Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will today confirm weeks of speculation and announce that the company is to make a play for domination of the living room.
At the Game Developers Conference in San Diego, Gates will unveil details of Microsoft's first ever home games console, which goes under the code-name of X-Box.
The console, which Microsoft plans to launch sometime in 2001, will have more than three times the graphics performance of the current highest performance console, Microsoft said in a statement. The console the company is referring to, and the one that is likely to be its single biggest competitor, is Sony PlayStation 2 which was launched last week.
Microsoft is tapping Nvidia for the high performance graphics chip that will sit at the heart of the machine. The company said the chip will be capable of delivering more than 300 million polygons per second (referring to the number of wireframe polygons the machine can draw on the screen in one second). Three dimensional images are made up of multiple polygons and the ability to draw more means more lifelike images. In contrast, Sony's new PlayStation 2 delivers 75 million polygons per second and Sega Enterprises Ltd.'s Dreamcast is capable of 3 million polygons per second.
Like the PlayStation 2, the system will be based on DVD media and include the ability to play back DVD Video - but unlike any console to date the X-Box will feature a hard disk which Microsoft said will have an 8Gb capacity.
The hard disk is the first of several features which makes the X-Box seem like its roots lie in the PC rather than video gaming world. Another is that the console will be based on a 600MHz x86 processor. In a second statement released later today, Microsoft said the processor will be a Pentium III chip. AMD had reportedly also been in the running to become the processor supplier for the X-Box.
While not naming the operating system, Microsoft said the system will support its Direct X API (application programming interface) which is common throughout its Windows platform.
For connectivity to other devices, the X-Box will have a proprietary audio-video connector and a Fast Ethernet interface. However USB, IEEE1394 and PC Card (all of which are found on the PlayStation 2 and from the personal computer world) were not mentioned by Microsoft as being featured in its new console.
In addition to its work with NVidia, Microsoft said it has already received endorsements from Electronic Arts, Konami, Acclaim and Eidos.
The company is also talking with Sega, which uses Windows CE as the base for its Dreamcast games console. "We have received an offer from Microsoft to work together on the project. Currently Sega and Microsoft haven't agreed terms, however negotiations are continuing," said company spokeswoman Miako Shimizu.