While Microsoft's next-generation Xbox One will have plenty of power on its own, sometimes it might opt for a little help from the cloud.
Xbox One games that need an extra graphics boost will be able to tap into 300,000 Microsoft servers for "latency-insensitive computation." The cloud architecture can provide additional lighting, physics, and motion effects beyond the capabilities of the console's 8-core AMD processor and custom GPU.
As detailed by Ars Technica, cloud computing can help with effects that don't have to happen immediately.
"So when you walk into a room, it might be that for the first second or two the fidelity of the lighting is done by the console, but then, as the cloud catches up with that, the data comes back down to the console and you have incredibly realistic lighting," Matt Booty, General Manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms, told Ars.
It's an interesting concept when compared to fully cloud-based gaming services like OnLive and the Sony-owned Gaikai. Those services promise the ability to play high-end games on low-end hardware such as tablets and cheap laptops, but the lag is noticeable compared to local gaming. Instead of streaming full games over the Internet, Microsoft is using the cloud to offer better visuals in cases where a little lag won't hurt.
But this approach raises a couple of concerns. First, if the cloud-based processing takes a second or two, it could create an undesirable "pop-in" effect, diminishing the benefits of the better visuals.
More importantly, a reliance on cloud-based graphics would represent another "always online" hook for Microsoft's console. Booty told Ars that game developers will need to "intelligently handle" drops in connectivity, but didn't offer details on how that would work.
It's not hard to imagine cloud computing playing a more central role in gaming a few years down the road, with consoles tapping into servers to scale up their capabilities instead of remaining stagnant. Three years down the line, the ability to tap into Microsoft's cloud servers could help prevent the Xbox One from showing its age. The risk, of course, is that always-online would become a requirement at that point.
As intriguing as the possibilities are, throw the notion of cloud graphics into the pile of things we still don't know about the Xbox One.