartGlass app integrating touch screen devices into the eco-system, with the app able to turn a tablet into a secondary screen and controller for the Xbox.

Project Durango also stretches out passed the new hardware, wrapping these new consoles in software and content all delivered seamlessly through Xbox Live.

Xbox 720 mock-up

Xbox 720
The top end Xbox 720 console in the Xbox family will replace the current Xbox 360 as the console gaming center-piece of the Microsoft entertainment world. Based on an as yet unannounced AMD chipset the 720 will also include a dedicated graphics processor to ensure gaming performance. Using the technology already integrated into Windows 8 it is even possible for Microsoft to use the GPU built into the chipset to run the graphics for multiple external devices, while the dedicated GPU keeps the living room TV running at full speed.

Multi-tasking is essential to this brave new world, with both GPU’s busy filling the many screens of your household there is still content to be downloaded, Facebook updates to collect. Luckily AMD’s Piledrive CPU’s excel at multitasking with the ability to run up to 8 threads or tasks.

A new revolutionary Xbox controller is also rumoured to be in the works for the 720. With the button layout staying very similar to the current controller Microsoft will use other new design features to re-invent the controller. A new sleek design along with an integrated touch screen LCD is top of the list for new features.

Xbox TV
The Xbox TV will be the budget member of the Xbox family, priced at $99 this will be a as simple as Xbox’s get, a CPU in a box. A device for casual gamers and those that are more interested in media playback than gaming.  The Xbox TV is being designed as an always on gadget that powers up instantly. There will be no internal storage, no hard drive to boot from, only a small amount of flash to hold the operating system and applications along with the AMD APU and some RAM.

As a cheap media device the Xbox TV also opens the interesting option of having the XBox 720 as your media hub in the living room with Xbox TV’s connected to the other displays around the house; an Xbox for every TV. The integrated WiFi also extends this concept out to tablets, smartphone’s, TV’s and PC’s.With every LCD becoming an Xbox SmartTV.

In Australia Xbox owners are already able to download a Foxtel cable TV client which makes available 20+ channels of cable TV. This is one of the interesting possibilities for the future of Xbox. Integrating cable TV has always been a difficult task for a home entertainment system, with various pass through options often being the best in a group of not so great choices. The Xbox is Foxtel without the Foxbox.

Microsoft may be preparing to make a major assault on the living room with domination in mind. Many industries are being drawn into Microsoft’s web, deals are being made with media companies, software is being developed and Xbox Live is going through rapid evolution. Combined with hardware to cater for every gadget and gaming category (PC, console, tablet and handheld via Smartphone) and the software to integrate all f them into one media and gaming system they may actually have a chance at succeeding.

Microsoft is expected to formalize their plans with the March 2013 announcement, in the build up to the launch of multiple shades of Xbox during the second half of 2013. A year that is quickly looking to be a make or break year for Microsoft.