A next-gen Xbox was recently spotted in the wilds of an unnamed Electronic Arts (EA) studio. The console - an early build with no casing - is apparently housed inside a standard PC shell.
"Quite often when new consoles come around they're packaged into a PC shell, but actually what's inside is an entirely new console," a well-placed source told Develop.
According to the source, EA devs are currently familiarizing themselves with the new system in an effort to expedite the creation of first-gen games.
Although detailed console specs aren't yet available, the source believes the hardware will feature enhanced support for Kinect with just a few alterations.
"Kinect will keep the 360 going for a couple of years, but Microsoft knows that if it slows down now it will face trouble," added the source.
The launch date of the new console is currently unknown. However, a second source told Develop that an E3 (June 2011) showcasing of the next-gen Xbox remains "highly unlikely."
Reports of a new Xbox began to circulate a few months ago, when a series of ads on Linkedin seemed to indicate Redmond was hiring people to work on the console.
The ads included a listing for a graphics hardware architect familiar with 3D rendering architectures, software pipelines and physics. There was also a posting for a senior architect and performance engineer in the Xbox Console Architecture Group.
But perhaps the most interesting want ad was one requesting a senior hardware verification engineer - tasked with the "design verification and qualification of the Xbox console at the component, motherboard, and system levels, [by] leading test strategy discussions, developing test methodologies & plans and project-manage qualification cycles."
As I noted earlier this year, we desperately need a next-gen console STAT so titles can be pushed to the next level, both in terms of graphics and AI.
Of course, this is not just an issue affecting rabid console fanbois. Rather, PC gaming has also been negatively affected by the delay, as studios (with an eye on the bottom line) insist on porting titles designed for aging consoles onto new rigs.
A new generation of consoles can help end the vicious cycle - at least for a few years.
Update: EA has categorically denied being in possession of a next-gen Xbox.