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E3 2016: Microsoft’s Project Scorpio promises 4K gaming and VR support

The rumblings were true — Microsoft is releasing a major mid-cycle update to the Xbox One. Dubbed “Project Scorpio,” this new console aims at delivering enough horsepower to support 4K gaming and virtual reality while maintaining compatibility for the entire catalog of Xbox One releases. It’s currently scheduled for a Q4 2017 release, but what will that mean for existing Xbox One users?

In today’s big announcement on Microsoft’s E3 stage, we got teased with a few very impressive numbers. First and foremost, the 6 TFLOPS bullet point was hit hard, and with good reason. Reportedly, the original Xbox One hits about 1.32 TFLOPS, the PS4 lands at a slightly beefier 1.84 TFLOPS, and the last big leak for the PS4K claims 4.14 TFLOPS.

To be clear, measuring the floating-point operations per second isn’t the be-all, end-all of gauging the performance of a platform, but this 6 TFLOPS number is Microsoft’s way of signaling to the public that they’re taking performance very seriously this time around.

Microsoft also trumpeted memory bandwidth of over 320GBps in Project Scorpio. The current PS4 has a peak memory bandwidth of 176GBps, and the PS4K supposedly reaches 218GBps. Calculating the memory bandwidth on the Xbox One is a bit complicated, but it’s clear the faster memory in Project Scorpio will make dealing with massive assets much easier.

This new model will also have eight CPU cores, but that’s about all we know for the time being. We’re not sure what the clock speeds will be, if we’ll see more RAM, or if SSDs will be the new norm. If this hardware is supposed to offer 4K gaming with respectable frame rates, just about every aspect of the Xbox One will need to be improved with the Scorpio. Microsoft promised a lot today by claiming “the highest res, the best frame rate, no compromises,” so now all that’s left for us is to wait and see how well they deliver.

In my eyes, the biggest question mark here is how well the original Xbox One and Project Scorpio will play together. Earlier today, Xbox head Phil Spencer said “Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio will all be compatible. All Xbox One games and accessories will play on all three. No one gets left behind.” But does that mean that a Scorpio-compatible VR headset would work on an original Xbox One? We asked for clarification from Microsoft’s PR reps, and we’ll update this post if we get a response.

Along those same lines, what if developers want to use all of this new horsepower to make something that simply wouldn’t work on an Xbox One? It’s possible that the likes of crowd density and AI could suffer on the Xbox One version, or perhaps devs will have to kneecap the Scorpio version to keep parity. It remains to be seen how Microsoft and Sony will choose to handle these problems going forward, and there’s a chance that the solutions will actually change over time as the 2013 hardware begins to be phased out a few years down the road.

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