What a strange console generation. We seem to be at a turning point in the way consoles advance, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. For those of you not in the know, it was leaked that Sony is planning on releasing a beefier version of the PS4, codenamed NEO, that will have a bit more processing power than the current iteration. Shortly thereafter rumors started spreading around that Microsoft have something similar up their sleeves, with a much more powerful Xbox One console, called Scorpio for now, around the corner. Details surrounding this new Xbone are hard to find, but it isn’t surprising at all that they decided to upgrade, as the PS4 already has a technological edge over the Xbone.
So why is this strange? Well, for one, the Playstation NEO is only marginally more powerful than the current PS4. Playstation games released after a certain point will have to have both a regular mode, for “normal” PS4s, and a “NEO mode,” with raised specs for the more powerful hardware. Here are the standard PS4 and the Playstation NEO specs, side-by-side:
It’s certainly an improvement, and it will definitely extend the lifetime of the Playstation 4. But why was such an upgrade necessary in the first place? Well, from the very beginning both consoles were relatively weak. It used to be that a console release marked a large step forward in technological capability; the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 each had a lifetime of about 8 years and while they definitely showed their age by the end, they pumped out some great-looking games.
Meanwhile the Xbox One and the PS4 showed their age practically from the get-go. Games that could run like a dream on PC had serious performance issues on release on consoles, and had to sacrifice graphical fidelity to even run at 30 frames-per-second, much less the 60FPS that should be standard at this point. Games like The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 both looked and performed worse than their PC versions, even on the PS4, which is slightly more powerful than the Xbone.
The rumor being thrown around is that the Xbox Scorpio is going to be a massive step up from the current model, moreso than the PSNEO. I’ve heard the phrase “four times more powerful” being thrown around, although at this point it’s pretty much speculation. They’ve also teased Oculus support. The question is, at that point, why not just release a completely new console? Microsoft have pretty much confirmed that an Xbone Slim is around the corner, and they are dropping the price on the standard Xbone model already. In my opinion all they’re doing is splitting their user base and diluting the market. For anybody who doesn’t know about consoles (parents who buy games for their children, etc.) this will only make it more confusing. Which Xbox do I buy? The cheaper one, obviously, because it is cheaper. The average consumer doesn’t care enough to differentiate between these models, and it’s going to piss some people off.
Perhaps it is the beginning of a new way of releasing consoles. Rather than releasing in set generations, it will become iterative, with steps that improve gradually rather than huge but infrequent steps up. These consoles are basically PCs at this point so it’s possible that will become the norm. Who knows? I’m excited to have more powerful hardware, but with the new (and very cheap, for a lot of power) graphics cards around the corner, I’m torn between these new consoles or just building a more powerful PC. Only time can tell, but I’m very interested to see what shape these consoles take.