While most Xbox One fans and users are currently focused on what is and is not in each month's system update, this isn't the only way that Microsoft keeps its new console up to date. At E3 earlier this month, the company announced a June 2014 update to its Xbox Development Kit, or XDK, as well. And this week, it finally explained how this release will improve performance in certain new games only.
"We continue to optimize the platform, make new technology investments, and give titles increased flexibility to use the features that best meet their needs," Director of Development of Xbox Software Engineering Kareem Choudhry says. "We've offered new updates to developers since the launch of Xbox One and the recent availability of the June XDK for developers offers developers more access to GPU bandwidth, which provides more performance, new tools and flexibility to make games better."
Key among the changes is a 10 percent GPU improvement boost, which was widely reported recently. In fact, this discussion about the XDK is occurring solely to fix some misinformation that arose about that improvement because Microsoft didn't explain it correctly originally.
According to Choudhry, developers who don't need Kinect skeletal tracking in their titles can disable it and achieve that 10 percent performance improvement, albeit only in that game. The rest of the system is not impacted.
"Previously, 10 percent of the GPU was reserved for system level processing which included Kinect-related skeletal tracking data," Choudhry explains. "With this change, titles that are not using skeletal tracking with Kinect can choose to use that portion of the system reserve for other purposes."
What this implies is a lot more nuanced than Microsoft's original explanation of the 10 percent performance improvement. A lot more.
Originally, many thought that this was achieved by removing or not using Kinect entirely. But it's really related to just the skeletal tracking functional subset of the Kinect experience. According to Choundhry, Kinect Depth and the infrared sensors that enable biometric sign-in skeletal tracking and controller pairing are no longer available if this feature is disabled. But the "full Kinect experience" (including skeletal tracking) is automatically re-enabled when the user switches back to the Dashboard or other apps, even while in a game that has disabled this functionality.
Put another way, Xbox One's voice commands ("Xbox, on", "Xbox, record that," and so on) will still work, as will many other Kinect features. (Assuming you have Kinect, of course.)
Put yet another way, simply unplugging the Kinect will not impact GPU processing capabilities or performance: A game needs to utilize the June XDK to take advantage of this capability, and no such games are currently available.
The performance improvements don't stop there, however: Microsoft has also optimized the entire system so that titles now have access to 100 percent of the Xbox One GPU for increased resolution and graphical effects. (It's not clear what percent access they had previously, but a spate of lower-than-Full HD games on Xbox One over the past six months has caused a lot of grumbling.)