Last week, Microsoft held an Xbox Spring update for journalists on 25 February, an event set to give everyone an idea of how things were going to roll for the next quarter. Only press were invited and a lot of hands-on time was scheduled with new games set to launch very soon. During the keynote for the event, head of all things Xbox, Phil Spencer, hinted that the console could see some hardware upgrades in the near future. It’s been hinted at before that, thanks to the standard off-the-shelf hardware used in the current generation of consoles, hardware upgrades to new, more powerful silicon, is possible without breaking backwards compatibility. Hearing Spencer talk publicly about the possibility is possibly the first sign that we’re actually going to see this happen.
“We see on other platforms whether it be mobile or PC that you get a continuous innovation that you rarely see on console,” said Spencer. “Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger. And then you wait for the next big step.”
“When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen. You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform,” he added.
Consoles in previous years have always had the benefit of upgrading the internal hardware, but this has always been for the purposes of lowering costs, optimising heat generation and airflow, or giving consumers new video outputs to better fit the kinds of displays they’re being connected to. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 went through a raft of architectural changes as well, eventually moving the graphics and chipset on-die with the CPU, effectively making the world’s first System-on-Chip device available to consumers.
But now everyone’s asking what we could expect from an upgrade, and I think the answer is quite simple – 4K display support. If Microsoft upgrades the hardware to support HDMI 2.0 displays, then watching 4K content, or playing indie games at 4K 60Hz, or even upscaling some games to 4K 60Hz, would be possible. That, at the very least, would give people incentive to upgrade, especially if their internet is good enough to support 4K Netflix playback. The Xbox One currently also doesn’t support H.265 video decoding in hardware, which is another checkbox that could make people consider an upgrade.
Microsoft didn’t commit to any time frame on a possible hardware upgrade, but it’s clear that this is already part of the company’s plans to give Xbox owners more value.