There's a rumour going round (started by IGN ) that the graphics core for the next generation Xbox – possibly known as the Xbox 720 – has gone into production, ready for a release date believed to be some time in 2013.
The GPU in question, says IGN, is based on the Radeon HD6670 , a graphics processor that would only have been considered cutting edge in PC terms five or six years ago – around the time of the Xbox 360's launch.
That might seem somewhat underwhelming if you've just tricked out a new PC with a GeForce GTX580 or Radeon HD7970. If true, however, it would mean the Xbox 720 has somewhere between six and ten times the pixel processing potential of the current console depending on how you measure. Which is a fair performance leap, all things considered.
What's more, a relatively low power and mature processor should be fairly simple to cool without resorting to the kind of turbines that the original Xbox 360 had on board. IGN is reporting that the chip is fully capable of 1080p gaming – which should be a given – and stereoscopic rendering. Intriguingly, there's also mention of multidisplay output. It's also expected that the new chip will be about 20% more capable than that of the Nintendo Wii U .
All the same, it'd be hard to measure the disappointment on a hardened PC gamer's face were you gifted a HD6670 as an upgrade you'd been forced to wait nearly eight years for.
What does it mean for PC gaming if these rumours are true? There are obvious concerns in that the gap between the relative power of a new PC compared to a new console in 2013 will be the largest ever. Given the way games engines haven't made huge strides forward in terms of complexity over recent years, and cross platform development has been held up to blame, the suspicion would immediately be that a relatively weak console refresh will further hold the PC back.
But that's worse news for graphics manufacturers looking to sell £500 chips than it is for us. AMD's forthcoming Trinity APU – a processor which combines Bulldozer CPU cores with Radeon graphics on one die – is said to be 50% more powerful in terms of graphics compared to current fusion processors. As chance would have it, that would make it almost equal equal – in terms of GFLOPS at least – to the HD6670.
In other words, by the time Xbox 720 rolls around you should be able to play games at an equivalent or better quality on the cheapest laptops available.
If developers can essentially target anyone who owns a laptop with games that are more sophisticated - looks wise - than consoles, it makes the PC a far more attractive platform for big budget mainstream releases than it arguably is now. And without the lure of fancy new graphics to entice people to upgrade their current consoles, you'd better hope the selling point is something more impressive than 3D – because that's not really working out for movie makers, is it?
Obviously there are other factors to consider, like how piracy rates affect lead platform decisions and lucrative exclusivity deals. But there's also the fact that the next gen consoles are going to face bottom up pressure from tablets with display sharing capabilities and streaming games services built into things like Google TV too. By not aiming high in terms of graphics and pushing for things like 4K compatibility, they could be in danger of underlining their own irrelevance.
Potentially, then, the next generation of consoles won't hold PCs back as they do now. Rather, they could be hastening their own demise.