Microsoft launched the slimmer Xbox One S last year, and will be releasing the more powerful Project Scorpio this holiday, but in an interview with Gamasutra, Xbox Head Phil Spencer revealed that they had plans to bring out higher-powered consoles in 2016 and 2017:
We saw 4K TVs coming, and we made a prediction that 4K TVs were going to be a thing during this generation… we thought 4K TVs would get to scale in the middle of this generation. So we designed a console for 2016, and a console for 2017. We were kind of working on both plans simultaneously. And at some point, we got to – let’s just call it greenlight. For what we would do in 2016, and we sat around a table… and said, ‘I think we need to do more than what the silicon is that’s available in 2016 at a price point that a console customer would want to pay.’ So that’s when we stopped that effort.
Spencer added that, once they stopped working on the 2016 console, they decided to “put all of our weight and execution capability of the hardware team behind delivering a higher-powered console in 2017 that’s completely geared towards 4K.” In a follow-up question, Spencer confirmed that his team started working on their hardware roadmap shortly after he took over three years ago.
2016 did see the release of the more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro, which Spencer says is a good machine for the year it came out. However, one of the reasons they didn’t have a new console in 2016 is because “we didn’t think we could make that promise [of the same frame-rate and increased resolution] to developers in 2016.”
Discussing what changed, he said:
It’s a combination of price and capability from our hardware partner, that we worked with as we described a certain spec that we wanted to hit.
Sometimes I get in trouble when I talk about Sony too much, but, the choice they made on PS4 Pro, I totally get that choice, from their perspective and what they wanted to go do. I’ve said it publicly and I’ve said it privately, I think they’ve built a good 2016 PS4 Pro. With the silicon that was available, they picked the parts that made sense to go and put together a console in 2016.
But the point on not wanting frame-rate to drop when you go to the higher box, right, if the developers want to push resolution, to say to the player, ‘Here you bought this higher-end console, let me show you higher-end resolution,’ you don’t want the frame-rate to drop. And that was something we didn’t think we could deliver with the silicon that was available in 2016.
Elsewhere in the interview, Spencer said he’s a strong believer in console, planning “for what happens after Scorpio in the console space is already underway,” and he owns a PlayStation VR, an Oculus Rift, and an HTC Vive, but he thinks “we’re very very early in the evolution of VR.”
The above image features a look at several Xbox dev kits, including Project Scorpio (in the very front).