At E3 2016, Microsoft officially announced Project Scorpio, a 4K ready upgrade to the existing Xbox One console. Project Scorpio was rumored to be much more powerful than the existing Xbox One and competes directly with Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, which is also a more powerful iteration on the PS4. Up until recently, the only real information Microsoft released was that Scorpio would be capable of native 4K gaming (versus the upscaling that PS4 Pro does) and that all Xbox One games would still work on it. In early April, Digital Foundry was given an exclusive look at Scorpio and finally released some major tech specifications and details about the new console. Many people (including Microsoft itself) have speculated that perhaps this is the end of traditional console generations. Traditionally in the console gaming world, a new console has been released every 7-8 years. For example, the original PlayStation was released in 1995, the PS2 was released in 2000, the PS3 was released in 2006, and finally the PS4 was released in 2013. However, with both Xbox One and PS4 switching to generally off the shelf PC components instead of customized chipsets, both consoles seem to be obviating the need for a complete redesign. The trend seems to be leaning towards the PC gaming model where hardware is simply upgraded to more powerful components to run newer games while still being backwards compatible with older games. The ongoing effort by Microsoft to make Xbox 360 games playable on the Xbox One and Sony’s streaming gaming service PlayStation Now show that backwards compatibility is definitely a need. Along with Microsoft’s Xbox Play Anywhere program, Microsoft is clearly trying to use Project Scorpio to leverage the strengths of their Windows platform and the PC gaming community. Here are three things you need to know about Project Scorpio:
To say that Project Scorpio is the most powerful gaming console ever is an understatement. First, let’s get all of the techie stuff out of the way. According to Eurogamer (who owns Digital Foundry): The central processor (CPU) has eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz. The graphics processor (GPU) has 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz – a very high clock speed for a console – and it does achieve Microsoft’s stated six-teraflop performance figure. There’s 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, with a memory bandwidth of 326GB/s. There’s a faster 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive, and a UHD Blu-ray drive. Like Xbox One S, it has an integrated power supply, so no external power brick. In terms of input/output ports, it is identical to Xbox One S (so, no Kinect port, but HDMI in is retained). What all that techie jargon means is that Scorpio is about 31% faster than the current gen Xbox One and can most certainly play all or most games at native 4K resolution. Microsoft showed Digital Foundry a stress test on the Scorpio using the Forza Motorsport game engine. The Scorpio was able to breeze through the test. Microsoft then upped the graphics settings to the PC equivalent of “Ultra” settings and it still smashed the test with performance to spare. It even kept a steady 60 frames per second which is the holy grail of performance.
All current and future Xbox One games will be compatible with Scorpio. The increasing library of backwards compatible Xbox 360 games will also work on Scorpio. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is envisioning the future of Xbox One similar to PC gaming. Any modern gaming PC can play every single game that has ever come out for PC (on Windows at least). Microsoft is aiming for that level of backwards compatibility in the future. Imagine it’s the year 2030 and you really want some old school Gears of War action. Theoretically you should be able to pop in a copy of Gears of War Remastered and play it just fine. Nintendo has shown with the recently discontinued NES Classic that people love playing older games.
Is It Better Than PS4 Pro?
Yes. Yes it is. Now to be fair, the PS4 Pro is a powerful machine in its own right and many games such as Horizon Zero Dawn can take advantage of the more extra power to improve performance or graphics. However, as far as console gaming, the Scorpio is in a league of its own. While the PS4 Pro can *technically* output games at 4K, it uses upscaling techniques such as checkerboard rendering to output games to 4K. The Scorpio is capable of native 4K gaming which is much more impressive. As a point of comparison, native 4K gaming on PC requires a high end graphics card such as the NVIDIA GTX 1080. Therefore, the fact that a console is able to produce this much performance is amazing.
The Elephant In The Room
Obviously, all of that power means nothing if there aren’t any good games to play on the Scorpio. In fact, the cancellation of several Xbox One exclusive titles such as Scalebound and Fable Legends have hampered Microsoft’s ability to secure exclusive games. Meanwhile, Sony has been killing it with titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata, Gravity Rush 2, Uncharted 4, and Nioh. Even with multiplatform franchises such as Call of Duty are releasing downloadable content (DLC) first on PS4. Microsoft is hoping that developers will see the performance potential of Scorpio and develop optimized games for it. Time will tell if the Xbox One will catch up to PS4 in the exclusives but the power of Scorpio combined with Microsoft’s push in the PC gaming scene may be the incentive developers are looking for. Microsoft hasn’t yet released pricing or even the actual name of Project Scorpio. That information will most likely be announced at E3 in June or perhaps an event ahead of E3.