Microsoft patents the 'infinite' Xbox - article

Microsoft patents the 'infinite' Xbox - article

Game consoles, by their very nature, have always been considered immutable hardware with the passage of time: throughout their life cycle the shape, size and even part of the components of the console itself can change, but in the end a game is released. at the beginning of their commercial life it will also work on a machine produced ten years later of that same model, and vice versa.

It is the cross and the delight of producers and users, who in exchange for a technological stability that limits the purchase to the console and some accessories, does not require further investments other than the games themselves or services connected to them . A recent patent application put in place by Microsoft for its next console, however, would seem to go against this assumption, laying the foundations for a console that can be updated with the passage of time, exactly as it happens for modern PCs.

The application to the American patent office number 20120159090 dates back to December 2010. The document was made public a few days ago and reported by this "Sonic" of the Beyond3D Forum. Microsoft's willingness to patent "versions of an architecture for a computerized multimedia system capable of satisfying quality of service (QoS) requirements for multimedia applications and video games is described, allowing platform resources, hardware in particular, to evolve. up or down as time goes by. "

Patent applications are submitted every day to the competent office: what makes this request interesting is that the system described and revealed in the attached diagrams (here you will find understandable images) shares the same design lines as the infamous system "Yukon" explained in the Xbox 720 document and surfaced in early May. Comparing them with the request dates and having ascertained their authenticity, it is logical to think that it is the same material produced by Microsoft's research and development sector when it began to conceive Project Durango.

The beauty is that the patent goes much deeper than the Xbox 720 document: much of that text is certainly outdated, and the fact that it was circulated internally at Microsoft only "for discussion purposes" confirms these suspicions. In this case, however, we are talking about engineering schematics relating to the console that confirm the intentions of the marketing department. This time something is boiling in the pot even if, given the age of the application, it is not certain that it is materializing in a commercial project.

"Given the age of the patent application, it is not certain that it is is materialized in a commercial project. "

The image attached to the patent application for a scalable game console has striking similarities to the document that emerged on the specs of the Xbox 720 circulating last May. The contents are pretty clear: in the same way that modern PCs are built around basic components (motherboard, CPU, GPU, RAM and disks), Microsoft is preparing its core architecture for a console capable of evolving by assuming the possibility to produce different models all based on the specifications of the version anticipated by the document of a few months ago. In this paper we theorize a multi-CPU / GPU architecture with different tasks. A first "pair" of CPU / GPU is responsible for managing dashboards and multimedia audio / video streams, and is the so-called "platform". The second pair is dedicated to games and is called "application".

In the document that came online some time ago, Microsoft spoke of "transmedia gaming": it is an idea based on the separation of the resources of a game system, to allow the console not to have to dedicate the whole system only to rendering three-dimensional but also to run in the background or in the foreground other applications capable of enriching the gaming experience itself.

The examples given concern a golf match broadcast live on the console on which a game of golf that allows us to challenge other human opponents live. The applications also include interactive guides to keep open while you play, video chat and so on. To do this, it is necessary to rethink the console structure like that of a computer and adapt to the old adage that to do something well you need dedicated hardware and not shared resources whose exploitation often depends very much, or entirely, on the talent of individual developers.

The principle behind this patent is therefore to provide the guidelines of an infrastructure that integrates platform and application in a single system and allow the simultaneous management of these two entities in parallel. What changes radically from the past is the fact that it is possible to mount more advanced CPUs and GPUs on this common base as time passes. One diagram even adds a third CPU and GPU support platform that can support the other two; the schematics do not clarify the purpose, although we can suspect that the underlying reason lies in the maximum expandability of the system.

"It is foreseen the possibility of mounting more advanced CPUs and GPUs on a common base as it passes time. "

Microsoft seems to have filed this patent not with a single scheme but with a consistent number of design variations based around dedicated processors for 'platform' and 'applications'. The current design of the Xbox 360 includes a three-core Xenon CPU: this change of philosophy portends interesting evolutions for its successor. To partially curb the enthusiasm we find some substantial differences between the document that emerged by mistake and the published patent: Kinect was represented with two cameras while now we return to a single video capture device. This may suggest a reverting to a USB connection interface, a problem we hoped could be solved as it underlies many latency limitations related to the current Kinect.

So in light of this documentation, how should we consider in this case the ten-year life cycle that manufacturers today promote for the current console generation? Probably Microsoft has realized that another long cycle like this without a significant evolution of the hardware could be a problem for the potential of the developers and therefore the quality of the games. Of course, with such assumptions, the dogma that consoles are hardware crystallized over time would be completely undermined. What if the next generation of consoles no longer meets these requirements, or at least not in the medium and long term?

The fact is that the patent can also be interpreted as meaning that different versions of the console can be marketed with different multimedia capabilities, confirming Microsoft's desire not to bind to a single definition of the product from its conception. . Taking the iPad as an example, games run on different versions of this smartphone - the more powerful the hardware, the better the final experience. If we combine this model with Microsoft's "buy now, pay monthly" subscription, the chances of the next Xbox being an evolving new kind of platform increase considerably.

This would solve the problem of computing power, which today practically stops when compared to that of desktops, not to mention the current evolution of mobile devices. However, strong doubts remain about the backward compatibility of the games: whether Microsoft chooses the expandable architecture or decides to produce different models of the same family, it is not seen how it is possible to obtain noteworthy results without fragmenting the catalog into titles capable of running. only on some versions of the console or other playable titles with different performances depending on the model owned. If you decide to focus on a common base expandable with the passage of time, the rumors recently turned that give "Infinity" as the possible name of the next Xbox, take on a whole different consistency.

Science fiction? Likely, given that what we've heard so far about Project Durango points to a completely traditional console design and that this patent application is a year and a half old. As always happens, many of these requests are often refused for legal reasons and few end up turning into a finished product. However, the connections with the document that emerged on Durango are anything but random and provide us with a series of interesting clues on what could be the constructive philosophy behind the next-gen on which Microsoft is working.

Translation by Matteo "Elvin" Lorenzetti.

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