Next-gen console unveilings in spring '04?

So say rumour sites

A number of Internet news sites have claimed that Microsoft and Sony will take the wraps off their next generation console offerings at events next spring - but what exactly might be shown is not discussed.

Rumour reporting site C&VG was first out of the blocks with a story stating that Microsoft will show its next console, allegedly codenamed 'Xenon', at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose next March - ahead of Sony unveiling the PS3 at E3 in May.

It's not unlikely that Microsoft would choose GDC as the venue for its first official talk about the successor to Xbox, since the original announcement of its entry into the console market was made by chairman Bill Gates at GDC in March 2000 - almost exactly 20 months before the Xbox launched in North America.

However, it's extremely unlikely that any seriously useful information about Xenon will emerge from GDC next March, even if Microsoft does choose to announce the system there. At present it's expected that Xbox's successor will appear in late 2005, which would fit with the original timescale between GDC 2000 and the Xbox launch in November 2001 - but it's worth remembering what exactly Microsoft did announce at GDC 2000.

The Xbox product presented at that original conference had no final specifications, no software and no proper real-time demos. The prototype model presented was a PC running the very first Nvidia NV15 prototype silicon and encased in a large chrome-finish 'X', and at this point AMD was on board to make the CPU for the system. The demo reel included footage of Afro Thunder from Midway's Ready 2 Rumble talking about the power of Xbox animation. In the end, Ready 2 Rumble never actually appeared on the Xbox console.

So effectively, Microsoft's GDC 2000 presentation was a lot of sound and fury, but signified nothing - and we'd expect much the same from any announcement at GDC next March, partially because it's such a long time before the launch of the console, but mostly because a fact-heavy Xenon announcement now would be extremely damaging to the ongoing sales of the Xbox. It's generally accepted that the announcement of a successor is the death knell for an existing product, and announcing Xbox 2 at GDC would effectively give Xbox a two-year lifespan - not exactly impressive for a game console, and tantamount to an admission of defeat in the current generation on Microsoft's part.

Although C&VG's report is full of sensationalist hyperbole about the possible unveiling, there's nothing there to suggest that the Xenon showing at GDC will be substantial. "The plan is to talk specs and show early tech demos [of Xbox 2] at a US event next Easter," according to one of the site's "senior sources" - all of whom remain unnamed, without even a hint as to which industry sector they originate from. So then, we can expect to learn at GDC that IBM is making the CPU and it's PowerPC based, and that ATI will be making the GPU and basing it on the next generation of its Radeon chipsets. Surprise, surprise.

The other, more interesting, suggestion carried by C&VG - and echoed credulously by a number of other sites, although similarly without offering any reasoning or corroboration - is that Sony will unveil the PlayStation 3 at E3 next May, effectively making Microsoft's GDC unveiling into an early spoiler for its biggest rival.

However, it seems supremely unlikely that the PlayStation 3 will be present at E3 in any material form, not least because Sony generally announces new products at shareholder meetings in Japan rather than at overseas trade shows - with the E3 2003 announcement of the PlayStation Portable being the sole exception in recent years.

The PlayStation Portable is the other reason we're confident that the PS3 won't make any showing at E3. Sony has announced that it plans to show off final PSP hardware for the first time in Los Angeles next May, and it's incredibly unlikely that the Japanese giant would want talk of the PlayStation 3 - which is probably still two years off - to overshadow the world's first proper glimpse at its first handheld console, which launches in Japan in late 2004.

Copyright © 2003,

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