Project Scorpio might be the Xbox’s final form: a Windows PC

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A small comment from Head of Xbox Phil Spencer was the final bit of news necessary to convince me Microsoft’s Project Scorpio will be named Xbox 10 S, and it will serve as a Windows 10 gaming PC built for the living room. I know, that’s a big claim — and I don’t encourage anyone to gamble on it. But ahead of Microsoft’s E3 event on Sunday, I’d like to collect the evidence that Microsoft is eager to put a computer beneath your television.

First and foremost, Microsoft has been talking about the convergence of living room entertainment and Windows software since before the original Xbox existed. Its video game consoles have always been something of a Trojan horse. And with the company’s reveal for the Xbox One, that thinly concealed strategy went public. The notorious presentation largely overlooked games and favored lengthy explanations of HDMI-pass through, professional sports partnerships, and grand media plans.

Since then, the Xbox team has been on something of an apology tour, refocusing on games to win back the hearts of fans who felt betrayed. At the same time, Microsoft has slowly laid the foundation for Xbox One’s pseudo follow-up, Project Scorpio, building hype for the hardware over the past year by promising the most powerful console on the market. All of the messaging has been zeroed in on how Scorpio will play games better.

But I wonder if it will also do something else — because playing the same games at 4K isn’t enough. At least, it’s not enough for a company like Microsoft that stands to gain from the potential of a powerful PC being right next to your couch. As a powerful living room PC, the Xbox could become more than just a game machine or streaming device. For college students, it’s a steal: the perfect and necessary computer (that just so happens to play games). For adults, it might be the center of a SmartHome. For kids, it runs Minecraft and Word.

As a fully functional PC, Project Scorpio could be an Xbox, an Apple TV, and an Amazon Echo all rolled into one. Would Microsoft really pass up that opportunity?

When I profiled Microsoft in December of 2015, Spencer was already pushing the concept of a fluid ecosystem, in which games followed the player from one platform to the next: Xbox One, Windows 10 PC, a smartphone. Since then, Microsoft has launched Cross Play, allowing Xbox One owners to play new games on both console and Windows 10 PCs.

Spencer sits on the board of Windows 10, and he’s aggressively pushed to further blur the lines between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. A fall 2015 system update integrated Windows 10 into the Xbox One. And an Xbox app on Windows 10, released around the same time, has brought game streaming, messaging, and chat features to the PC.

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For those two roads, Project Scorpio seems like the natural merging point.

So why Xbox 10 S and why does a long runtime matter? Let’s start with the latter. Explaining a living room PC will take time. If the device does more than play games, Microsoft will need to explain how — and why we should care. And unlike its last reveal, it will need to also nail its video game announcements. We’re really looking at two press events mashed into one.

And the name, well, I think Microsoft may have given it away. This is from my colleague Tom Warren’s piece on hidden details in Microsoft’s E3 teasers:

In another teaser posted yesterday, there’s a “X10S101-317” message displayed on a stage with a crowd of people. Microsoft typically uses this type of date format for its Windows and Xbox software builds, so if you separate out the X10S to refer to the console, then the remaining 101317 could mean October 13th

The naming convention would fit in with Windows 10 S, the newly announced OS. Windows 10 S only runs programs downloaded from the Windows Store, which would allow Microsoft considerable control of what can and can’t be put onto the console. And the naming convention would explain why Microsoft went with Xbox One S for its lead up console last fall.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Microsoft has given up the dream of the living room PC. But that seems increasingly unlikely, the more you consider the evidence Microsoft itself has provided. Whatever the case, we’ll know for certain this Sunday during a press conference that will run extra long.

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