Okay, settle down gossipmongers, Microsoft says all this talk about an upgraded Xbox 360 is not only wrong, it's missing the point. There won't be an upgraded Xbox 360 next year, and in fact, we're only halfway through the current console cycle. What's more, Project Natal, the company's no-controller 3D motion and voice recognition technology is being designed for the existing Xbox 360, not an imaginary "performance-upgraded" one.
In an official statement released to the media, a Microsoft spokesperson wrote
As the Xbox team stated at E3 two weeks ago, we are not even halfway through the current console generation lifecycle and believe Xbox 360 will be the entertainment center in the home for long into the next decade. Project Natal will be an important part of this platform, but we have not confirmed a launch date at this time.
And while games blog Kotaku makes assumptions I wouldn't about the Ballmer quote in the introductory paragraph to this article, the piece is worth scanning for the following quote, from Xbox Live Director of Product Management, Aaron Greenberg:
There will be no new console.
You can't get any less ambiguous than that, and unless you're into torturing semantics, that's book shut, case closed, speculation over.
But what about Natal? Will there be a version of the Xbox 360 with Natal integrated? Maybe, maybe not. Greenberg says they've looked into it, but that's all he's saying. What Steve Ballmer said yesterday doesn't help--it's simply too ambiguous to cite evidentially. Anyone claiming otherwise needs to rethink how this medium works.
What we know:
Natal will be sold as a standalone peripheral.
Natal will work with, and is being designed explicitly for, existing Xbox 360s.
Microsoft has no plans to alter or retool its existing platform circuitry. Aside from conventional manufacturing enhancements like thermal and spatial improvements--all invisible to consumers--the company plans to sell the same Xbox 360 it's been selling since late 2005 through Natal's launch in...whenever.
What we don't know:
We don't know when Natal will launch, though we can speculate about a general 2010 timeframe given the fact that Ballmer pegged 2010 as Natal's shelf date. Also: Sony has stated its PlayStation Motion Control peripheral will ship in 2010, so there's the competitive market incentive to consider as well.
We don't know whether Microsoft will release Natal integrated into a remodeled Xbox 360. Again, Ballmer didn't claim they would--his comments as reported by TG Daily are simply too ambiguous. Best not to waste time speculating. Besides, if you already own an Xbox 360, you'd be mad to buy a second Natal-integrated one, right?
We don't know whether Microsoft plans to release something like an "Xbox 360 slim" or some other type of cosmetic retooling. Is it conceivable they'll launch a newer, smaller, quieter, thermally cooler model in tandem with Natal? Sure, bearing in mind all that adds up to is a physical makeover, not a performance boost.
For more gaming news and opinion, point your tweet-readers at twitter.com/game_on.