Xbox Scorpio Tech Details

I’m Hank Scorpio

Eurogamer’s Richard Leadbetter has technical details of Microsoft’s goofy Project Scorpio. Unless Microsoft adds or changes something significant about the functionality of the console before it is launched, it just means a more expensive and more technically powerful Xbox console:

Combining smart design with sheer horsepower, Project Scorpio hits the six-teraflop target set for it as E3 last year, thanks to a custom GPU that has been designed from the ground up for optimal performance on today’s game engines – and that runs at an unprecedentedly high clock speed for a console. The GPU is paired with 12GB of fast GDDR5 memory and a custom eight-core CPU, and the whole thing is housed in a compact body with integrated power supply and, for a console, state-of-the-art cooling.

Performance is remarkable. We saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on the machine at native 4K and Xbox One equivalent settings, and it hit 60 frames per second with a substantial performance overhead – suggesting Scorpio will hit its native 4K target across a range of content, with power to spare to spend on other visual improvements. And while 4K is the target, Microsoft is paying attention to 1080p users, promising that all modes will be available to them.

It’s interesting to me that the upgraded hardware is so similar to the Playstation 4 Pro, although the Scorpio has bigger numbers and will perform well, this re-emphasizes a theme that Microsoft has gone with since the original Xbox of promoting the technical specifications of their hardware over the games that take advantage of that hardware.

Just like with the Playstation 4 Pro, nobody should buy an Xbox until more details of the Scorpio are available like a price, a launch date, and if a game they actually want is upgraded by this hardware revision. I bet there will be a lot of used Xbox One S’, and disappointed people who bought them last year, right before this thing launches.

What a bizarre time we are in where Microsoft pre-announced the Scorpio last year before launching their Xbox One S in order to remain competitive with Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro.

Eventually, if these upgraded consoles sell well enough, it could be that new games don’t support the original revisions of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

One other point in the article I wanted to quote, talking about the upclocked CPUs of the Scorpio:

On the CPU side, there’s been much conjecture that Scorpio would feature AMD’s new Ryzen technology – something we thought unlikely, owing to manufacturing timelines, not to mention Microsoft telling us last year that the new console would feature eight CPU cores. All signs point to the upclocked Jaguar cores we find in Xbox One, and Scorpio’s CPU set-up is indeed an evolution of that tech, but subject to extensive customisation and the offloading of key tasks to dedicated hardware.

“So, eight cores, organised as two clusters with a total of 4MB of L2 cache. These are unique customised CPUs for Scorpio running at 2.3GHz. Alluding back to the goals, we wanted to maintain 100 per cent backwards compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox One S while also pushing the performance envelope,” says Nick Baker.

I don’t for a second believe that Microsoft couldn’t upgrade the architecture of the Xbox and retain backwards compatibility. Even if AMD’s new Ryzen platform introduced new CPU instruction, it would still have the old ones. This isn’t like going from a Power PC to x86 processor, or even as big as the 32bit to 64bit, change.

It reminds me of the time when I was still listening to Larry Hryb’s podcast where he and his guests were talking about HDMI and saying that it wasn’t an upgrade over component cables before the 360 had HDMI connections.

In this case it isn’t clear if the idea is a miscommunication of Leadbetter’s or that Baker actually was responding to a question about Ryzen and Leadbetter should have called it out, either way it is total bullshit and stymies an otherwise fine article.

Speaking of things that should have been called out, there is also this choice quote:

During his presentation, Del Castillo literally constructed a pre-production Project Scorpio unit in front of us. Bearing in mind the advanced manufacturing techniques on show here, there’s a very simple, elegant, modular design that makes the most of the space. We saw the hard drive fit into place on dampeners designed to absorb vibration, reducing error rates in and ensuring optimal data throughput.

You know what’s really elegant? Not using a spinning-disk hard drive with fragile platters in 2017. Nobody buys a computer with those anymore. They only continue to persist in consoles. Nothing is advanced or elegant about dampening the vibrations of an old hard drive. It will be a real upgrade when we can get to solid-state drives everywhere.

Xbox Game Pass Announced

Microsoft recently announced their Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

Most people are comparing it to a Netflix for games, it’s not a bad comparison excepting that while Netflix streams, the games with Microsoft’s service will download to an Xbox One.

The selection of games available will be pretty small, “over 100” when the service becomes available later this spring for $10 a month. The games will change every month, and once the game is cycled out you lose access to it. You do get a discount for purchases of games in the Game Pass library. The Xbox Game Pass games are mostly older from the Xbox One and 360, no real newer options though there isn’t a final list of what will be available.

There’s nothing exactly comparable to this from Sony, their Playstation Now service on the PS4 and Windows is $15 a month at its cheapest (3 month subscription), only streams older Playstation 3 games. The PlayStation 4 has no backwards compatibility with the PS3 otherwise.

Both Microsoft and Sony include “free” games every month with the subscription they charge for online play. I dropped my Xbox Gold subscription because I wasn’t playing online regularly, and the games they were offering weren’t as good as the Playstation Plus games.

Nintendo is going to include free games with their online service for the Switch, but final pricing is unknown, and they’ll all be swapped out every month.

There’s nothing at all like it from Valve on Steam or Windows, though the third-party Humble Bundle has a monthly subscription for $12 that acts like a blind box. Subscribing to that only gives you access to the next month’s games.

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. Games are different from movies, you might take more than a month to play through something and even some games could stick around for multiple months you might be coming up on the end of the month wondering if the one you’re playing is going to cycle out.

Xbox One S: The Upgrade Nobody Should Buy

Daniel Perez hasn’t given a final verdict yet, but has a review in-progress of the new Xbox One S that is out today:

When the original Xbox One was revealed, there was quite the uproar as to its size and design. Microsoft didn’t change the overall shape of the Xbox One S, but what it did change makes it look less like my grandmother’s VCR. It’s smaller, white, and offers an interesting use of textures to various parts of its body. While the holes located at the front of the console appear to be for aesthetics, the holes surrounding its perimeter are obviously for venting purposes as I can spot smaller vents that aim directly into them.

It also finally did away with the infamous Xbox power brick as its power supply has been squeezed into the new console’s body. Without a power brick to weigh it down, the Xbox One S feels more portable than ever when combined with its reduction in size and weight. It also has done away with a dedicated Kinect port, which we’re sure won’t surprise many considering how Microsoft has been slowly steering away from motion-based gaming.

It also displays 4K UHD Blu-ray discs as well as upscaling games and other videos to 4K if you have the appropriate display. It sounds like a good upgrade, until you realize that the other new Xbox, codenamed Scorpio, will be out next year with a healthier tech upgrade that actually has more powerful guts than this Xbox One S.

Microsoft Xbox E3 2015 News

Watching the Xbox press briefing this morning. Here’s what got announced:

  • Stop saying IP. Holy crap that terminology is dumb.
  • Halo 5 has 12 v 12 multiplayer that looks like battlefield and what looks like 4 player co-op.
  • Something new from the folks behind Metroid Prime but it was just a trailer instead of gameplay footage. Robots and power spheres in the desert called ReCore.
  • Xbox One, like the 360, will have limited backwards compatibility with some Xbox 360 games. There’s a list of 100 games that’ll be available later this year. People on the invite-only dashboard preview program can get access to some of them today. More games will be added later on until Microsoft stops caring and they have already put the onus on developers/publishers to approve their games for backwards compatibility during the conference.
  • Fallout 4 mods will work on the Xbox One at no cost. Fallout 4 comes out this November.
  • Xbox One Elite controller, it’s customizable, changeable parts, paddles and extra buttons on the back.
  • Electronic Arts’ Access Vault garbage having more games available. Access Vault is EA’s subscription thing ($5/month) where you get early access to games via download.
  • Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
  • An advertisement for a new Ford car preceded a Forza Motorsport 6 reel.
  • Dark Souls III. Early 2016.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: The Division beta this December exclusively for Xbox.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Vegas 1 & 2 backwards compatibility this December. They’re free if you buy The Division. I loved Vegas 1 & 2.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Seige comes out October 15th.
  • Tacoma from Fullbright looks awesome. Timed exclusive for Xbox and Windows. No specific date but out in 2016.
  • Ashen, not Ashens.
  • Beyond Eyes, Summer 2015. It’s a third person game.
  • Cuphead, 2D platformer that looks like the original Mickey Mouse and old Betty Boop cartoons. Exclusive. 2016.
  • Unfinished games come to Xbox with Game Preview. It’s Microsoft’s answer to Steam’s Early Access. Each game will have some kind of free trial version. The Long Dark, Sheltered, Elite: Dangerous, DayZ are the first announced games for it. All are already on Steam. Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark will be available later today.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider, end of the year. Xbox exclusive. Pre-order now to commit your money before you know if it’s any good or not.
  • The rumored Rare game collection is real. RC Pro-Am, Solar JetmanKiller-Instinct, Battletoads, Blast Corps, 30 games total. $30. It’s called Rare Reply and it’ll be out August 4th. Battletoads still sucks. No Goldeneye, no Donkey Kong Country, of course.
  • Sea of Thieves from Rare, exclusive multiplayer Pirate adventuring.
  • Fable Legends. Free2play for Windows and Xbox.
  • A bunch of VR stuff. They’re working with Valve VR as well as Oculus to display games in 2d in both headsets when streamed from an Xbox One to Windows. Mixed-reality with Microsoft’s Hololens.
  • Apparently Mojang is pronounced Mo-yang. What.
  • Hololens will work with Minecraft. It’s 2D and displayed wherever as long as you have a Hololens device. Or it can be displayed on a physical table and it’s augmented reality-ified. Nifty.
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. August 25th. Xbox One version of the first Gears. 1-week public beta starts today.
  • New Gears of War. Looks good. Dark. Seems less bro-ver-the-top. It’s just called Gears 4. Late 2016.
  • There’s a new Xbox One UI coming.
  • I just got an e-mail from the Elite: Dangerous developer, Frontier, encouraging me to buy Elite for the Xbox One with a £5 gift code for the Elite store if I do. I don’t really see any reason why I would do that when I  have it on my computer and can display that on my TV with a long HDMI cable and a wireless controller. Or a Steam Link. Or a Steam Machine.
  • No Call of Duty at this event, no mention of Xbox on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 banner outside the E3 building.

That’s it.

TurtleBeach EarForce PX21 Review

Console gaming headsets are in a weird place. On one hand, they’re relatively cheap and plentiful. On the other hand, that low price point means the drivers inside aren’t great. Hardware manufacturers like to cover this up with bass response, the PX21 set is no exception.

Though I don’t think you can even find a headset for consoles that doesn’t color the output, it isn’t any excuse for making cheap junk.

The big downsides are often similar across manufactures and models, comfort for extended sessions and quality.

TurtleBeach’s PX21 headset looks fine on paper, it has a great mic that is super-flexible, and is the first headset from TurtleBeach to support the PS3. It also supports the 360 and PC gaming.

The immediate downside is simple.

There is a terrible hissing noise.

You can minimize it by swapping out the included red/white RCA bypass jacks for going straight to your TV or hi-fi tuner setup’s headphone audio out jack, and then adjusting that system’s volume up. Then you turn the volume down on the PX 21’s built-in amp.

But that still doesn’t eliminate the hiss, and it is extremely annoying during any part of a game that has quiet spots.

Games with quiet spots are why I own a PS3, I don’t play just shooters; I play games like Heavy Rain and I don’t want the quiet points in games to be marred by the ear-piercing whine these produce. Even the recent Red Dead Redemption sounds like crap and gives me a headache due to this headset’s hissing noise.

Of course to hook them up they need to be plugged into the PS3 (or other device) via USB for power. On the 360 you’ve got a special bypass cable to chat through the controller. On the PS3 the connection is simpler since the chat audio goes straight through the USB cable.

This means the headset is really mixing two inputs, the game connection over the RCA (or headphone jack)  input and the chat audio over the USB wire or the supplied 360 bypass cable.

This design of two mixed inputs is either brilliant or stupid. Brilliant because it works around every situation you might want to use it in, stupid because the hardware TurtleBeach has chosen is so cheap it can’t really give you a clean sound.

The PX21 headset is otherwise extremely lightweight & comfortable. It also covers the technical bases of supporting the PS3, 360, and PC gaming. I hope TurtleBeach will go back to the drawing board to design a headset that doesn’t hiss, even if it means raising the price slightly. Maybe in some magical laboratory somewhere these things don’t hiss, but other reviews corroborate my testimony. As it is I cannot recommend this headset unless you only play loud games that have little-to-no quiet points, like Modern Warfare 2.

Even then you should keep your receipt, I returned the PX21 headset to Best Buy after just 24 hours.

Metal Wolf Intermission

After the break witness Metal Wolf Chaos, the finest XBox 1 exclusive, and bizarrely never released here. I played this one during my time as a microsoft tester. I wish they would bring it out on the XBox originals function of the XBL marketplace, at least.

Continue reading “Metal Wolf Intermission”