The Eighth Generation of Game Consoles
Which One Will You Buy?
When I was younger my father once told me “Don’t believe the hype,” or was that Public Enemy? Either way the sentiment holds true. Every year we see all sorts of fancy new technological wonders and the marketing that comes along with them. I’ve heard some people describe the modern technology market as Huxleyan, regarding the disposable attitude we have towards many of the devices we use on a daily basis. Though, despite how we treat these technological wonders, they are still considered an investment by many people. This feeling of an investment is greatly magnified when the device is question is a video game console. Major video game consoles are only released a few times a decade and they have become a source of heated competition regarding superiority. For decades companies have been fighting to make the latest and greatest video game console to beat out their competition, and 2013 is playing host to two particular power houses in the industry. With an unbelievable number of reviews, opinions, and ads across all types of media how can you really be sure which video game console is best suited for your needs?
While the video game industry is relatively young, it has still seen seven generations of consoles with the eighth just beginning. Starting with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, the video game industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s had its share ups and downs and seen companies rise and fall. Two of the defining moments for home video game consoles game in 1983 and 1994. In 1983 the video game industry was on the brink of collapse when the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) was release in Japan then later ported to North America under the name Nintendo Entertainment System along with Sega making huge sales in Europe with the Sega Master System. It was later that Nintendo attempted a partnership with Sony Electronics to create a disc based video game console that utilized the newly affordable 3D graphic of the day, in order to compete with the upcoming Sega Saturn. This partnership with Sony ultimately failed, with Nintendo creating their Nintendo 64 (N64) and Sony went on to make the Sony Playstation. Ironically the Playstation outsold both the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn making record sales of over 100 million units. It appeared the astounding sales numbers of the Playstation was enough to entice the third member of the modern console market. The sixth generation of video consoles saw the entrance of Microsoft into the ring with their Xbox. At this point the stage had been set for the start of the “console wars” that has been raging since 2001.
Ever since the release of the Atari 2600 video game “fanboys” have sworn their console to be superior to all others. This has only magnified over the years with more prominent marketing for video games and the increased use of more technologically advanced terminology. Game consoles of any given generation have typically been fairly equal in terms of processing and graphical power, although if you spoke to Playstation or Xbox fanboys you wouldn’t think so. The seventh generation of game consoles consisted of the Xbox360, the Playstation 3 (PS3), and the Nintendo Wii. At the end of the day the PS3 and Xbox360 were pretty much on par as far as technology was concerned, although with slight differences. The Wii sacrificed processing and graphics power for unique controls and a smaller form factor. Despite what many thought, the underpowered Wii obliterated the Xbox360 and PS3 in terms of sales numbers, but the real “console war” was between the Xbox360 and PS3. The PS3 had noticeably more graphics processing power than the Xbox360, focusing on a sizeable dedicated graphics processing units (GPU). This was however at the expense of general processing power (CPU) which they attempted to compensate for by utilizing their Cell processor, designed to be super-efficient. However Sony’s Cell processor ended up being more of a headache to program for than most developers were willing to deal with. On the other end was the Xbox360 which didn’t have the graphical potential of the PS3 but utilized a more standard and more powerful general processor allowing for more robust online services. For most of the seventh generation of game consoles, differences in graphical performance were minimal. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the generation that PS3 titles began to emerge that really took advantage of its graphical capabilities. At the same time we began to see the Xbox360 make more use of its processing power in the form of expanded media support ranging from music playback services to an excellent video-on-demand service.
At the time of writing this the Playstation 4 (PS4) is just being released with the Xbox One release about a week out. As a gamer I was very excited when each of these consoles was announced. As a computer technician, the first thing I was interested was the hardware specifications of each respective console. After inspecting the hardware I was surprised to find that the PS4 and Xbox One had nearly identical specifications. In fact both systems utilize a SoC setup or System on a Chip. This means that many of the components, including the CPU and GPU, are located on a single chip. Now don’t discount either system for that, these SoCs are some badass chips. What you should take away from this is that BOTH Sony and Microsoft are using nearly identical SoC’s based on a Toshiba design. The difference between the two comes in the form of RAM. The PS4 has 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM while the Xbox One as 8 GB of DDR3 RAM. This is where things get really confusing. From the laymen’s point of view the PS4 is clearly better seeing how it has GDDR5 rather than DDR3, 5 is better than 3, right? Well not exactly. Notice the “G” in GDDR5, that standards for graphics. What that means is that GDDR works differently than regular DDR, designed to handle information directly from a GPU rather than a CPU though it can be forced to do both. Are you seeing anything familiar here? The DDR3 in the Xbox One is actually just about on par with the PS4’s GDDR5 because it’s specifically designed to work with a CPU rather than a GPU, once again it can be forced to do both. Just like in the seventh console generation Sony has opted to focus more on graphics capabilities while Microsoft is looking at general processing capabilities. You can find arguments every which about why the PS4’s or Xbox One’s hardware is superior to the other but the fact is there are nearly identical. What that means to you has the consumer is that what defines each console will be the games they play and the apps they run.
If nothing else, video game consoles of the 2000’s has further shown us that the hardware within the console is only a small fraction of what drives console sales. The Nintendo Wii sold over 100 million units by taking advantage of a never before seen control scheme that people from all walks of life wanted to try. The PS3 grabbed consumers with a number of great exclusive titles like the Uncharted, Resistance, and Killzone series. The Xbox360 raked in respectable sales with a few exclusive titles like the Halo series and their stellar online services. To further drive home the point that the hardware doesn’t matter, sales figures for the seventh generation of game consoles shows the Nintendo Wii with an untouchable 100.3 million units sold, while the Xbox360 and PS3 each sold about 80 million units each. The Wii was by far the least impressive in terms of technology but easily outpaced the competition in sales. Unfortunately for Nintendo the novelty of the Wii did not live on to its successor the WiiU. With both the PS4 and the Xbox One offering Wii-esque motion controls out of the box, it does not appear that controls schemes will play much of a role in this console generation. Instead it appears that success in the eighth generation of video game consoles will be defined by console exclusive titles and online services.
At the end of the day the reason anyone should buy a video game console is for what they use it for. The PS3 launched itself as a top tier, and top price, all-in-one home entertainment system with the Xbox360 launching as a gaming centric power house. This approach drove many consumers away from the PS3 and towards the Xbox360 initially. Now everything has reversed. The PS4 primarily focuses its advertising on its gaming capabilities while the Xbox One focuses on its all-in-one media capabilities. At first glance it appears Sony has learned from the past and has clearly chosen the wiser path. However you have to remember that when the PS3 and Xbox360 launched, internet driven media was still very much in its infancy. In 2006 smartphones had just started to become wide spread and devices like Apple TV’s and Roku’s had yet to be released. We now live in a world where a device that doesn’t support internet media services won’t even make it off the design table. Microsoft’s Xbox One appears to have an advantage in internet services based off the success and stability of Xbox Live, but Sony has made enormous strides in this market since the failures of their Playstation Network up through mid-2010. The $400-500 price tag is a considerable investment for most so consumers want to make sure they get the most bang for their buck here.
From the looks of things, most consumers will only have either the PS4 or Xbox One and it is unlikely to affect their gaming experience. There already are and are likely to be very few titles that will be console exclusives in the eighth generation as developers attempt to reach a wider audience, and since programming for the PS4 and Xbox One have become so similar. With the PS4 having just launched and the Xbox One launch days away it’s difficult to make an argument for one system or the other. Both systems are remarkably similar and offer near identical functionality. With that being said my recommendation for what direction to go with eighth console generation for the 2013 holidays… neither. There’s no big advantage to having a PS4 or Xbox One right now. The combined lack of any real killer games any time soon and that I have a hundred other ways to access all the services offered by either system compels me to take a wait and see approach. The first year of a console is always greatly revealing as little, or big, bugs and features are revealed and we are going to see each system change dramatically in both advertising and available games over the next year. If you really HAVE to buy an eighth generation system for holiday 2013 go out and buy a WiiU, it’s cheap, stable, and has a good sized library of games. Otherwise give it a year and by holiday time 2014 you can make that larger investment on a PS4 or Xbox One.