If Microsoft is treating the launch of Project Natal like the launch of a new console, that's because it actually is the launch of a new console - at least, that's what some speculative rumors are saying.
Ah, yes. It wouldn't be a new technology reveal without the requisite flood of rumors surrounding said new technology. In this case, we're getting a report via 1UP about Microsoft's new, much-hyped Project Natal.
Last week, Microsoft strategist Shane Kim said that the software giant was treating the release of Natal like the release of the Xbox 360 itself. Now, some are speculating that Natal will be a new console - the next iteration of the Xbox.
Keep in mind that these are rumors; incredibly unsubstantiated rumors, no less. Take everything here with a big heaping helping of salt.
The new system - which will carry a new name (Xbox Natal?) - will hit next fall, according to 1UP, with a likely unveiling at next year's Game Developers' Conference. Alongside the Natal camera and software, it will also feature some slightly upgraded hardware that will allow it to support more graphically intensive games. While there's absolutely no word on what these rumored upgrades would be, the obvious thing that comes to mind is the potential support of a true HD storage media to compete with Sony's Blu-Ray, the major advantage that the PS3 has over its Microsoft rival.
The rumored leap would by no means signal the start of a new console generation. In other words, it would be less Xbox -> Xbox 360, and more along DS -> DSi, or PSP -> PSP Go.
I have to admit, it's hard to see this rumor as having legs to it, especially the part about genuinely upgraded hardware. Shelling out $100-some-odd for a new handheld is one thing. Slapping down $400 for a new console is another thing entirely, and this would seem to go against Microsoft's wish to have Natal compatible with all current 360s right out of the gate.
What I can see happening is something along the lines of Sony's slim PS1 and PS2: Essentially the same hardware, only repackaged and perhaps retooled a bit to the point where there's essentially no difference other than the size it takes up in your living room (and maybe they'd fix that pesky RRoD while they're at it).
So yeah. I'm going to go ahead and say that I'm unconvinced about this rumor's validity, but hey. I could always be wrong. Guess we'll have to wait and see.