With the release of the Xbox One X in a couple of months I found myself thinking how far consoles have come since the 1990s, for both Sony and Microsoft. Because of this, I’ve decided to write a little bit about the various generations that have lead to this 4K / HDR point. I apologise to those of you who are Nintendo fans. In terms of console gaming I stuck to Sony and Microsoft offerings and have never owned a Nintendo device.
Ok let’s proceed. Sony had a winner way back in the day with the original PlayStation in the mid 90s. Indeed, I felt a strong sense of nostalgia when the original PlayStation showed up in Uncharted 4. The original Gran Turismo was fantastic in the day.
Then the original Xbox came out in 2001, in competition with the Playstation 2 (released in 2000). I remember having healthy arguments with my now wife over which console was better, the Xbox or the Playstation 2 (I sided with the PS2 at the time). Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 was amazing on the PS2, along with Gran Turismo 3 (yes, I do like my racing games).
Then arguably Sony took a bit of a misstep with the Playstation 3 in 2006, in terms of initial price point and architecture. Third party developers lamented at how hard it was to program for the Cell Microprocessor. This gave Microsoft an even better gap, with the excellent Xbox 360, released almost a year earlier in November, 2005. The Xbox 360 was more closely aligned with PC architecture and therefore much easier to code for.
Amazingly instead of the four year console cycle we had seen with the earlier generations, the Xbox 360 managed to run for eight years before the release of the Xbox One in November 2013. By the end of 2013 though, PCs had come forward in leaps and bounds with regards to CPU and GPU power, and the trusty old Xbox 360 was starting to look very tired.
Then Sony released the PlayStation 4 on November 15, 2013 to rave reviews. The Xbox One released a week later, and looked quite a bit boxier than the sleek PS4. This time it was Microsoft’s turn to take a misstep, both in terms of the architecture (eSRAM) and how they were marketing the console at launch (always online, no discs etc). On top of that it was third party developers this time that had more difficulty coding for the Xbox One.
This ended up being a complete reversal from the previous console generation, with Microsoft on the back foot in terms of power and sales. Don’t get me wrong, the Xbox One is a great unit, and the great controller and UI helped make up for the shortfall in traditional PC power, but for a few years (from late 2013 to mid 2016) the PS4 continued to out sell the Xbox One. Interestingly enough, both the PS4 and the Xbox One could only manage 1080p for all the games and the console hardware was really starting to slip behind the power of PCs. Which brings us to now.
Sony released the PlayStation 4 Pro on November 15, 2016. This was due in part to timing with the PlayStation VR but I’m sure Sony wanted to keep sales momentum going, having witnessed the surprise strong sales of Microsoft’s newly released Xbox One S (August, 2016). The PS4 Pro was a console that finally starting looking as good on a 4K TV as a medium to high spec PC.
The Xbox One S on the other hand, did have some advantages, and provided a good lead in to the Xbox One X. Power compared to the original Xbox One was only marginally better, but the one thing the Xbox One S has over the PS4 Pro was a Ultra HD Bluray (4K) drive. For some strange reason it was omitted on the PS4 Pro. This has sold quite a few Xbox One S consoles, and still is, because it is a good cost effective way of getting an Ultra HD player.
In two months time on November 7 (almost a year after the PS4 Pro was released) Microsoft are to release the most powerful console to date, the Xbox One X (code name Project Scorpio). As pointed out here there are already a number of games that will be getting the 4K treatment and the Xbox One X will have 6 teraflops of power (compared to the PS4 Pro’s 4.2). This definitely puts it in the mid PC range, roughly equivalent to a Nvidia 1070 GTX video card, on paper anyway. The Xbox One X will have a distinct advantage though because the developers are able to code for a single hardware specification because of the console. Developing for PC is always harder for developers because of the amazing amount of different hardware types.
I’ve spoken with quite a few fellow gamers and some of them are shocked and insulted that we are getting new consoles three and four years after the release of the current generation ones. I actually think it is a good idea. I love my couch gaming, and have become a gamer who has been mainly playing on console since the PlayStation 2. Part of the reason for this is because I didn’t want to tinker with my PC every couple of years. Time is in short supply and being able to just turn on a console and play is appreciated.
I absolutely cannot wait for the new Xbox to help compliment the PS4 Pro. Being able to control the UI from a standard controller is just so relaxing from a comfortable couch. Amazingly, the PC still doesn’t seem to have come up with a user interface that replicates this. Even Big Picture mode on Steam, although very useful, still hasn’t really found a proper couch solution. Maybe it isn’t meant to though. The PC platform is still the best for RTS and Strategy games. The Steam Controller did try to help with emulating a keyboard / mouse but it had some strange ergonomics that just puts the controller at odds with a lot of the standard Xbox and PlayStation counterparts.
I am a gamer and will play any game that is good, regardless of platform. Even though my first preference is the Xbox family I still enjoy a great many games on the Playstation, and to a lesser extent, the PC. I’m really glad we are entering the 4K / HDR world for gaming on consoles. It will give game developers more choice, and a lot more to work with. It will be interesting to see where consoles go next in another three or four years time.