A novel approach to Xbox One backwards compatibility

Microsoft's decision not to support playing 360 games in the Xbox One is disappointing, but not surprising. Here I present a possible approach they could take to ease the pain as we make the transition.

The Pain

Migrating to a new console is a big undertaking for any gamer. Not only do you have a huge library of old game titles (both on disc and as downloaded games) you also have a large infrastructure of controllers and accessories such as rock band controllers, headsets, Kinect etc. On top of that you have a limited number of inputs on your TV / Receiver. In a typical scenario, deciding to play one of your older games could involve un-hooking your current console from your TV / Receiver, dragging out your old 360 and game controllers, and wiring the whole mess up in it's place. It's a bit more complicated if you want to play a Kinect game since you also have to wire that up, and potentially push the new Kinect aside to make room. How could Microsoft make this better?

A Possible Solution

To start with, by definition if you care about backwards compatibility you already have a 360. And if MS isn't going to support playing 360 games in the Xbox One natively, then you are stuck with a variation of the scenario mentioned above. But, there is a lot MS could do to ease the pain.

As we have seen, the Xbox one has HDMI pass through. It has been demo'd as a way to easily switch between the console and a TV set top box. Let's assume for a minute that as a hard core gamer you don't care so much about the TV support (we'll come back to this later). There is no reason you couldn't hook your old 360 into that HDMI input to at least help with the AV switching right? Lets take this further. What if a software update on the 360 allowed the Xbox One to remotely control it over the LAN connection - kinda like you can do now with Smart Glass? I think you are staring to get the picture. Let me outline how this could work in an ideal case:

  • The 360 connects to the Xbox One via the HDMI pass through.
  • Both consoles find each other and communicate over the LAN connection.
  • The Xbox ONE controls powering the 360 on and off over the LAN connection - similar to how you can do it today via a controller.
  • 360 support is integrated into the Xbox One dashboard. Viewing and launching older 360 arcade games, apps and features is done without leaving the Xbox One. Friend status and messaging are also integrated.
  • The HDMI switch only occurs when the actual game or app starts.
  • The Xbox One captures and forwards all controller input from the new controller to the 360 avoiding the need to switch an old controller to play. The same goes for music controllers etc.
  • The Xbox One forwards headset and mic data as well.
  • Kinect 2 data is likewise captured, translated to what the old 360 expects and sent over the LAN. - Old Kinect not required.
  • And finally the 360 shares the disc drive of the Xbox One so you can tray games without touching the old console. This one arguably might have to be optional if your consoles are connected over a slow Wi-Fi, but there is no reason if couldn't work when connected over Ethernet.
So there you have it a way for Microsoft to ease the pain of playing older games without having to add native backwards compatibility. Sure it's a bit if work for them to write the code to support this, but I believe it is entirely possible and a lot less work than writing a 360 layer and doing compatibility testing of thousands of titles. And yes it's not really 'backwards compatibility', but it would let me push my old 360 to back of my media cabinet and never touch it again, while still allowing me to play my older games.

This is all fine and good, but what if I ALSO want the sweet TV integration? Well there is no reason MS couldn't create an external HDMI switch that was controllable over LAN, Wifi, Bluetooth or what ever. Or even support a 3rd party switch. A little setup to define what is on each input and problem solved. While they are at it, they might as well give us around 4 inputs, then we could use our voice to switch between TV, 360, media boxes like a Roku or Apple TV and heaven forbid, even a Playstation!

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