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Rumour: Microsoft abandoning discs for next-gen

But a download-only console is unlikely, proprietary physical system could remain

A report has emerged which claims that Microsoft is going to abandon disc-based games for its next console, prompting fears that the platform-holder could be building a download only machine before both infrastructure and retail are ready to support it.

The unverified report, from UK trade site MCV, suggests that briefings have already been given to developers under "the strictest NDA", warning that whatever the next Xbox transpires to be, it won't feature disc-based media.

What it doesn't claim, however, is that the Redmond manufacturer is totally abandoning physical media, or indeed the high-street retailer.

A statement issued by Microsoft on the issue is typically non-committal, but does offer some insight into which direction it's facing.

"Xbox 360 has found new ways to extend its lifecycle like introducing the world to controller-free experiences with Kinect and re-inventing the console with a new dashboard and new entertainment content partnerships," the release reads.

"We are always thinking about what is next for our platform and how to continue to defy the lifecycle convention. Beyond that we do not comment on rumors or speculation."

Poignantly, the original report also claims that the machine would "offer compatibility with some sort of interchangeable solid-state card storage". If so, it's likely that this would represent some alternative means of selling physical media, rather than eschewing it for a digital only system instead.

Currently, a DVD or Blu-ray drive means extra heat, noise, space, power usage and opportunity for mechanical failure. Whilst the market is clearly edging ever closer to an all-digital future, it may make more sense for these considerations to be closer to the decision making process behind abandoning discs.

Sony has experimented with bespoke formats for its hardware before, with the PSP's UMD, and now the 'NVG' for Vita. That transition in itself says much about the way in which the platform owners are looking at selling physical media.

Solid-state systems are technically viable, relatively cheap and harder to pirate. They have no moving parts, eliminating many of the drawbacks already mentioned. Microsoft's major markets also lie in territories where infrastructure is still not reliable enough to support a download-only machine.

Rumours of new Microsoft hardware persist, fuelled by the current console cycle nearing its apparent natural end, as well as rumblings of secret developer briefings. Standard fare, perhaps, but any speculation always generates a few false leads.

The idea of a digital-only transition is not impossible, but Microsoft are smarter than that. Physical media may be changing, but it's not dead yet.

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