An atomic rumor in the gaming world exploded on Saturday, perhaps the largest in recent memory, innocently tucked away in a random NeoGAF forum thread. The weapon, a leaked 56-page confidential Microsoft Powerpoint file, serves as a possible early vision for Microsoft's Xbox strategy through 2015 by including juicy conceptual details about the code-named Xbox 720, Kinect 2, and several pairs of augmented-reality glasses.
CNET contacted Microsoft for comment, and a representative noted the company doesn't comment on rumor or speculation.
Within the presentation reside some sensational conceptual ideas for the future of Microsoft's overall entertainment platform. Honestly, despite the bold propositions, very little of it reads as farfetched or illogical. As the hours progressed past the initial leak, an assortment of supplementary details gave further credibility to this massively impactful document (originally teased last month by Nukezilla). First, the basics.
Supposedly crafted in 2010, the supposed Xbox product road map lists plans for 2011 and 2012, many of which did come to fruition (except for a pay TV service, but we still have a little more than five months left in the year). Things begin to heat up with the mention of a $299 Xbox 720 pegged around the 2013 holiday season, packaged with the second version of the Kinect camera accessory. Side notes suggest Microsoft could play the Xbox 720 for a 10-year lifecycle with a goal of 100 million units sold in that time frame.
Referred to as "Kinect V2" in the file, the next-generation camera accessory may offer "peripherals and accessories that heighten game immersion, improved voice recognition, higher accuracy (through stereo imaging), four-player tracking, dedicated hardware processing, and a better HD RGB camera." Images in the Powerpoint suggest Microsoft flirted with the idea of splitting the next Kinect into two devices, as every portrayal shows two separate camera units instead of one.
The leaked information goes somewhat in depth over a range of hardware specifics for the Xbox 720, with a blanket statement indicating up to anywhere between six to eight times the performance of the Xbox 360. An illustration on one page of the leaked document shows the supposed low-power (120W) architecture of the Xbox 720, code-named "Yukon."
The document never mentions the widely rumored 16-core Durango architecture, but seasoned observers know that code name/information debuted after the creation of this Powerpoint.
In some ways, I imagine the current consistent rumors regarding the Xbox 720/Durango hardware probably offer more credibility than this supposedly dated Microsoft Xbox marketing Powerpoint file. The engineers in Microsoft undoubtedly revised the hardware for the successor to the Xbox 360 many times in the last three years. Nonetheless, basic believable features of the Xbox 720 listed in the leak include a Windows 8 foundation, Blu-ray drive, USB 3.0, dual 802.11n Wi-Fi, networked home DVR integration, 3D output, and support for paid TV distribution. The Xbox 360 already has apps for HBO Go, Comcast, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, ESPN, and Paramount content. All of the other features seem completely logical in the next Xbox.
The beauty of the leak rests upon the majority of the content, which covers Kinect, the glasses, and services in the most detail.
In 2014, the document suggests that Microsoft creates a "living room disruption" by releasing Kinect glasses (code-named Fortaleza) that connect to a smartphone synced with the Xbox 720 over Wi-Fi. Augmented-reality glasses working with a next-generation gaming console offers vast potential, with an example of someone battling lifesize virtual hologram characters in the living room viewable through the specs. This aligns nicely with the previous rumor we covered in March -- "Is Microsoft working on gaming helmets and eyewear?"
An evolved, always-connected wireless version of the glasses would possibly arrive in 2015; these futuristic specs might contain a cell radio/4G wireless service and the ability to offer dynamic first-person augmented-reality experiences in the real world, somewhat similar to Google's Project Glass.
In 2015, the presentation also suggests Microsoft reaches full cloud-rendering status with gaming, video, and apps (similar to OnLive). One quote suggests, "Enjoy the complete Xbox experience. Any time, any where, any screen." Another mint line proclaims: "Access to the latest and greatest experiences without upgrading hardware."
Just recently in an interview with Eurogamer, Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer noted, "In the long run we'll land in a spot where there's cloud distribution of all content and Microsoft is clearly invested in that."
Of course, one must always heed caution and take these hyperactive rumors with a grain of salt. A few hours after the information started spreading on a big scale, Microsoft tapped its law firm Covington & Burling to take down the PDF that contained the information (originally hosted on Scribd). Any prolific company would probably respond in a similar manner to such a damning document, but that action doesn't lend much to the cause of this document being false.
Gaming blog Kotaku tapped its Microsoft sources familiar with the Xbox 360's successor, and they responded, "While some features and information ring true, at best this document represents an outdated plan. None of our sources, however, was able to rule out the possibility that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax."
After a thorough investigation, CNET acquired the original Powerpoint (.pptx) file of the Xbox road map, titled "92821757-XBox-720-9-24-Checkpoint-Draft-1.pptx." It features additional user notes not normally seen in the widely spread PDF conversion of the document, chock full of additional perspective and side notes that boost credibility.
Let us examine some of the other rarely talked about details and questions that make the rumored playbook feel real:
Who made the document? Meet prime suspect No. 1. According to the raw Powerpoint data, the author uses "nkachroo" as a username in Windows. For example, one of the images attached within came from "C:\Users\nkachroo\Documents\Work\Project 10\Finished Frames for Monday\Finished Frames for Monday\Frame 07.jpg"
Some sleuths on MSDN, NeoGAF and other forums hit Google hard and found several social profiles correlating nkachroo as a possible alias of Naveen Kachroo, a director of Xbox product planning at Microsoft, and former Zune lead program manager. It seems relevant to note that an Xbox-related patents list Naveen Kachroo as one of the co-authors, filed by Woodcock Washburn, LLP (a patent firm for Microsoft).
At the end of the Powerpoint on page 56, the author lists "additional questions to answer for Todd." The questions relate to the overall Microsoft platform. Some amateur detectives believe this reference relates to Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of hardware at Microsoft; he appears a likely candidate to observe this presentation.
Questionable PowerPoint layout? Some observers think the odd appearance of the PowerPoint seems underwhelming for an internal document of this magnitude. In reality, that reads as the weakest dispute of them all in regard to the authenticity of this document.
This early draft of the Xbox road map to 2015 seems very real in appearance, and I'm saying that from my personal experience of viewing confidential Powerpoint presentations from major consumer electronics companies. Pardon my bluntness, but many official internal documents from other companies look far worse than this bombshell. Don't get me wrong -- anyone could put together this type of information based on rumors, but the styling (layout and fonts), high-quality sketches, and logical evolutionary steps presented look very official.
In conclusion, many of these concepts may never come true, or may come later than listed. The exact hardware could also change, or may never happen. Few would disagree that Microsoft can do all of the things suggested in this road map, through. The enhanced software (plus cloud) services, evolution of Kinect, and augmented-reality glasses appear highly feasible. Spend five minutes reading about Microsoft's Research labs and tell me otherwise.