You'd think that with Xbox Series X consoles still hard to find despite ongoing Xbox Series X restocks, Microsoft wouldn't be making new gaming hardware. But according to the XboxEra podcast, Microsoft is bringing out some Xbox-branded new hardware this year "that falls into a different bucket than people are probably expecting."
Host of the podcast Nick says that he can't say more but that he knows what it is; the implication is that he can't give any details for fear of the consequences. So assuming he's not been fed porkies, what could the hardware be? I think these are the most likely answers for the new Xbox 2022 hardware.
A TV streaming stick for Game Pass
With the arrival of Cloud Gaming, Xbox isn't a console: it's a gaming service that just happens to make some of the hardware you play those games on. I've written before that I think Cloud Gaming is brilliant, and if Microsoft decides to bring it and Game Pass to people who can't or won't get an Xbox console but who want to play those games on their TV I think it'd sell like hotcakes. I know my kids would want one.
The main reason this seems the most likely option is because we already know Microsoft is making it. As Microsoft's Liz Harman said at E3 2021, "we're also developing stand-alone streaming devices that you can plug into a TV or monitor so... you can stream your Xbox experience."
A handheld Xbox
I think the streamer is more likely than a handheld, but while Microsoft hasn't said anything officially Qualcomm did specifically mention Cloud Gaming and Xbox console streaming when it launched the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 and its handheld developer kit, pictured above, does look like a Steam Deck and an Xbox controller made sweet, sweet love.
The downside? Microsoft might struggle to make it cheap enough, and by cheap enough I mean a lot less than the Steam Deck. A streaming-only handheld is considerably less flexible and less powerful than a dedicated handheld games console, and I reckon that means it'd need to be a lot cheaper too.
Microsoft has said on the record that it's making a streamer, and it's also said on the record that it isn't interested in VR for Xbox. So one bit of hardware is clearly much more likely than the other. But why let corporate details spoil a good bit of speculation?
If you're an Xbox owner who doesn't already have a PS5 the entry cost for the Sony PSVR 2, which needs the PS5 to function, would be horrific, and the Oculus Quest 3 isn't expected this year. But as much as I'd love to see some of my favourite Xbox games in VR – imagine being the Master Chief! – I don't think it's likely: surely we'd have had leaks from developers by now, especially given whatever Microsoft is releasing is due to be released this year.
If I were the betting type I'd put my money on a streaming stick for Game Pass. But it's also possible that the rumoured hardware isn't as exciting as any of the above: it could be a peripheral, for example to add an optical drive to the Xbox Series S or to bring DualSense-style haptic feedback to Xbox controllers. And whatever it is, it might not make it into this year, given the currently shaky state of the global semiconductor industry. So perhaps we need to curb our enthusiasm for the time being: whatever's coming isn't coming for some time yet.