Surprise: Internet connection not required to play 'Xbox 720' games

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There’s been no shortage of Xbox rumors as we move closer to the console’s unveiling next month -- well, technically, that’s also a rumor. Although I was hoping to steer clear of further hearsay until official details were shared, I couldn’t help but bring to your attention an updated Xbox roadmap posted by VGLeaks with new details about the hardware lineup and a clarification about the whole “always connected” madness.

If you recall, VGLeaks was previously responsible for credible leaks revealing Durango’s specs as well as a hardware overview describing an “Always On, Always Connected” design.

Never mind that the latter was mentioned in the context of being able to download updates in the background, most sites still reported it as proof or confirmation that Microsoft would be implementing online checks to block used games, even though there was no mention of this in the documents or by VGLeaks. To be fair, reputable sites like Kotaku and Edge were told as much by their own separate sources, but we remained unconvinced.

Always on, always online is not what you think

Now VGLeaks is clarifying that Durango will indeed be always online “like any other device”, but it will not be a requirement to play local content and it will not prevent playing used games. In other words, this is meant for downloading stuff like game or social network updates in the background when a net connections is available, but you will still be able to play Xbox games if your broadband is down or you take your console elsewhere.

That’s more in line with what we’ve been saying all along although it’s worth noting it’s all still unconfirmed.

The site notes that the “always online” rumors likely stemmed from development kits with components requiring network connections to be present all the time, which could explain what some inside sources were saying.

Two-SKU strategy: The Xbox Mini

In addition to making this minor but important clarification, the updated roadmap also points to a separate console with a more limited feature set known as the “Xbox Mini” -- we’ve heard about this before but it was referenced to as “Xbox TV”. In a nutshell, this is a repackaged and reoriented Xbox 360 unit to access the platform’s entertainment apps (think Apple TV competitor) and play games downloaded from Xbox Live.

Microsoft is aiming at a $150 price tag for this smaller Xbox unit and will possibly design it to be stackable atop the full-fledged “Durango” console. It will most likely lack an optical drive but it can be networked with its bigger brother to provide backwards compatibility for 360 games. The next-gen Xbox will not support older games on its own as it’s based on a different architecture than its predecessor.

Taking over your TV signal

A separate report from The Verge also claims Microsoft will introduce a feature that lets its next-generation console take a cable box signal and pass it through to the TV via HDMI, allowing it to overlay a UI and features on top of an existing TV channel or set-top box. Microsoft is reportedly seeking partnerships with content providers for this. Apparently the functionality will be tied to the full-fledged Xbox rather than the Mini version.

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