Consoles: The Next Generation

The Holidays are coming

This holiday season it will have been seven years since we were introduced to the current generation of consoles, or at least their original somewhat chunky forms. The Xbox One and PS4 have had almost embarrassingly different levels of success but to delve into that barrel of worms would be an entirely new conversation on its own.

This conversation is about what is coming next, about what we are eagerly anticipating, and about what they could possibly come up with to impress us and keep us entertained for the next seven years. An almost comical amount of delays on AAA games, *cough* The Last of Us 2 *cough*, was the first indicator that the new consoles were not far off. The closer to release, the more delays there appeared to be. Those of us seasoned in the gaming world know exactly why, to make use of the new hardware launch.

Games will be backwards compatible on a scale unseen before on both consoles. Developers will want to take advantage of the hype, but also to see their game perform as well as possible! For example, the best game to play in November 2013 was Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, and it played better on the PS4. It has already been announced that Cyberpunk 2077 will get a free upgrade onto the Series X if you have the Xbox One version! (Cheers CD Projekt Red!) I’m here hoping that the best launch title this time isn’t a title from the previous gen and, with the announcements already made, I don’t think we’re going to be disappointed. 

Early out of the blocks

Xbox jumped first. And what a way to introduce the Series X. Live at the Game Awards and with the most hype inducing trailer I have seen in a long time. Microsoft brought in Xbox’s big hitting IPs and the transformation of Master Chief into the console itself. Boom. That is how to introduce a console. This was then followed by the one and only Phil Spencer. I’m not going to hide it, I am a big Phil Spencer fan (Who isn’t?). He took over from the mess that was left with the Xbox One and completely transformed the console, giving Xbox a clear vision. Crucially, he gave Xbox its identity back – something the Xbox fans had been missing since 2013. At every interview or appearance he is always keen to show gamers what has changed. This is badly needed to restore faith in a let down community, especially after the wonder that was the Xbox 360. The success of the 360 is what Phil and Xbox will be looking to emulate, and that’s why they launched first. They have nothing to hide. They have full faith in the console hardware and the software that is going to be on offer. Now? All we have to do is wait.

Here’s what we know hardware wise so far:

Xbox Series X Specs:

  • CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT) 7nm
  • GPU: 12 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz, Custom RDNA 2
  • Memory: 16GB GDDR6
  • Storage: 1TB custom NVMe SSD
  • Optical drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray
  • 120 fps support
  • Potential 8K resolutions
  • Ray-tracing technology
  • Smart Delivery

Sony has taken a somewhat quiet and muted approach to the new console. Despite having, arguably, the most successful console of all time in the PS4, it has been almost reluctant to reveal details about the new generation. At first we got a logo. A smart logo, but not an entirely unexpected one. We were then given the specs of the console, and then finally it released to us… the controller. No Console. A thousand concepts and the developers kit, but no official word from Sony. To me, this part just doesn’t make sense. In this current generation, Sony got everything right. It had the cheaper console, released the best games, had the best partnerships (Activision). And that’s why it sold nearly 110 million units. To put that into perspective, the Xbox One has sold less than 50 million. Game, set and match Sony.

Why is Sony so nervous about revealing the console on the back of this success? Is it unsure as to whether it can live up to the hype of the PS4? One thing Sony do not want on its hands is another PS3. Its biggest initial hurdle? Price. With the state that the world is currently in, price has never been more important. If Sony end up releasing a less powerful machine that is the same price or even more expensive than the Series X, then it will almost certainly struggle straight out of the blocks.

It took Sony a while but after months of speculation we got the info we needed.

PS5 Specs:

  • CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz.
  • GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz, RDNA 2 architecture.
  • RAM: 16GB GDDR6.
  • Storage: Custom 825GB SSD.
  • Expandable storage: NVMe SSD slot.
  • Optical drive: 4K Blu-ray drive

Now the specs listed here may not look too different, and this is the problem when a company launches specs on a console without any real world testing or without any major tech demonstrations. It could have all the power in the world, but if the design isn’t up to scratch then it doesn’t mean anything. Think of an American muscle car going up against a Golf GTI. One has a lot more power than the other, but there’s only one of those that can fly through any test given to it. Same applies to computing. The differences in the developments and architecture of each system determines performance. Unfortunately, for now, these are just numbers. Often confusing numbers. With the odd letter.

The best insight Sony gave us as to its focus came from the Developers Conference with “a key focus on the developers” and “balancing evolution and revolution”. The main takeaway from the conference is that the PS5 has been designed with gaming at the forefront (Not as a media centre!). The end goal has been to avoid throttling developers with hardware. It should be a playground for content creators, not a maze. The PS4 Slim (and later on the Pro) struggled to match the power of its main rival in this current generation. From the looks of it – and here’s hoping – the PS5 shouldn’t have that same issue.

Sony seems confident in its hardware. Which begs the question, why the delay in release? Microsoft went all out. Released it all at once, everything but the price was put on the table; Sony? Tumbleweed. Didn’t respond. Microsoft has been slowly rolling out everything that gamers want to hear. The reluctance from Sony is either worrying, or a very clever move. It is either worried or quietly confident. It is either trying to get out of a bluff gone wrong or it is holding the nuts. Could this be the biggest slow roll in history? Who knows this might be the new Sony strategy. Tease for as long as possible, and then release in a similar fashion to other major brands. “Here it is, buy it next week”.

Looks aren’t everything

The main thing now is the looks. Though in the end this often has little or no bearing on the performance of the console physically, it is the focal point. It is what will be plastered throughout every store and website for the next seven years. We know what the Xbox Series X is. The Mini-Fridge/PC Tower is a fairly simplistic design that will meet requirements, after all it’s the internal organisation that made the One X so impressive.

The PS5 is now the one to watch. The design of the PS4, aesthetically, was great – it was a great looking console. But it had one problem: noise. There would be times where atmospheric games were unplayable unless you wore a headset. Being able to suspend disbelief is difficult when you are playing God War on the PS4 Pro with an overlaid soundtrack of an F-16 Fighter. Judging by the early patents, the “V” shape was leaked as the Developer Kit. A design apparently supposed to increase air flow, fixing the overheating issues. Good news, right? Yes and no. The backlash received online regarding this design may well be what is creating the delayed responses from Sony in its announcement. Is it changing the design based on this?

With the Xbox becoming more sleek and going for simplicity, it would seem like a weird move for Sony to create a console that looks like something Doc Brown would have attached to the DeLorean (Flux Capacitor, anyone?). Time will tell whether this is the route that Sony has taken. Me? I doubt it. I am expecting a similar design to the PS4 it’ll be sleek, stylised – albeit a little bigger – and nothing too outlandish; it’s not the 90’s anymore. 

Nevertheless, the doubt has crept in. And for some reason, I just can’t seem to shake it. It all started on the 7th of April, 2020. The day the design of the PS5 controller was released. I won’t sit on the fence. It is not a good looking controller. It appears Sony has attempted a hybrid between the Xbox One and PS4 controller, and it looks horrendously uncomfortable. The biggest problem I always found was with the placement of the triggers and, on this design, it looks worse. I am happy to stand corrected upon release! Well, not happy…

Upon viewing the new controller there is one massive white elephant in the room. And that is that the controller itself is predominantly white. Traditionally the controller will match the colours of the consoles (Nintendo and limited editions excepted), so does this mean that the PS5 is going to be a predominantly white console? The Playstation has always been black since the PS2, and black is normally the aesthetic choice. It means it’ll match your TV, your speakers, among other things. So does this mean a step away from the norm? If so, another potentially risky move from Sony.

At this point just show us the console Sony, it can’t be that bad!?

Games, Boy!

The big thing for the Series X is games. In the previous gen Microsoft had the more powerful system, the 4K Blu Ray player, the backwards compatibility but unfortunately nowhere near enough in the games department. There were a couple of gems, and a few fun titles but other than that, it lacked heavy hitters. Microsoft is fully aware that it dropped the ball on games this generation. Phil Spencer knows this and has addressed it, numerous times.

With the Series X they announced “The Chief”. Halo: Infinite will sell hardware, as long as the outing is better than Halo 5 (and from looks alone it is heading in the right direction) and the second announcement has been from one of their acquired studios, the next step in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. If you aren’t familiar, Ninja Theory (now owned by Microsoft) made one of the best games of the last generation in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Go play this if you haven’t already (it’s on GamePass), and then check out their announcement trailer for the sequel, it is goose-bump inducing. 

Microsoft currently has 15 Games Studios, some bought, some built. All of these studios are working on next generation titles. We’ve known about that since last year! This gives us the insight into what Microsoft is intending to do in the software market both through the Series X and PC. And that is what excites me.

Sony has again been playing the slow game here, and this is something that I just don’t understand. Sony had the best games this generation. Hands down. From God of War, to Spider-Man there were so many unmissable games. As a huge comic book fan, Spider-Man might have been the best game I’ve ever played. Then there’s recent release of Final Fantasy VII Remake (which by the way, is also jaw dropping) and let’s not forget we are still waiting for the Last of Us 2 to be released (although now delayed, AGAIN). This shows the calibre of games Sony has been churning out this generation and what I am expecting more of with the PS5.

Sony also almost always announce games well in advance. Announcement trailers tend to air normally two or three years before the actual game drops (not including delays!) and yet there have been no announcements for the PS5. Not one. Yes we can assume there will be a new God of War, Spider-Man and Horizon Zero Dawn (I was hoping HZD as a launch title) but as of now nothing is confirmed. If Sony is refraining from building the hype for the hardware you’d think it would double down on what it has done so well in the last seven years. But so far not even a tease.

Having owned both machines this generation and with the increase in cross-play as well, it has never been easier to play with friends on other platforms, blurring lines between the “Console Wars”. The main difference between these consoles is going to come down to the exclusive titles. As I mentioned earlier, the hardware looks relatively similar. This is where people are disenfranchised with Xbox. They don’t trust them to make a good game, and to a certain extent they have a point. Despite being an Xbox fan, I don’t trust them either.

One thing they have taken from this generation though is Backwards Compatibility. PS5 will play PS4 games and the Series X will build on Xbox’s already extensive back catalogue reaching back to the Original Xbox. Microsoft has also brought a little extra to this fight, though, making accessories backwards compatible. This means the Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller (as well as a great deal more) will work on the Series X. On this one Microsoft takes the upper hand.

Learn your lessons

Microsoft can’t afford to make the same mistakes it made seven years ago. Sony had the better console on launch and it was £100 cheaper. Microsoft’s PR was horrendous. It was a pushed as a media console that was always online and had a pointless Kinect bundled with it. It was the perfect storm of things gamers didn’t want.

Sony pushed that the PS4 was built for the gamers and was cheaper, it was a no brainer. I don’t think this will be repeated. Microsoft look like they have the console, and they have the games; their next hurdle will be price. The current price of the PS5 is expected to be around £449 ($499). I can’t see them being much more than this, possibly around the £499 ($549) mark. To overprice a second time would be a mistake, one that may be too costly, even for Microsoft.

According to both companies there will be no delays in the release of the consoles yet, although this is an ever changing field, as we are already aware that there is a potential shortage of PS5s on release. They are both still on track to launch “Holidays 2020”.

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