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Xbox One designers talk shop about the console's architecture
Xbox One designers talk shop about the console's architecture
May 21, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

May 21, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Console/PC, Programming, Business/Marketing

In an Xbox Recap panel following Microsoft's official Xbox One press conference, Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb and a collection of technical specialists expounded upon the hardware and software capabilities for the upcoming console.

Much was made of the emphasis on Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service to offset the processing load on the console's five billion local transistors. "There are a growing number of transistors in the cloud that you can move the loads onto, says Microsoft software expert Boyd Multerer. "So over time, your box gets more powerful. We move loads into the cloud to free up resources on the box."

Microsoft will have more than 300,000 servers in its data centers dedicated to the Xbox One, with the ability to expand.

Also, according to hardware executive Todd Holmdahl, the cloud would allow developers to offset computations for engine physics, AI and even certain rendering.

The Kinect 2.0 sensor's capabilities have also been overhauled, says Holmdahl. The Xbox One model, which will come packaged with the main console, will accommodate up to six bodies instead of two, closer proximity to the sensor, and face recognition. The sensor is in fact touted as being so fine-tuned as being able to monitor biometrics including heartbeat, and "tell when the player is lying."

It will also, according to IGN, be integral to the functionality of the Xbox One, to such extent that the console won't work without the Kinect attached.

The GPU's variable power consumption based on processing load was also touted.

On the software side, the Xbox One will offer two parallel virtual environments, one based on the Xbox OS and the other on the Windows kernel, with a third system for flipping instantly between the two. This is where the Xbox One's eight gigabytes of RAM factors in, to accommodate this fast switching.

The panel also expounded on the press conference's idea of "dynamic" achievements, which can be modified and updated based on what players are doing. They gave the hypothetical example of adding an "arrow in the knee" achievement to Skyrim, reflecting the interests of its player base.

App and indie developers were not left entirely out of the discussion, as Holmdahl also espoused the idea of being accommodating to next-gen apps. Rather than simply integrating existing applications (as we saw with Skype in the press conference demo), Holmdahl spoke of "inviting app developers in" to develop for the Xbox One platform.

You can watch the Twitch recording of the panel in full here.

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Alan Rimkeit
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I see no specs. Why no specs Microsoft?

Eric Salmon
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"and the other on the Windows kernel"

Windows on my gaming console. Just what I wanted.


Allan Munyika
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I'm just loving all the revulsion that I'm hearing from game journos and players alike following the reveal of the new Xbox, it fascinates me how everyone is complaining about how there's "nothing new" with the next Xbox and how they didn't see anything that would make them want to buy the console when it is finally released later on this year, but I feel like they are missing the point totally, Microsoft has done their job, very well I might add. A game console if anyone cares to remember is just a hardware platform built for playing games first and multimedia second. On the core purpose of the platform I'd say MS delivered, 8GB of RAM, BluRay, and and 8 core processor are nothing to balk at, top that off with and x64 architecture and you got yourself a major leap from the previous generation. In other words all these companies have to do is make increasingly more powerful hardware with each iteration of their respective platform period, all these other services etc are just a means of adding value to their product and attracting buyers.

The frustrations game pundits are feeling should instead be directed at the big game publishers who use these game platforms, advanced as they may be, to offer us the same experience time and again. You can't buy a Ferrari and then complain about the performance when you use shitty fuel. MS and Sony has done their part in advancing the console gaming platform in a way that is affordable to the consumer (it could be much more expensive if they did what we want), while touting reasonable value added extras and services, wether they'll deliver on those extras still remains to be seen.

Eric Pobirs
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@Edge Walker

We weren't talking about people, we were talking about game press. There is a wide gulf between the two.

You get the same effect in any area of interest. A conversation about cars is going to be very different when the other person has cars as the core element of both their professional and recreational lives.

Eric Pobirs
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I'm very dubious about the idea of offloading things like physics calculations to the cloud. For a real time interactive game? This seems reminiscent of the days when Sony was talking utter blather about the magical capabilities of the CELL processor and how it would enlist other CELLs present in your home to supplement game operations. Why you have the expensive CELL in other items in your home remains a mystery to this day.

The multi-processor functionality of the CELL never turned into anything useful on the consumer level and Sony ended up reducing the PS3 to a single CELL with a dedicated GPU instead of the original concept where you'd have multiple CELLs and devs would assign capacity as neded on a per application level.

This invoking of the cloud is just another variation on the theme. One of the biggest virtues of a console is knowing that every machine will be exactly the same. Even if the chip set has gone through three die shrinks it should be so close in its behavior that machine #50,000,000 can be expected to reproduce the behavior of machine #1. This means console age rapidly but they also see a level of utilization and optimization rarely found in the highly variable PC world.

Having stuff like the fantasy league live in the cloud rather than any one player's machine is fine. But I'm at a loss to understand how a remote composite supercomputer is going to be of much help for the next Halo entry.