Microsoft has just unveiled a slimmer version of its Xbox One gaming console at E3 2016. The Xbox One S, which will be available this August, sports a new look that is 40 percent smaller than the original Xbox One. It may, however, end up being overshadowed by the tease of a VR-ready successor that will launch late next year.
Shrinking hardware down to almost half-size is quite an impressive feat of engineering that is not without some sacrifice. In order to accomplish this goal, Microsoft chose to remove the dedicated Kinect port from the back of the Xbox One S (yet another move in diminishing the importance of Microsoft's once-central peripheral). Those interested in using the Kinect for Xbox One with the Xbox One S will need to use a USB Kinect Adapter (free for those upgrading to the Xbox One S).
In response to fans, the Xbox One S ditches the (often loud) brick by housing a built-in power supply– a convenience that has been enjoyed by PS4 owners for years. Other design improvements include a front-side accessible USB port, pairing button, and an IR blaster.
Complementing the Xbox One S is a newly designed Xbox Wireless Controller that features an enhanced grip and more durable thumbsticks. Not only is this controller's wireless signal capable of reaching up to twice the range when paired with the Xbox One S, but it packs Bluetooth support to connect to Windows 10 devices.
The new controller's connectivity features can be useful to gamers choosing to participate in Microsoft's new purchase program, Xbox Play Anywhere. Those who purchase a "Play Anywhere" title on either platform (Xbox One and Windows 10 PC) automatically own it for both. Game progress/achievements are saved to and accessible through Xbox Live, and select titles will also feature cross-platform multiplayer.
While the Xbox One S is a natural fit for the family, the tease of a truly upgraded Xbox One puts the One S' long-term importance into question. Codenamed "Project Scorpio," the successor will launch in late 2017, with support for 4k gaming, high-fidelity VR and six teraflops of GPU power. Project Scorpio is expected to co-exist and be compatible with the Xbox One, Xbox One S, and related games/accessories.
With Sony also confirming it's working on a more powerful PS4, VR appears to be altering upgrade cycles for the console industry. The leading HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are currently limited to PCs, and PSVR has some glaring weaknesses, so it looks like Microsoft and Sony deem it worth launching new consoles largely to keep up with this latest next big thing.
Microsoft didn't specifically mention which VR headset(s) would be compatible with Project Scorpio, but Oculus promised an Xbox partnership when it announced the consumer Rift last year (something the companies have been mostly silent on since).
The Xbox One S console is available now for pre-order with prices starting at US$299.