What is Microsoft’s Project Scorpio and Who is it For?

Who Exactly is Project Scorpio Aimed at?

Despite sounding like a villainous scheme from one of James Bond’s foes, Project Scorpio is in fact Microsoft’s next hardware iteration for Xbox which released its first hardware back in 2001 with the original Xbox. Since then the Xbox brand has grown in popularity and in particular with last generation’s Xbox 360. That console especially had a clear direction and purpose as the best place to play with your friends online, with Xbox Live proving a massive success. Even the Xbox One which has been eclipsed by the much better selling PlayStation 4 launched with a clear message – hardware that can be your entertainment machine for the next several years before pivoting to be more games focused. Project Scorpio on the other hand is constantly described as the most powerful console ever without a precise description of what it will do for the consumer long-term. Is this true next-generation hardware, a premium console for 4K users like the PS4 Pro or something else entirely?

First of all, let’s look at the hardware. I’m far from an expert on these matters and if you want a really deep dive into the specifications and technical side of things then Digital Foundry has plenty of analysis. The claim that Scorpio is the most powerful console ever built appears to hold some weight when compared with the specifications of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Pro:

Project Scorpio Xbox One PS4 Pro
CPU Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz Eight custom Jaguar cores clocked at 1.75GHz Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 2.1GHz
GPU 40 customised compute units at 1172MHz 12 GCN compute units at 853MHz (Xbox One S: 914MHz) 36 improved GCN compute units at 911MHz
Memory 12GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3/32MB ESRAM 8GB GDDR5
Memory Bandwidth 326GB/s DDR3: 68GB/s, ESRAM at max 204GB/s (Xbox One S: 219GB/s) 218GB/s
Hard Drive 1TB 2.5-inch 500GB/1TB/2TB 2.5-inch 1TB 2.5-inch
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-ray Blu-ray (Xbox One S: 4K UHD) Blu-ray

As you can see in the table above, the Scorpio eclipses the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One in lots of ways from sheer horsepower to storage space. Digital Foundry were shown a demo of Forza running on the machine (which is noteworthy given the console is a ways out yet) and reportedly the tech engine demo on display ran the game at 4K 60 FPS with power to spare. It’s worth noting that this is a studio that has worked with Xbox hardware for many years and there’s no guarantee a third-party developer would get the same results for their game but this early demonstration is pretty intriguing.

Project Scorpio certainly seems to pack the powerful punch that Microsoft claims it can but what about the software itself? We don’t know any specifics about what titles will be available on Scorpio but we’ll almost certainly learn more about that at E3 in a few months. Of course, the promise of Scorpio when it was first announced was the ability to play your Xbox One games in native 4K too and that’s exactly what the Forza demo showed. How this shakes out when playing a full game remains to be seen as does how much of a difference this will make for the gamer.

Scorpio

Forza at 4K 60fps. Credit – Digital Foundry

There’s no denying that Project Scorpio is an impressive piece of hardware and likely is the most powerful console built so far but who is the console aimed at primarily and how successful does head of Xbox Phil Spencer expect it to be?

There are a number of possibilities when it comes to the potential user base. The Scorpio may be mainly marketed towards a 4K audience, those who have invested in 4K displays and want to show them off to their friends and families with stunning graphics in their video games. This would place the Scorpio closer to the PlayStation 4 Pro but would outpace the Pro by a significant degree and alongside the backwards compatibility on offer may be a more enticing proposition for gamers. However, this will likely limit the Scorpio’s success given that 4K TV’s are only owned by a relatively small portion of gamers and Sony’s silence on PlayStation 4 Pro sales suggests that the console hasn’t set the world on fire – although Sony’s expectations for the console are known only to them. Although Xbox states that games will, in theory, run at better frame rates no matter what screen you own, this on its own probably won’t be enough for most to upgrade their console.

Scorpio

We should know more about Scorpio at E3.

Another possibility is that Scorpio is simply the next Xbox after the disappointing sales of Xbox One. The backwards compatibility and the commitment to the best gaming experience possible fits into the recent mantra of Phil Spencer and his team of putting gamers first. If this is the case what software is shown for the console will be telling at E3. Will it be the next generation Halo being shown off or an ‘enhanced version’ of the game on Scorpio? One potential issue on this front is the price with many experts expecting the console to cost much more than the Xbox One at launch given its power and the term used by Xbox of this being a luxury console. At a certain price point it surely makes more sense to simply buy a PC for gaming if graphics are that important to you. In addition, it remains to be seen if Microsoft will bring VR into its vision for the Scorpio, an area of gaming the company has yet to take the plunge into.

At this point in time it’s unclear who the audience for Scorpio will be and what Microsoft’s vision for it is. The console’s hardware is certainly impressive but is this a luxury device for those gamers with a particular care for graphics or is it simply the next generation Xbox? The biggest question mark and answer to many of these questions is the software and we’ll learn more about that at this year’s E3.

What do you think of the Scorpio? Are you interested in it and why? Do you think the console will be successful?

Let me know by commenting below.

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