Microsoft executive J Allard will use his keynote address at the Game Developers Conference later today to unveil a number of key features of Xbox 2.
"In the HD Era the platform is bigger than the processor," Allard will say. "New technology and emerging consumer forces will come together to enable the rock stars of game development to shake up the old establishment and redefine entertainment as we know it."
According to highly detailed information released by Xbox's Dutch PR firm Citigate today, Xbox 2 is designed to make life easier for developers - supporting familiar tech "such as DirectX, PIX, XACT and... XNA Studio", and wresting control of key Xbox functions like voice chat, Friends lists and custom soundtracks out of their hands in order to ease the production process and let them "focus on creating games, not developing for technical certification requirements (TCRs)."
In other words, things like voice communication, in-game Friends list management, custom soundtracks and the like will become standard features of the console - controlled, we're told, "at chip level" - and apply to every game regardless of whether or not the developer would have included them otherwise.
It says Xbox 2 will represent "a significant leap to high-definition graphics" - reflecting reports that the console will shoot for HDTV/progressive scan support as standard - as well as "multichannel, positional audio fidelity so clear and precise that players will be able to hear the faintest enemy footsteps sneaking up behind them" and "an abundance of on-demand content for game consoles".
It also refers to the Xbox 2 hardware in broad terms, promising "more than a teraflop of targeted computing performance" thanks to "a multicore processor architecture co-developed with IBM" providing "developer headroom and flexibility", and mentions the custom graphics chip from ATI which Microsoft has itself already announced.
That ties in with a second report that emerged earlier this week claiming to confirm that Xbox 2 will feature optional hard disks, dual-layer DVD-9 discs as standard, memory cards ranging from 64MB to 1GB, and 256MB of system RAM. Microsoft said it would not comment on "rumours and speculation" when confronted with those details.
Xbox 2 will also feature a central "Marketplace" resource where user and developer-made bonus game content is sold for sums as little as 99 cents, doing away with the clunky Downloadable Content facility currently used by Xbox Live titles, as well as "Gamer Cards", which sound like expanded Xbox Live profiles storing game preferences and other personal information input by the user to help people track down like-minded opponents, today's release declares.
The press release makes continual references to the "HD Era" - a potential umbrella term for the Xbox 2 platform and associated facilities - and the "guide", described as an "entertainment gateway that instantly connects players to their games, their friends and their digital media".
Microsoft UK has refused to comment on the document, as it always does on matters next-generation, and has for once pleaded total ignorance - with a representative this afternoon claiming never to have seen the release before. However we have been able to confirm that the document is genuine, erroneously released ahead of the keynote instead of afterward.
The information ties in with other reportedly leaked elements of Allard's speech that are circulating this afternoon, which state that the Microsoft executive will talk about the console's specifications, what the user interface might look like, and where Microsoft sees the future of its Xbox Live online gaming service. Allard will also reportedly refer to the console as "Xenon" - its internal codename.
When Allard unveils elements of Xbox 2 tonight, it will mirror to a certain extent the way Microsoft announced the original Xbox at CES - complete with a hastily constructed mock-up - rather than the traditional platform of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. However, this time E3 will almost certainly be the platform for the console's actual unveiling.
Citigate representatives declined to comment.
A full report on Allard's keynote will appear here later tonight.
The full text of the press release is available on Eurogamer here.