Xbox Project Scorpio: Leaked documents reveal the true power of Microsoft's 4K console

A leaked whitepaper from Microsoft has revealed some fascinating details about Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scorpio console. It’s more than just a spec upgrade.

A leaked whitepaper from Microsoft has revealed some fascinating details about Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scorpio console. It’s more than just a spec upgrade.

Sony’s PS4 Pro, a console made in response to AMD’s upgraded architecture and the demand for 4K gaming, was something of a revolution in its own right. It’s the first console that got a refresh mid-cycle and the bump to 4K via a sort of hack (checkerboard rendering) let Sony deliver on its promise of 4K gaming at a low price.

Microsoft has also been building its own mid-cycle refresh with the same motivation as Sony. Microsoft, however, has decided to one-up Sony with a console that’s even more powerful and advanced.

Judging by Eurogamer’s analysis of the whitepaper, Microsoft seems all set to do just that. The only question is, “At what cost?”

The first thing that the whitepaper reveals is that Microsoft might dump ESRAM from the new console. ESRAM is an ultrafast memory module that sits on the processor die. Since the Xbox One uses DDR3 memory for RAM — the PS4 used GDDR5, the lower bandwidth meant that ESRAM was essential for maintaining consistent frame rates.

The Xbox Project Scorpio console ups the bandwidth of the onboard RAM by 30 percent or more, eliminating the need for ESRAM. That said, developers still need to develop games with ESRAM in mind because they have to support the Xbox One. Microsoft has promised gamers that there will be no Xbox Project Scorpio exclusive games.

This is just speculation based off the whitepaper of course, Microsoft might still keep the ESRAM for compatibility’s sake.

The whitepaper reportedly confirms the 6TFLOPS of performance promised by Microsoft. But, as Eurogamer points out, this will only make the console about 4 times as powerful as the Xbox One. Considering that most Xbox One games run at 720p and 900p, 6TFLOPS isn’t enough for true 4K gaming.

Another issue that was pointed out was 60Hz support. Even the PS4 Pro today can’t hit that magical 60fps mark consistently. The Xbox One is more powerful, but it’s unlikely that it’ll hit 60Hz at higher than 1080p.

To fix this issue, Microsoft suggest that developers use a rendering technique that renders graphics at 60Hz, but interpolates CPU-bound frames (like animations) at 30Hz. In combination, the perceived frame-rate might seem higher.

The paper also apparently advocates hacks like the checkerboard rendering technique to boost perceived video game resolution.

As many gamers will attest, Sony’s implementation of checkerboard rendering makes it almost impossible to differentiate between native 4K content and upscaled content.

Other techniques include half-scale rendering, dynamic resolution scaling and more.

By the looks of it, the Xbox Project Scorpio console appears to be a more powerful PS4 Pro and nothing more. The increased power will definitely give it an edge in terms of visuals and smoother in-game performance. As always, however, your choice of console will likely come down to the choice of games and features that suit your needs. Price will also be a factor because the new Xbox console will be more expensive than the PS4 Pro.

For a more in-depth understanding of the console, do read through Eurogamer’s analysis of the whitepaper. It makes for a fascinating read.

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