Possible Xbox One hardware upgrade in the pipeline, says Phil Spencer

"You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation."

Microsoft has said it is building toward a future where its games consoles will be upgradable, allowing the company to keep hardware viable by incrementally increasing its power instead of replacing it with an entirely new device.

Speaking at a recent media event, as reported by Polygon, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said he believes that Windows 10 could be used as a ubiquitous operating system that unifies all its devices, while the various hardware it runs on evolves, similar to the way PCs are upgraded.

"We see on other platforms, whether it be mobile or PC, that you get continuous innovation that you rarely see on console," he said. "Consoles lock the hardware and the software platform together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster and stronger. And then you wait for the next big step function."

He continued: "When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we've ever seen. You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward- and forward-compatible."

Since Microsoft has "a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform," it will be able to improve hardware "without invalidating the games that run on that platform."

It is not clear whether this means second-gen Xbox One games can run on first-gen hardware.

He continued: "We can effectively feel a little bit more like we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Doom and Quake games that I used to play years ago but I can still see the best 4K games come out and my library is always with me.

"Hardware innovation continues while the software innovation is able to take advantage and I don't have to jump a generation and lose everything that I played on before."

Asked to elaborate later, Spencer noted that Sony is doing something similar to this in the way it is adding VR capabilities to the PS4. When PlayStation VR launches, it will include a standalone device with its own processor to handle computation for the device.

"Sony is doing this with VR and adding VR capabilities midcycle to the PlayStation 4 and they are doing that by adding another box. I don't mean that as a negative. But it's not changing what the core console is about.

"For consoles in general it's more important now than it's ever been, because you have so many of these other platforms that are around. It used to be that when you bought your console you were way ahead of the price performance curve by so much, relative to a PC. But now PCs are inexpensive and your phones are getting more and more capable."

Despite all this, Spencer did not provide any concrete details on whether Microsoft plans to upgrade the Xbox One, or introduce a whole new platform in the future that can be iterated on in the way described above.

"I'm not going to announce our road map for hardware," he said. "I want to make sure that people see that what we are doing enables us to be more committed to what consoles are about than we've ever been and innovate more consistently than we ever have. That's the key for me."

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