A reader examines the options Sony and Microsoft have the for the PS5 and next generation Xbox and when theyre likely to be released.
It seems like only yesterday the gaming community were in uproar over always-online, used games, and fixated with resolution. A lot has changed since 2013, in part due to the mid-generation consoles. It seems premature to be even contemplating the next gen.
Its not as though the current standard of games are severely limited by their host hardware. But here we are again, the twilight period of a generation when the latest trailer is greeted by dubious question marks over its legitimacy. We all have our own ideas when the next gen will happen and what it will entail, so I will be doing some speculation of my own, along with my aspirations for the next gen.
At this years E3 Phil Spencer took to the stage and openly admitted to be working on next generation consoles. Im sure him stating console in the plural was no accident, which raises a question over how far into the future are they planning? Sony have been making similar noises too, previously conceding PlayStation 4 is at the end of its lifespan.
A 2020 launch window appears to be the most popular estimate, which I would go along with. Although if one company is to defy that logic I feel it will be Xbox. Perhaps significantly, Digital Foundry remarked a generational leap would be possible by the end of 2019. Therefore, I wouldnt discount Microsoft referring to the Xbox 360 rule book for a head start. I do think a simultaneous launch is more likely however.
So what hardware would constitute a generational leap? I think what is important to consider is any comparisons should be made with the base consoles – not the mid-gen refreshes. It is no secret the Jaguar CPUs of the current gen have been sorely lacking in computational grunt. Originally designed for laptops, AMDs Ryzen technology is a far different proposition and should redress the balance. This component alone should allow for greater frame rates and move towards the 60fps standard gamers crave.
On the GPU side AMDs Navi architecture appears the most likely outcome, which applies to both console manufacturers. The inevitable question will be how many teraflops will each side boast? Sonys Mark Cerny previously commented on how eight teraflops was a minimum requirement for native 4K, and when you consider a Nvidia 1080 Ti costs several hundred pounds for 11.4 teraflops, to expect that kind of performance inside a closed box design is perhaps optimistic. A generational leap equates to 6-8 times the performance increase, which suggests 11-15 teraflops based on the 1.84 teraflops capability of PlayStation 4. I do consider the lower-end more realistic, around 9-11 teraflops.
With the upgraded CPU enhancements in physics, artificial intelligence, and frame rate will come to the fore. And lets be honest, graphical fidelity is probably the one aspect that hasnt lacked this generation. The returns are already diminished, so I wouldnt go expecting vast improvements, certainly not compared to the latest consoles. The real innovation will come in the form of graphical techniques such as ray-tracing. A RAM increase to around 16GB at a higher bandwidth seems credible, along with a section of the hard drive being solid state to allow for higher performance. Faster load times in general will likely be touted as a major selling point.
So far there isnt much I would expect to differentiate between Sony or Microsofts next consoles. Both will probably launch with a similar spec and budget. Where I feel they will differ will be in the level of customisation and the focus of each company. Starting with Microsoft I anticipate they will offer two different SKUs (which may explain the mention of multiple consoles) – one of which will have no disc drive and will be digital-only. Microsoft have been keen to push digital content, so it seems a logical option. Sold at a slightly lower price point, other than its dimensions it will be identical in spec to the other model. Microsoft may even choose to house a larger hard drive in the digital-only variant.
VR/mixed reality support is still very much up in the air for Microsoft. If there is some movement on VR support then I expect third party VR headsets will be associated, whereas with Sony I expect VR to be baked into the system. Given the modest success of VR so far, this will present a considerable risk for Sony. Not to the extent Kinect was for Xbox, VR will still be treated as an add-on. But its a situation Sony will have to tread carefully over and ensure the inclusion of VR doesnt impede upon the consoles overall capabilities.
Now onto what I feel will be the biggest distinction between the two consoles: backwards and forwards compatibility. Whilst I do think Sony will cut most ties with PlayStation 4, backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 games seems plausible. Needless to say Xbox will continue to support their back catalogue, but its forwards compatibility which is the conundrum. The consensus is it will hold back future games, but if you consider the PC market, this is a situation already in existence – whereby games are designed for multiple hardware configurations.
The situation on consoles is far less complex of course. There has been some speculation Xbox One X will be deemed the new baseline, but with an inferior CPU there would still be constraints in place. How I see it is quite simple: Microsoft will continue to develop first party games for all their family of consoles but will leave it up to third party developers to decide. Clear messaging will be imperative should Microsoft choose this tactic.
Beyond the expected enhancements in visuals and performance; larger words, more sophisticated AI, and advanced physics should in theory set the next gen apart. The problem for Xbox will be balancing these added features against a current userbase, whilst providing sufficient incentive for customers to adopt their newer console. Not unlike Sonys conventional naming of their consoles, their path to the next gen appears more straightforward.
There is however some merit to building upon an established userbase as opposed to hitting reset. And although there has been some fun debate over what Microsoft calls their next console, not being consigned to expectation can be a positive. Incidentally, Xbox Legacy would be my suggestion, which encompasses the past and the future. Theres no hard-fast rules, each approach has its pros and cons. I feel gamers wont mind too much as long as next gen games are not held back by older hardware, but the jury is out on that one.
The final and most important part of the puzzle will naturally be the games. Neither company covered itself in glory at the beginning of this generation, but I get the impression both companies will be better prepared. Microsofts recent acquisitions could bear fruit, and Halo Infinite looks to be a nailed on cross-generational launch title, evoking memories of Combat Evolved on the original Xbox. Sony meanwhile, will probably be readying Horizon Zero Dawn 2, which given Guerrilla Games are a stalwart of PlayStation console launches, I wouldnt bet against it. I wouldnt rule out Ghosts Of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and The Last Of Us Part II being cross-generational titles either.
To summarise, the next generation of consoles is a bit like Brexit; not everyone wants it to happen but we have resigned ourselves to its inevitability. The prospect of a solid launch line-up could appease any anxieties. As we have seen in the past, improved technology doesnt guarantee better games, and I do think at times during this generation theres been too much emphasis placed upon hardware. But if those advances can allow greater expression from developers, then I will find it hard to begrudge the next gen arriving during 2020.
By reader Up4Banter
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