Earlier this week gaming blog Kotaku quoted Microsoft's Shane Kim as saying that the launch of Natal, Microsoft's new controller-free motion control technology, would be as big as the launch of a console. Not surprising. That's because Natal is going to be a new console.
On this week's Listen Up podcast, 1UP discussed Natal, and how the new technology is actually the cornerstone of Microsoft's next evolution of the Xbox.
To quote: Microsoft will not only release Natal as an add-on for the Xbox 360, it will come standard with the next Xbox console. Yes, there will be a new Xbox console next fall.
However, the new console won't just be an Xbox 360 with a camera, though - we've heard it will be considered a new platform and carry a new name (Xbox Natal?). It's not clear what sort of upgrades we might see, but some have suggested it will be an slight upgrade of the current Xbox 360 technology.
Current Xbox 360 games would be playable on it, but future games would be able to take advantage of the added muscle. Similar to what we see in the PC space, games played on the more advanced Xbox would look or perform better, but publishers will still be able to support owners of both systems. Some developers have complained that they've already maxed out the Xbox 360; perhaps this will give them room to expand.
Make no mistake, we wouldn't be talking about the sort of hardware leap we've seen with Xbox (or most other) platforms in the past, and we're not talking about Microsoft ending one console cycle and starting another. We're talking about an evolution of the Xbox 360; similar hardware but upgraded, repackaged, and rebranded.
It's actually not that unlike what Nintendo did with the Wii, where it essentially took the GameCube hardware, stuck in motion controls, and successfully relaunched it. The new Xbox console is said to be aimed directly at a mainstream audience - and will launch before Nintendo is able to release its Wii HD.
What's interesting is that Nintendo and Microsoft are on a course to deliver very similar products yet are coming at them from opposite directions. Microsoft currently has the HD hardware and will in the future introduce motion controls, while Nintendo has motion controls and will in the future introduce HD hardware. Sony's PS3 will also be providing motion controls next year, though as a peripheral for its EyeToy camera.
As John Davison pointed out on the podcast, the Wii was the first console to do this, but it's likely that all future hardware will be more iterative than substantive. The distinction between new consoles will become far less marked - similar to what we've seen in the handheld space, such as with the transitions from the Game Boy to the Game Boy Advance, the DS to the DSi, or the PSP to the PSP Go.
So when would we first hear about this new Xbox console? Our sources point to next year's Game Developer's Conference as the target for its unveiling and Fall 2010 as the target for release.
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