Microsoft has been using a Californian market research group to conduct studies into the consumer appeal of a hybrid Xbox and PC gaming device, according to CNN/Money's latest Game Over column.
The "Xbox Next PC" device, reportedly trailed by the B/R/S Group in focus group sessions, would be compatible with current and next generation Xbox software, PC games and multiplayer gaming service Xbox Live - and would include Windows, a CD burner, a DVD player (with remote control), as well as a hard disk and standard Xbox controller. It would operate through a PC monitor or high definition television and retail for $599.
CNN/Money claims that the point of the study was to determine what consumers want in their next generation machines and what they would be willing to pay, rather than to sound out consumers on a definitive new hardware strategy, but that hasn't hindered a flash flood of speculation that Microsoft plans to roll out this hybrid device in the next round of the console war - with many drawing comparison to Sony's PSX device.
However comments from Microsoft's Peter Moore cast doubt on the "Xbox Next PC" device's future. "Obviously with a company like Microsoft this is something we have to look into and ask about," he told CNN/Money. "Is it actionable today? Probably not, but it's something we need to look at."
"We would be remiss if we didn't look at consumer scenarios that take advantage of our strengths," he remarked, "[But] this is one amongst many, many other consumer scenarios that we're looking at."
Microsoft has previously discussed bridging the gap between Xbox and PC - and has taken some steps in this regard with its Xbox Music Mixer and Xbox Media Centre extender kit products (the latter of which is due out late 2004), and of course the unified Xbox/PC XNA development platform - but this is arguably the first time the company has appeared comfortable discussing direct hardware-based integration.
In fact, speaking to gi.biz sister site Eurogamer just a fortnight ago at the Los Angeles-based E3 trade show, Microsoft's XNA chief J Allard revealed his firmly held beliefs that consoles and PCs are entirely different beasts and that boundaries need to be maintained.
"The PC is the centre for how you manage media now at home, so what we want to do is project it over to Xbox. We think of Xbox more as the amplifier of those experiences for your TV set, for your bedroom or wherever your Xbox is. We want to be able to receive that media for the players where it makes sense to store that media, which is the PC," he said at the time.
"Our strategy is very sound: the PC is going to be the hub of all that media because you want to move it, you want to manage it and manipulate it, and the best place to do that is the PC. I don't want to edit movies on my TV in my living room, and neither do other people - they're content with that entertainment device. I want to watch them, but I don't want to edit them and burn them."