Opinion: Why Xbox One was the only “next-gen” console
Over time, things and concepts change. New technologies are introduced, or are to be introduced, and those with the forward-thinking nature to prepare for what’s next will nearly always triumph.
Before this generation even began; I believed a “next-gen” console will be beyond games, yes it should support that as well, but it should be a console for your entire home.
The smart, “home of the future” which Microsoft had envisioned over a decade ago before M2M (Machine-to-Machine) and the IoT (Internet of Things) trend even began, is upon us according to Cisco and many others – and it looks like only their Xbox One is preparing to be that central hub.
Sony, and their rival PlayStation 4, played to the company’s strengths of design and hardware grunt this generation – fixing many of the initial complaints of their last console.
There are even (heavily disputed) claims of the PS4 offering 50% “more power” over the ‘Xbone’ – despite titles on both consoles looking fantastic and almost indistinguishable in their 1080p/60fps glory.
“But not all titles on the Xbone are 1080p”, I hear you cry. They’re not, despite first party titles such as Forza 5 proving it is certainly possible – without a single drop in frame rate. Why is this? Due to two factors…
The first is the lack of third-party developer’s time with the new Xbox One development tools. The second (and more important) is, in complete opposite to the last-generation, it’s Microsoft’s console with the slightly strange architecture.
The Xbox One uses ESRAM; which they’ve opted for as the “natural successor” as it can (theoretically) offer higher read/write speeds – even more so than they originally anticipated. The PS4 uses the well-known DRAM; which developers are already well-versed in utilising.
Although less impactful, whereas last generation developers had to get used to the PS4’s “Cell” architecture – the Xbox used a standard “PowerPC”. This resulted in the most impressive games such as ‘The Last of Us’ coming out, well, last…
Summed up, both consoles offer superb and near-indistinguishable games today… but specs alone are outdated very quickly in the face of the PC.
In fact, Nvidia’s Tony Tamasi said to TechRadar: “Compared to gaming PCs, the PS4 specs are in the neighborhood of a low-end CPU, and a low- to mid-range GPU side,"
He continued: “It will only offer about half the performance of a GTX680 GPU (based on GFLOPS and texture), which launched in March 2012, more than a year and a half ago.”
Both consoles are being joined by a new competitor, Valve’s “Steam Box”. These upgradable PC’s which sit under your TV already offer vastly better specs, and can move with the times. Neither the Xbox nor the PlayStation can compete purely in this arena – especially for the next decade.
Microsoft, for all they’re ridiculed today about it, is right about the Cloud.
Using the earlier example of Xbox-exclusive title Forza 5; it’s not because of its stunning graphical technology it’s one of the highest rated and most praised releases across consoles – but for its use of Cloud AI for its “Drivatar” system.
If you haven’t heard about how it works; it will monitor your driving to create a (scarily) realistic AI of your driving-style to put you in friends’ offline races, and friends in yours. Drive like an idiot, your avatar drives like an idiot. Drive precisely, your avatar drives precisely.
With today’s unreliable internet infrastructure; this is about as complicated as it gets. However, as speeds and reliability increases; we can start to load dynamic weather and particle effects ahead of time… before progressing to computing worlds and levels in real-time.
Today it takes the load off the local hardware to process for other aspects which today’s Cloud isn’t ready for; but in the future it will ensure these consoles can compete with raw hardware.
Microsoft is already a decade ahead of Sony in this field; they are a giant company with a play in Cloud infrastructure through their respected and proven ‘Azure’ platform. For the Xbox One alone, Microsoft added 300,000 servers… and has recently invested a further $700 million for Cloud services across their products.
Sure, Sony bought Gaikai a (comparatively small) game-streaming platform which failed to grab appeal, for $360 million… but my gut-feeling is this will only be capable for their intended use of streaming PS3 games to offer some amount of backwards compatibility.
Part of this “gut-feeling” is Sony’s reluctance to adapt and offer support and updates after their initial product releases. The console dashboard is the best example. Whereas Microsoft has had three evolutions on the Xbox 360; Sony has kept the one for each generation.
Microsoft's Xbox Evolution
Sony's PlayStation Evolution
What also shouldn’t be underestimated, at all, is Microsoft’s vast ecosystem. The Xbox One has a Windows 8 layer (love or hate…) in cohesion with the Xbox OS. It will be opened eventually for all Windows developers to release applications across Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Xbox.
The ability to get your applications across desktop, tablet, mobile, and the TV almost at once; is certainly enticing. Sony doesn’t have a play to compete here. Even if PC gaming continues to rise… it will be on Windows for the long-term; even if Linux is hovering there on the horizon.
It’s a shame Microsoft was bullied out of their DRM policies; it would have not only protected small studios from the financial losses of used games… but also made the transition to this always-connected future much easier. This would have begun at launch with the ability to download your games anywhere, and to share between family members.
Now they have been made to look the enemy; many will scream “NSA” at them… and so instead of spending time innovating; the company is busy trying to change their public image by going after the government and treading carefully to prevent more outcries.
Still, Microsoft will be using their unmatchable experience to their advantage to create an ecosystem which works together seamlessly across all connected devices in the home…
And all this makes the Xbox One the only true next-generation “home console”.
Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Feel free to discuss in the comments.
If you are interested in IoT, please visit IoT Tech Expo Europe in London's Olympia, December 2-3 2015.