The Xbox Scarlett is Microsoft's rumored next-generation video game console - but what exactly is it? The Washington-based software company has been most well-known for developing the Windows platform and the Microsoft Office suite, but they decided to get into the gaming business in the late 1990s and early 2000s by launching the original Xbox in 2001. That put them on the path to directly compete with fellow technology company Sony. And they doubled down on their console efforts with the Xbox 360 in 2005, which became one of the most popular platforms in gaming history.
While the Xbox 360 cemented Microsoft as a worthy competitor in the console gaming space, they got off to a rocky start with its followup, the Xbox One in 2013. But, thanks to changes in policy and leadership over the years, the Xbox brand has come roaring back with backwards compatibility, cross-play capabilities, and multiplatform game ownership, not to mention developing the Xbox One X - the most powerful console in history. They're potentially in the best position with the most pro-consumer offerings going into the next-gen.
Of course, it would be considerably better if the Xbox had a wide selection of first-party titles for gamers to peruse through, but that's, unfortunately, not the case at the moment. Microsoft has promised that there is much more to come on that front and made a point of this at E3 2018 by discussing it directly and acquiring five more first-party developers. But looking at the console/brand itself, the company has bounced back from essentially hitting rock bottom at the start of this generation - and that's not a position they are looking to find themselves in when it comes to the inevitable next console generation.
What Is The Xbox Scarlett?
Microsoft spent E3 2018 showcasing their lineup of first and third-party titles comes to Xbox One (and PC) in the near future, in addition to announcing their acquisitions of notable studios, like Ninja Theory. And just like Sony, they chose not to discuss detailed plans for their next-gen console, though it was confirmed that their hardware team is already hard at work on the next "Xbox consoles." That comment became the impetus for speculation about the consoles around the time of the annual expo. While there aren't too many reports circulating right now, the general notion is that Microsoft's new platform (or platforms) will be called the Xbox Scarlett, which is presumably another codename just like the Xbox Scorpio was.
The Xbox Scarlett isn't just one singular platform, though, but a family of next-gen Xbox consoles, according to a report from Thurrott. While that may sound far-fetched at first - why would Microsoft be working on multiple Xbox consoles at once? - it's not that different from what the Xbox One is currently; there's the core Xbox One, the slimmer/more casual Xbox One S, and then the all-powerful Xbox One X. Sure, all three platforms didn't release at once, but it seems that Microsoft may be looking into offering a variety of platforms from the get-go to entice a wider audience of gamers. That would fall in-line with recent comments brand boss Phil Spencer made to Giant Bomb during E3 2018:
"There are billions of people that play video games. Our business, traditionally, has been focused on just the 200 million people that play console games, and I love those customers - that's what I am, that's where I play most of my games - but we are going to try to bring services and games to gamers on any device. Like, any game you want to play, anywhere you want to play, any friend you want to play with - we're going to try to take that point of view."
What Are The Xbox Scarlett's Features & Technical Goals?
It seems that the Xbox Scarlett will be the next step in bridging the gap between console and PC players - and that doesn't just refer to technical prowess. Spencer and the Xbox team have been adamant about allowing players to play their games wherever they want and with whomever they want. Part of that gap has been filled with the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, in which all first-party Xbox games are playable on both PC and Xbox One with cross-play support. That, coupled with the Xbox Game Pass (a subscription service that includes every Microsoft Studios-published game on the day of release), is a significant leap in closing that chasm.
And to take things even further, Microsoft is reportedly working on implementing keyboard and mouse support for the Xbox One. If Microsoft is thinking about doing that for their current-gen platform, it stands to reason that the Xbox Scarlett will ship with native support for the PC peripherals. Plus, with Windows 10 support and a potential streaming service, it certainly looks like Microsoft is trying to future-proof the Xbox brand. But that's not all.
Console manufacturers tried reaching new heights with regards to resolution - consistently hitting 1080p (Full HD) and 4K - with the current generation of video game consoles, but that would sometimes come at a cost. Frame-rate and various other technical aspects were curtailed in favor of a higher resolution, and vice versa. It wasn't an ideal trade-off, but that's simply what non-first party studios had to deal with when developing titles for multiple platforms. But when it comes to gaming, especially for shooter titles, the higher the frame-rate, the better the experience... generally. So, establishing a solid baseline for frame-rate is one of Microsoft's primary goals for the next console generation, according to Spencer, though it already looks like they have the 4K part down with the Xbox One X (via Giant Bomb):
"I think frame rate is an area where consoles can do more. When you look at the balance between CPU and GPU in today's consoles they're a little bit out of whack relative to what's on the PC side."
In addition to smoother gameplay, which the Xbox team is also working with Japanese developers on achieving (via Weekly Famitsu), Spencer is also hoping that games will simply load faster. Microsoft wants more people to play games - and to play games quicker than before. But he also wants to make sure that they have a clear focus with where to take their next Xbox consoles; that means no plans to create their own virtual reality (VR) or mixed reality (MR) device for the Xbox Scarlett, presumably since they were burned before with the Kinect. However, since Microsoft as a company already has the HoloLens - an augmented reality (AR) device - it stands to reason that it could eventually be made available for the Xbox. After all, AR games like Pokemon Go are already making waves on the mobile market, so it's possible that the console gaming space, particularly the Xbox Scarlett, could be the technology's next frontier.
At the moment, the Xbox Scarlett doesn't have a specific release date in place, but reports suggest that it - or they - will be out on store shelves by 2020. That falls in line with reports that Sony's PlayStation 5 will also release by 2021. Of course, the way the tech and gaming industry works, plans can always change and Microsoft may release something entirely different than what the reports have suggested at an entirely different time - but we'll just have to wait and see what happens.