As we near this year’s E3, Microsoft has retreated significantly from the stance it took on the Xbox One’s Kinect just a year ago. After announcing a cheaper Xbox One without the Kinect sensor in May, company representatives revealed this week that the new SKU may actually perform up to 10 percent faster in GPU related tasks.
The news broke Wednesday when Xbox chief Phil Spencer tweeted that the June Xbox One developer kits “give devs access to more GPU bandwidth.” In analyzing the tweet, Eurogamer speculated that the bump could be related to the new Kinect-less Xbox One. Microsoft has previously asserted that the Kinect device contains its own processing resources, so as to avoid slowing down the primary capabilities of the console, but many have long believed that crucial power was being reserved for the always-on Kinect sensor.
In a surprise move, Microsoft officially responded to Eurogamer’s hypothesis, and confirmed that the lack of Kinect was indeed responsible for the console’s bump in performance.
Yes, the additional resources allow access to up to 10 per cent additional GPU performance. We’re committed to giving developers new tools and flexibility to make their Xbox One games even better by giving them the option to use the GPU reserve in whatever way is best for them and their games.
That’s good news for future customers looking to buy the new $399 Xbox One without a Kinect, but the millions of current Xbox One owners won’t be left in the cold. To accommodate the new “optional” Kinect policy, Microsoft plans to release a new SKD this month, giving game developers the option to access that extra 10 percent of graphics horsepower that was previously reserved for the Kinect and other system functions.
Update: Microsoft’s Larry Hryb (a.k.a. “Major Nelson”) clarified in a tweet this afternoon that game developers of current and future games will need to make specific changes to their code in order to gain access to the extra performance. Simply “unplugging Kinect does not get you more horsepower.”
This change for Microsoft arrives at a critical time in the console’s life. Only seven months into its time on the market, the Xbox One is already falling behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in worldwide sales. While Microsoft looked to address the price disparity between the consoles by launching the Kinect-less model for $399 — the same price as the standard PS4 — the fact remains that Sony’s console has consistently outperformed the Xbox One in cross platform titles. Games available on both consoles either run at higher resolutions, or at the same resolution but with a faster frame rate, on the PS4.
Microsoft hopes that the extra 10 percent boost from ditching the Kinect will help level the playing field, but it also puts the Kinect’s future at risk now that game developers can no longer rely on every console having a Kinect attached. The company may have more to reveal on this situation when it kicks off E3 with its Media Briefing next Monday, June 9, at 9:30 AM PDT.