More information is starting to pour in about Lockhart, the second next-gen Xbox console that Microsoft is reportedly planning to launch along with the Xbox Series X later this year. Microsoft is reportedly planning to unveil the cheaper next-gen SKU in August, and while we already know some details about Lockhart’s specs, the design remains a mystery so far.
You have probably already seen Lockhart/Xbox Series S mockups inspired by the Series X design, with a white discless console that would be roughly half the size of the Series X. However, Brad Sams from Thurrott.com hinted yesterday that the console could actually look more like the existing Xbox One X.
According to Sams, Microsoft employees that need to travel with Lockhart/Xbox Series S prototypes have been asked to hide them in cases that look like existing Xbox One consoles. On the other hand, Xbox Series X reportedly need to be hidden by employees in larger cases, such as PC towers:
One thing that Microsoft mandates is when they let employees/third-parties travel with the hardware, they ask them to disguise the product. This is a standard practice in the industry but for the Anaconda, Microsoft recommended employees put the hardware in a PC tower, subwoofer, or something else that is quite large. For Lockhart, Microsoft has said that the hardware should be disguised by using Durango or Scorpio covers which means the device is not the same shape as the series X.
Sams also emphasized that using the split motherboard design from the Xbox Series X on the cheaper Lockhart SKU doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the two motherboards on the Series X are more complex and expensive to manufacture. “To make a split motherboard and to make it smaller than the series X to achieve the smaller design, would increase cost, not reduce it,” argued Sams.
It could make more sense for Microsoft to just re-purpose its existing Xbox One X manufacturing capabilities for Lockhart consoles, which could feature a similar design though with the omission of a disc drive to cut costs. The Xbox One X design is still pretty great in 2020, and it’s actually the smallest Xbox console ever created by Microsoft. And it still looks good next to the Xbox Series X, as we’ve seen in the different side-by-side pictures from Digital Foundry.
If you’ve been worried about Lockhart being underpowered next to the Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5, or even the Xbox One X, it looks like this won’t be the case. Even if the console comes with a 4 teraflops GPU that doesn’t support 4K, this GPU will reportedly support ray-tracing and probably other next-gen features. Moreover, the console’s CPU will apparently be the same as the one in the Xbox Series X.
to the “Lockhart will hold back next-gen” crowd:
• Lockhart CPU is faster than PS5
• Lockhart supports raytracing
• Game developers have been building PC titles for multiple GPUs for... decades
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) June 29, 2020
We did a poll on Twitter yesterday to ask our readers if they preferred Sony’s approach with 2 almost identical PlayStation 5 consoles, with one model just lacking a disc drive, or Microsoft’s approach with two consoles with quite different specs. As of this writing, 73.9% of respondents gave a thumbs up to Microsoft's approach, even though launching two different next-gen consoles later this fall appears a bit risky next to Sony's easier to understand PlayStation 5 lineup.
Microsoft has been emphasizing for months that it will have the most powerful console on the market with the Xbox Series X, and Lockhart/Xbox Series S could well dilute Microsoft's messaging. Moreover, Microsoft also unveiled an official "Optimized for Xbox Series X" badge that should appear on game packaging as well as the digital Xbox Store, so the question remains about games optimized for Lockhart/Xbox Series S.
Could Microsoft use another "Optimized for Xbox Series S" badge that may well cause confusion among gamers, or will the company need to explain that games optimized for the Xbox Series X will also be optimized for Lockhart/Xbox Series S, though to a lesser degree? The whole thing sounds like a marketing nightmare, and a problem that Sony won't have with its simpler PlayStation 5 lineup. I wrote before that the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition was the perfect answer to Microsoft's Lockhart/Xbox Series S, and I still think that a discless Xbox Series X would have been better for consumers and developers than Lockhart.
However, if Microsoft manages to clearly explains to gamers what Lockhart is, and price it lower than the PS5 Digital Edition, then maybe this cheaper SKU could make sense. Maybe Microsoft can market Lockhart/Xbox Series S as the next-gen console for people who have yet to buy a 4K TV or monitor, and that's certainly a big market. But again, maybe Microsoft will struggle to explain why it needs another next-gen console after praising the Xbox Series X's superior specs for so many months.