At E3 2015 Microsoft was the first to make a public announcement about this. They have made the big claim of “backward compatibility” which is not really true, but we will get to that later. In the announcement Microsoft stated that they will be opening up the ability to play a small number of Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. The new program is in the BETA stage so there are sure to be bugs, but for those of you that want to get rid of that extra console this could be a step in the right direction.
Now for the backwards compatibility claims. The claim is simply not true. There is nothing in the current Xbox One that will allow it to play Xbox 360 games. The code use there is for a RISC CPU and system and the Xbox One’s OS (the primary gaming OS) runs on x86-64 code. This means that Microsoft is going to have to add an extra emulation layer to mimic the hardware present in the Xbox 360.
The good news is that the Xbox One already runs on a hypervisor based OS and switched back and forth between multiple virtual machines to do its job. This makes adding in the Xbox 360 virtualization layer easier than if they had to build something inside of a core OS. All they have to do is add the virtual guest profile into the hypervisor and they are off and running. The bad news is that there is almost always a performance hit. In some cases the hit can be as much as 30%.
If you are an Xbox Preview member you can start playing you’re a small list of games today. When you load the game the system will detect it and launch a virtualized Xbox 360 console inside the hypervisor. It will be responsible for running the game code and interpreting all of the control inputs. The Xbox One OS will be shifted to the side to wait for any commands that it understand or for when you exit the virtual 360 console. It is a very cool way to give gamers something they really wanted when the Xbox One launched.
There is no official word on when this will be out of BETA and hit the streets for the rest of us to use, but we will keep you up to date on any developments in this area.