In June, Microsoft announced Project Scarlett, a new iteration of the Xbox that the company said would “set a new bar for console power, speed and performance.” What Microsoft didn’t say is that it is also working on a lower-cost, disc-less version of Scarlett, code-named Lockhart, according to four people briefed on the company’s plans.
If those names sound familiar, that’s because they’ve been floating around for a while. The earliest rumours about Microsoft’s next-gen roadmap, circa 2018, suggested that Project Scarlett would consist of two Xbox models: the high-performance Anaconda and the lower-end Lockhart. In June, however, Microsoft announced that Scarlett was a single, high-end console, which led to speculation and then press reports that Lockhart had been cancelled. But Kotaku has learned that Lockhart is in fact still in the works as a cheaper, digital-only alternative to Scarlett, as the original rumours suggested.
What we don’t know—and what likely isn’t finalised yet—is how the pricing will shake out. But it’s easiest to think of Anaconda as a successor to the Xbox One X and Lockhart as a successor to the Xbox One S, with a similar performance disparity. Game developers will be expected to support both Anaconda and Lockhart, which some are worried might hamper their ambitions for next-gen games in the coming years.
When speaking to Kotaku, one game developer briefed on Lockhart analogized it to the PlayStation 4 Pro in terms of raw graphical power, although there are other key differences that might make up for that. Lockhart is said to have a solid-state drive, like both Anaconda and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 5, which is expected to have a significant impact on loading times. Developers briefed on Lockhart also say it has a faster CPU than any current video game console, which could allow for higher frame-rates, although there are other factors that might not become clear until the console is completely finalised, such as clock speed and cooling.
Microsoft’s ideal target performances are said to be 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second on Anaconda and 1440p resolution and 60 frames-per-second on Lockhart. (That doesn’t mean that every single game on these consoles will live up to that performance—it’s the target that Microsoft is pushing developers to hit.)
Lockhart will also likely be heavily promoted with Microsoft’s burgeoning xCloud streaming service and impressive Xbox Game Pass subscription, which allows users access to a huge library of games both big and small, including all new first-party games. Both of those services fit nicely with a disc-less console, and Microsoft has already packaged Xbox Game Pass with the digital-only version of the Xbox One S, which launched earlier this year.
The Xbox team isn’t officially talking about any of this. “We do not comment on rumours or speculation,” said a Microsoft spokesperson in an email to Kotaku last night.
The people behind Xbox have been quiet about their next-gen plans in the months following Scarlett’s announcement at E3, and over the past few months, some developers have grumbled to Kotaku about Microsoft’s lack of communication. Many say they’ve already received development kits for the PS5, code-named Prospero, and images of those devkits have been leaking all over the place. Scarlett development kits have been harder to come by, developers say, although most who are working on next-generation games have a rough idea of what kind of technical specs to target.
For many months, rumours have swirled about the performance differences between Scarlett and the PlayStation 5, and pundits have speculated as to which console will be beefier. What’s become clear, based on our conversations with developers, is that there’s no straight answer to that question yet. Common consensus is that both consoles have roughly similar specs, and that the biggest differences may lie in other factors, like operating system features or slight technical edges that Sony or Microsoft are keeping under wraps. The biggest and perhaps most important question is one that still has no final answer: How much will these things cost?
Both companies, meanwhile, had been terrified of Google’s entry into the video game space after rumours started circulating in early 2018 that the tech conglomerate was doing something big. Over the past couple of years, a number of developers have remarked to me that staff at both PlayStation and Xbox would talk frequently and reactively about Google’s plans, emphasising each company’s own response to streaming as a result. After the tepid launch of Stadia last month, however, the threat of Google appears to have been overstated. The next generation of consoles will remain a battle between Sony and Microsoft, and will be one of gaming’s biggest stories in 2020.