Next Xbox May Mark the Spot for Home Entertainment

All may be revealed on May 21, when Microsoft officially unveils its next-generation video game console and follow-up to its popular Xbox 360. In the meantime, the rumor mill is churning.

Xbox executive Adam Orth reportedly departed Microsoft this week after engaging in a controversial Twitter exchange related to the console’s rumored “always on” requirement. Microsoft apologized publicly for the debacle, noting that Orth was not a company spokesperson.

However, was Orth really wrong in suggesting that a constant Internet connection is becoming the norm and really shouldn’t be a big deal?

“This is only a debate because it happened on the Internet,” said independent video game analyst Billy Pidgeon.

Microsoft did not respond to our request for further details.

Always On, Always Connected

Also among the rumors now circulating is that the next Xbox might work in conjunction with a user’s cable or satellite set-top box. The console would connect through an HDMI port, allowing it to overlay an Xbox user interface and other features, The Verge reported.

This would be just the sort of thing that might require always-on connectivity.

“In this case, it also could likely have a deeper connection to the television,” Pidgeon told TechNewsWorld. “The road block there is the cable operators.”

Always-On Authentication

Microsoft is likely not alone in considering this always on functionality — and not just as a means of enhancing content delivery, but perhaps as a way to address piracy and ensure authentication. This method of content verification is commonplace on the PC, where an Internet connection is required to launch some games.

It makes sense that console makers could be looking to move toward a similar verification and authentication system.

“Both the PS4 and next Xbox will apparently be tied to app stores, which will virtually eliminate pirating and used-game sales,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “Both have been a massive drain on the revenues and profits of both game console makers and game developers.”

It’s questionable whether gamers will embrace systems that offer no support for used games, though. The used market has been very robust, especially for single-player-only action focused games.

Games that offer little replayability have created a secondary market for retailers that continue to struggle in a changing market place.

“People are speculating that the next Xbox might not play used games, but it isn’t clear if Microsoft would really take that route,” said Pidgeon. “The game retailer partners get a lot of business from that market, and gamers expect to get something back for their games.”

Moreover, publishers have actually worked out ways to gain back some value too.

“We’ve seen publishers offer paid downloads for pre-owned software,” Pidgeon noted.

Everything Old Is Unplayable

Contrary to the notion that everything old is new again, everything old might be incompatible in the case of video game software and new consoles.

Sony and Microsoft “could allow older games on the device,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld, “but most folks buy the new consoles to play new games. PS2 support wasn’t really an issue for the PS3, and backwards compatibility for the Xbox 360 didn’t seem to be a big deal either.”

Most early adopters tend to have the older console anyway and find using that to be a better approach, he added.

Set-Top Device

Games may be just one small part of the equation, even if though the Xbox is still considered a gaming device. While the PlayStation 2, which arrived in 2000, and the original Xbox, which came out a year later, were devices that worked as DVD players, that was the extent of the entertainment value-add those systems offered.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are much more, serving as content-streaming devices for Netflix and other providers.

It is expected that the next generation devices will take this even further, and this is yet another reason why that always-on connection becomes so much more important. “Microsoft has being trying to move the Xbox into more of an entertainment hub,” said Enderle.

“In Europe, the Xbox is commonly used to replace a cable box, for instance. Always-on might make sense to capture events that occur in real time — time-shifting a show, for instance, by recording it on the hard drive,” he suggested.

“Finally, always-on, when it comes to a set-top box or PC, means that updates and maintenance can be done when the device isn’t in use, allowing the user to just jump on and play rather than — as is often the case with Blu-Ray players today — having to do a lengthy update or patch first,” Enderle pointed out.

“In the end, the new Xbox will — like the new PS4 — generally require an Internet connection to work,” he said, “so it might as well be used to improve the user’s experience as well.”

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