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Microsoft: Xbox 2 Will Intro HD Era of Video Gaming

On Wednesday, Microsoft finally lifted the veil of secrecy about its next generation Xbox video game console (codenamed Xenon), providing concrete information about the device for the first time. The Xbox 2 disclosures were made at the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC), held in San Francisco.

According to Microsoft corporate vice president J. Allard, Xbox 2 will move video gaming from the "3D Era" to the "HD Era," providing game fans with the lush, high resolution video quality that movie and TV lovers have enjoyed for some time. "In the HD Era the platform is bigger than the processor," he said during a GDC keynote address. "New technology and emerging consumer forces will come together to enable the rock stars of game development to shake up the old establishment and redefine entertainment as we know it."

Architecturally, the Xbox 2 features a multi-core processor architecture that was co-developed with IBM and an advanced graphics processor co-developed with ATI. The current Xbox console features a stock Intel Pentium III processor and an NVIDIA graphics chip. Xbox 2 will support gaming technologies such as DirectX and the recently revealed XNA Studio, which is a Visual Studio-based software development environment.

Because it is an HD device, the Xbox 2 will present games in the standard widescreen 16 x 9 aspect ratio, which will be letterboxed on standard definition sets. And with this next generation console, Microsoft will require all Xbox 2 titles to be Xbox Live aware. Xbox Live is Microsoft's hugely popular Xbox online game service.

Allard also showed off the new Xbox 2 Guide, which will provide a user interface, or "entertainment gateway" in Microsoft parlance, that will be consistent across all Xbox 2 game titles and media experiences. Through the guide, Xbox 2 users can connect with their buddies, their games, and their digital media content. The guide also includes access to the following:

Gamer Cards. Similar to the Contact Card feature in MSN Messenger 7, Gamer Cards provide quick-look information about other Xbox Live gamers, and helps players hook up with others who have similar interests and skills.

Marketplace. Essentially an online store for purchasing game add-ons, new game levels, maps, weapons, skins, and even community-created content, the Marketplace will feature game and genre searching.

Micro-transactions. This feature will let game makers charge small amounts of money for in-game services and features, such as new cars for a racing title or new weapons for a first person shooter.

Custom playlists. An online guide that connects players to their own music collections, custom playlists is a somewhat innovative feature that means gamers will no longer be bound to in-game soundtracks but can instead listen to their own tracks while playing games.

Allard said that Microsoft would formally announce the Xbox 2 at the E3 trade show in May. Presumably, at that time, the company will reveal the final name of the product and its expected release date.

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