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Will next Xbox launch in 2012 to take on Wii U?

The latest rumor on the Xbox 360 successor claims that Microsoft will be launching the device in 2012 and that it might just debut at CES in January.

Microsoft could launch a follow-up to the Xbox 360 next year, a new report claims.

Citing sources, the U.K.'s Edge Online says that Microsoft has already provided major studios with "target boxes" that feature the same specifications as the Xbox 360's successor, and should hand over the first developer kits by the end of December. Based on that timetable, the publication's sources say, Microsoft should be able to get the new console on store shelves by the end of 2012.

Interestingly, as new rumors emerge on the next Xbox, its launch date keeps getting pushed up. In April, video game blog Kotaku cited its own sources who said that both Microsoft and Sony would be launching their next consoles in 2014, and at that time, Microsoft hadn't even decided which components its next console would come with. Last month, another gaming publication, Develop, reported that Microsoft was planning to launch the next Xbox in 2013.

Aside from a launch date, several industry veterans have been going public on what they think might be coming to the next Xbox. One of the more notable insights came from AMD's director of ISV relationship management, Neal Robison, who said in an interview earlier this year with Official Xbox Magazine that he could see the console launching with graphics that come "pretty darn close" to those found in the 2009 megahit "Avatar."

Robison went on to tell the publication that the console could have the power to assign "individual personalities" to pedestrians on a crowded, in-game city street, thus making them act more human-like than they do on the Xbox 360.

"Right now, the higher-end game developers are really maxing out what the 360 is capable of doing," Robison said.

If Microsoft launches its next console next year, it would be facing off with the Nintendo Wii U. That device, which is slated to hit store shelves late next year, will come with HD graphics--a major omission in the Wii--as well as a 6.2-inch touchscreen controller.

And what about the next PlayStation? According to Edge's sources, a "major Sony-owned studio" has stopped making games for the PlayStation 3, and has instead decided to focus all of its efforts on the next PlayStation. The sources didn't have any further details on that device.

If Microsoft does plan to launch its next Xbox next year, Edge Online's sources say it could unveil the device at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Until then, however, take this latest rumor--like many others--with the proverbial grain of salt, since the software giant won't say, for sure, what its plans are.

"As an innovator we're always thinking about what is next and how we can push the boundaries of technology like we did with Kinect," A Microsoft spokeswoman told CNET in an e-mailed statement. "We believe the key to extending the lifespan of a console is not just about the console hardware, but about the games and entertainment experiences being delivered to consumers. Beyond that we don't comment on rumors or speculation."

Update at 11:18 a.m. PT to include Microsoft's statement.