For as long as we’ve known that Microsoft’s next major console is to be called the Xbox Series X, we’ve also known that there’s another console coming with it, and that it was called the Xbox Series S. Whether they leak this information deliberately or they have very poor secret-keepers in their design team, the company has never been very good at keeping secrets ahead of significant announcements. This week, the company confirmed what everyone’s known for a long time by giving us our first look at the Series S – and it’s shockingly small.
It appears that the company was prompted into action after a professionally-shot image of the console standing behind an Xbox controller was leaked on social media and then widely circulated, which eventually led to Microsoft’s approved Xbox Twitter account posting the same photograph with the caption “let’s make it official!” They didn’t offer any more technical information about the console other than promising that it provided ‘next-gen performance’ inside the ‘smallest ever Xbox,’ but did promise that they would provide more information in the very near future. In fact, they signed off the tweet with the word ‘promise,’ which probably implies that there’s much bigger news coming within the next one to two weeks.
While Microsoft hasn’t given us any more concrete information to pore over just yet, it didn’t take long for eagle-eyed social media users to notice something very interesting about the console. Aside from the fact that it’s easily the smallest ‘big name’ console we’ve ever seen, barely bigger than two controllers placed on top of each other and looking more like a powerful Bluetooth speaker than a games console, it doesn’t have a disc drive. If that assessment is accurate, that will make it a dead match for the “Digital Edition” of Sony’s PlayStation 5, which also comes without a disc drive (despite being the same size as its disc-accepting sibling).
With both of the ‘big two’ console-making companies offering (or seeming to offer, in Microsoft’s case) digital-only versions of their consoles, it’s clear that the effect of Google Stadia is taking its toll on design. Thanks to a trend that actually started with the invention of online slots websites a few years after the turn of the century, players are becoming accustomed to playing games that don’t arrive in a physical form. The entire gambling industry went through a momentous change after the advent of online slots, which meant that customers no longer had to visit a real-world location or stand in front of a real-world machine to play slots UK. Google’s Stadia streaming service means that gamers no longer have to visit a store or pick up a box in order to play video games, and they’re hoping that they’ll have as radical an effect on the gaming market as online slots did on the casino market. It’s early days when it comes to testing that theory, but it’s hard not to see the sudden appearance of disc-free consoles as a reaction to the new threat.
There are pros and cons to the existence of disc-free consoles. The most obvious pro is that the digital-only machines are expected to be much cheaper. Although this isn’t confirmed so far, the same source that leaked the official image of the Xbox Series S stated that the console would sell for $299, as opposed to the $499 that the Series X console is expected to be listed at. There will probably be a similar difference between the prices of Sony’s new consoles, although the companies appear to be waiting to see which of them blinks first before committing to naming their prices in public. The downside is space and storage. A digital copy of a next-gen game will be comparable in filesize to a full HD movie, if not larger. Even with SSD storage, it won’t take many games to fill the hard drives in the new consoles up, and the thought of getting more than eight or nine games on there at once is probably fanciful. That means you’ll have to choose which of your old games you want to sacrifice every time you decide to buy a new one, which isn’t something that most dedicated gamers will relish as a prospect.
We’ve seen speculation from some sources online that this mini Xbox will somehow be less powerful than the Series X. We don’t see how that could be possible. Regardless of whether games come via download or disc, they’ll still be the same. If game developers were being asked to code different versions of their games for different versions of the Xbox, we’d have heard about it by now. The same games must run on both consoles, which means that both consoles must have, on a fundamental level, the same hardware. That means the same graphics cards and the same processors must exist in both devices. It wouldn’t make business sense for Microsoft to come up with a ‘lesser’ version of the console in that respect, and so we expect that these reports are wide of the mark.
Now we know what all of the next-gen consoles will look like, all we need now is a launch date for them. Again, both Sony and Microsoft appear to be holding back on this in the hope that the other will go first, but Microsoft might be edging closer to an announcement than Sony is. The company confirmed in August that it was looking at a November launch date for the Xbox Series X, and there’s no reason to believe that the smaller (we still can’t get over how small it is) Series S will launch at the same time. As their last tweet promised new information soon, we’re hopeful that we’ll get a solid date within the next few days. There’s no way that Sony will want the Xbox on the shelves for too long before the PlayStation 5 is released, so if they don’t jump the gun, we anticipate hearing the release date for their new machines at around the same time and also seeing them hit the shelves on around the same day.
There’s still one big question left to answer, of course, and that’s which console everyone should buy. We wouldn’t dare to wade in on that long-running debate, and so we’ll let you discuss that among yourselves!