Monday, the drum roll. Tuesday, Microsoft is expected to reveal the next generation of the Xbox.
The event, beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific time, will show the first new version of the popular home entertainment console after eight years and the sale of an estimated 77 million Xbox 360s. The new model is code-named Durango, although some players are calling it the Xbox 720.
Microsoft's next move could define not only video gaming, but home entertainment, since the company, like its main competitors Sony and Nintendo, has tried to move beyond gaming to offer a variety of entertainment that positions its boxes as home entertainment consoles. While Sony has sold about the same number of PlayStations, Nintendo has moved just under 100 million of its Wii. In recent years, Microsoft has been the leader in game sales.
The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant has been tight-lipped about the event, but rumors point to an AMD eight-core, 64-bit accelerated processing unit, or APU, running at 1.6 GHz and combining graphics with general processing on the same chip. The Xbox 360 features a three-core IBM Power chip. Sony's PlayStation 4 also has eight cores, using the Jaguar micro-architecture that the Xbox's APU is also expected to employ.
Microsoft-watchers are also expecting that the Kinect 2 will be unveiled, a more accurate version of the innovative motion-sensing controller that the company released in 2010, and which has driven an emerging industry of gesture-in-the-air interaction units for other kinds of devices, like computers.
The new Kinect is expected to enlarge the "sweet spot" about 10 feet from the device that players have had to occupy for the first generation Kinect. In addition to a wider sensing area and greater accuracy, observers are expecting Kinect 2 to provide better voice recognition and a better quality camera.
Skype? Broadcast TV?
Tuesday's event is also shrouded in some basic questions relating to how much further console technology can go, given the current living room environment. For instance, can a next-generation device wow viewers with a substantial increase in resolution or graphic processing that is actually discernible by human eyes on 1080p screens? Some observers have speculated Durango might be able to support 4K graphics, the next generation beyond HDTV, but few of those sets are yet on the market.
Other expectations include a DVD/Blu-ray drive, boosts in memory, deeper integration with the rest of Microsoft's ecosystem of software and hardware, and possibly regular broadcast television delivered through the Net, which could begin to position the Xbox as a more serious competitor to cable set-top boxes. Most observers will be surprised if Skype integration is not included in some level of service, which potentially also boosts the device into becoming a video calling or conferencing tool for meetings and weekly calls to the grandparents.
In three weeks at E3, the big Electronic Entertainment Expo gaming show in Los Angeles, Microsoft will also host a follow-up media presentation for the new Xbox, which is expected to focus more on games and peripherals.