There's also the rumour that Microsoft has been working on more powerful hardware that would sit between the current Series S and the Series X. I've given some additional thought to that.
The most obvious upgrade is a Series S with an optical drive. It would make the console physically larger, but it's already so friggin' small that that's not going to be a deal breaker for many. Anecdotally, especially in YouTube comments that I've read on many videos, there are a lot of people out there saying they'd buy a Series S if it came with an optical drive. These people might find the Series S powerful enough, and the price compelling, and even completely happy going all-digital going forward, but they may have big collections of OG Xbox and/or 360 and/or Xbox One games that they'd want to play under back-compat on an Xbox Series console. A new entry-level Series console with an optical drive, perhaps similar in spec to the Series S otherwise, would solve that for them. Perhaps at $350? Optical drives don't actually cost that much these days, not even UHD ones.
But the rumour that started this thread was new hardware that was more powerful than the Series S is in the pipeline. I have thought about the potential for that. Running back-compat titles on Series S is usually a great experience, often (not always, but often) nearly indistinguishable from doing so on the Series X. With one major exception: games with One X enhancements don't get them on the Series S. A new version of the Series S, improved *just* enough to being able to run back-compat games with One X enhancements, and an optical drive, would be a BEAST of a machine for a budget gamer who just wants to run back-compat, and subscribe to Game Pass. That machine could sell like *crazy*. A few more GB of RAM, a slightly more capable GPU, and (optionally) an optical drive would be what's required. The CPU needn't change at all.
This second strategy wouldn't require developers to target three levels of Xbox Series console. They could still target just the standard Series X|S, with the extra horsepower here focused on relevant back-compat titles. And those would be identified by the OS, it wouldn't require intervention by the developers, or even by Microsoft (at least, not on a game-by-game basis).
There is the potential for one other upgrade with that extra horsepower, and that's an upgrade to the multitasking. I noted on my One X that if I switched back and forth between a game and an app (commonly I would swap between a game and a YouTube video about that game, such as an achievement or a Game Pass Quest walkthrough) that it would keep YouTube running in the background. With the Series S, presumably in part because of the drop in RAM from the One X to the Series S, it now restarts the YouTube app each time I swap back to YouTube. A Series S with more RAM could potentially do more with multi-tasking. And the GPU and RAM upgrades may have some additional back-compat bonuses that wouldn't inconvenience developers, such as higher levels of OS-led anti-aliasing. Finally, games targeting the Series S that don't *quite* hit their performance targets consistently (Elden Ring being a recent example) might hit their performance targets more consistently on the Series S, or engage DRS (dynamic resolution scaling) less frequently. So there would be gameplay bonuses to a moderately more powerful Series S, even if developers didn't target it specifically.
A third option to an upgraded Series S would be to make it *just* powerful enough that games could optionally add a ray-tracing mode that is not available on the regular Series S, but would be on this improved hardware. You could call it the Series S RT, or similar. Developers wouldn't be required to do so, but if the hardware sold really well they'd probably start to do so. Especially if they have an RT mode in the Series X that they could scale down to this mid-grade machine. They'd otherwise likely be encouraged by Microsoft to just target the regular Series X|S, if their game isn't RT-enabled.
So those are my Monday musings on the rumours we saw about a more powerful version of the Series S potentially in development. I'm entirely digital going back to late in the 360 era (2011 was the last time I bought a physical game for a home console), but I do have OG Xbox and 360 games I'd like to play under back-compat, that I can't as I went Series S rather than X. So I'd potentially be interested in a moderately improved Series S with an optical drive, and would pass my current Series S on to someone else. Plus I have digital games with One X enhancements that I'm missing out on. So I'm hoping for something like this to happen.Last edited by scrapking - on 25 April 2022