Why we believe most of the massive Xbox road map rumour

CNET's Christopher MacManus takes an in-depth look at an enormous 56-page Microsoft Xbox road map to 2015 PowerPoint file that was leaked over the weekend.

A potential future road map for Microsoft's Xbox strategy suggests a bold new future of gaming.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

An atomic rumour 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 to 2015, including juicy conceptual details about the codenamed Xbox 720, Kinect 2 and several pairs of augmented reality glasses.

CNET contacted Microsoft for comment, and a representative noted that the company doesn't comment on rumour or speculation.

Detailed within the presentation are 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 document (originally teased last month by Nukezilla).

The second version of Kinect might split into two observatory devices.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

Crafted in 2010, this supposed Xbox product road map lists plans for 2011 and 2012, many of which did come to fruition. Things begin to heat up with the mention of a US$299 Xbox 720, pegged around the 2013 holiday season and packaged with the second version of the Kinect camera accessory. Side notes suggest that Microsoft could play the Xbox 720 for a 10-year lifecycle, with a goal of 100 million units sold in that timeframe.

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 suggests that Microsoft flirted with the idea of splitting the next Kinect into two devices, as every portrayal shows two separate camera units, instead of one.

A closer look at Yukon, a potential hardware plan for the Xbox 720 in 2009. Includes eight ARM or x86 cores, each clocked at 2GHz with 4GB of DDR4 memory, and three PPC cores, each clocked at 3.2GHz for backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

The leaked information goes, somewhat in depth, over a range of hardware specifics for the Xbox 720, with a blanket statement indicating up 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, codenamed "Yukon."

The document never mentions the widely rumoured 16-core Durango architecture, but that codename and information debuted after the creation of this PowerPoint.

In some ways, I imagine the current — and consistent — rumours, regarding the Xbox 720/Durango hardware, probably offer more credibility than this supposedly dated Microsoft Xbox marketing PowerPoint file. The engineers in Microsoft have 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 for 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.

Digital cowboys and Indians, coming to a future living room near you.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

In 2014, the document suggests that Microsoft will createsa "living room disruption" by releasing Kinect glasses (codenamed Fortaleza) that connect to a smartphone, synced with the Xbox 720 over Wi-Fi. Augmented reality glasses, which work with the next generation gaming console, offers vast potential; for example, someone battling a life-sized virtual hologram character in the living room, viewable through the specs. This aligns nicely with the previous rumour 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 have 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 suggested that Microsoft will reach 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 earlier this month with Eurogamer, Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer noted that, "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."

The end goal? Perhaps an Xbox device that serves as a gateway to a fully cloud-rendered entertainment service. This means: no more hardware upgrades to enjoy the latest games and Microsoft's continually upgraded servers will deliver the best graphics through an internet connection to your TV.
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

Of course, one must always heed caution and take these hyperactive rumours with a grain of salt. A few hours after the information started spreading on a big scale, Microsoft engaged 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 who are 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, entitled "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 rumoured playbook feel real:

Who made the document? Meet prime suspect Number One. 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 patent lists 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 that this reference relates to Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of hardware at Microsoft; he appears a likely candidate that would observe this presentation.

Questionable PowerPoint layout? Some observers think that 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 regards to its authenticity.

The supposed road map.(Click to enlarge.)
(Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

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 rumours, but the styling (layout and fonts), high quality sketches and logical evolutionary steps presented look very official.

In the end, 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, though. The enhanced software (plus cloud) services, the evolution of Kinect and augmented reality glasses all appear highly feasible. Spend five minutes reading about Microsoft's Research labs, and tell me otherwise.


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Vinnie posted a comment   

Progression from stage to stage sounds excessively if you look at the 360 and original xbox's progression. Kinect came out a full 4 years after the 360 launch to rejuvenate interest and that's still having ripples. The original life-cycle of the 360 from what I remember puts it in use until 2015 at least. Albeit the Wii U is putting pressure on Sony and MS to release the next gen ASAP rather than stick to the longer life. So I can believe a 720 out in 2013, but if that was to happen 2014 is not the time to release those 3D glasses economically speaking, only reason I would see them release them this early is if the Kinect 2 setup has very few augmentations from the original and cannot maintain much hype but I have a hard time believing all these hacks world-wide being remastered and integrated by MS would have so little wow factor.


peter patina posted a comment   

I just want my xbox to play games, that's it, no more. I find it useless for everything else. I use my phone as my multi media hub and my phone is far easier to use than that stupid menu system on the xbox


JacksonG posted a comment   

'except for a pay TV service'

Doesn't the Foxtel service count?


Chandler posted a reply   

Yes and no. I imagine the article is talking about a Pay TV service run through the XBox, not 3rd party applications that provide access to an existing service.

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