Opinion: Why upgraded Xbox One and PS4 consoles are inevitable

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/LoooZaaa)

To improve the future, you must look at the past. In this case, multiple sources confirming the existence of an upgraded PS4 codenamed "NEO" proves the console market is looking at the PC's legacy of upgradeable hardware and recognising that it can offer a faster upgrade cycle for dedicated gamers. 

It's widely-acknowledged that if you desire the best gaming performance then a dedicated PC represents the best method of attaining the highest resolution and optimum frame rates. A console has traditionally offered capable and optimised hardware at much lower cost than a high-end PC, with a lifespan of around eight years, which suits many gamers and their wallets. 

The latest generation of consoles arrived on the brink of major technological developments. Both major consoles felt rushed to market underdeveloped, and have spent the past couple of years releasing new user features, releasing hit exclusive games, and fleshing-out their development kits to reach a point where they should have been at launch. 

Higher Resolution 

The 4K resolution is about to gain traction for the general consumer – as compatible televisions drop in price and more video content is produced – yet neither the PS4 or Xbox One can support it. 4K is not a new phenomenon to a high-end PC gamer, but it's about to become a big deal to others. 

Microsoft's new head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, was first to hint at the launch of an upgraded console during a speech at the Xbox Spring Showcase keynote event. "We see on other platforms whether it be mobile or PC that you get a continuous innovation that you rarely see on console," he said. "Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger. And then you wait for the next big step function." 

"When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we've ever seen. You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform." 

Over the past couple of weeks, sources of several publications all but confirmed Sony is working on an upgraded PS4 codenamed "NEO" which is being designed with 4K in mind. Although it's doubtful all games will run 4K natively, bigger titles could feature a dynamic resolution which switches resolution dependent on the current scene.

 

Original PS4 

NEO 

CPU 

8 Jaguar Cores at 1.6 GHz 

8 Jaguar Cores at 2.1 GHz 

GPU 

AMD GCN, 18CUsat 800 MHz 

Improved AMD GCN, 36CUsat 911 MHz 

Memory 

8 GB GDDR5, 176 GB/s 

8 GB GDDR5, 218 GB/s 

(Image: Alleged specs of the NEO) 

Virtual Reality 

Another technology which is about to become popular – for which the current generation of consoles were not designed – is virtual reality. Those with gaming VR headsets today will be aware they require a significant amount of processing grunt to sustain a high-level of visual fidelity without dropping frames (which is even more noticeable in such an experience.) 

The NEO is speculated to launch around the same time as the PlayStation VR in October, which embodies another reason why console manufacturers are looking to upgrade their consoles so early in their lifecycle. 

According to documents obtained by GiantBomb, Sony is positioning strict guidelines for NEO development to ensure current PS4 owners aren't left behind. Games must support the original PS4, but can run better on the NEO with a higher resolution/frame rate. Developers also cannot offer exclusives for NEO players, but can "enhance" features like 8-player co-op instead of 4-player for example. 

Competition 

Nintendo represents another player which is often forgotten about in talks about performance when compared to Xbox and PlayStation, but the company is due to launch its next-generation 'NX' console this year which is due to at least be more powerful than Microsoft and Sony's current base consoles. We'll have to wait for more details, but that's a third reason for console upgrades. 

The upgrades could offer a break for Microsoft, who have been criticised for their console's performance often not being able to sustain a 1080p resolution. Sales of the Xbox One are far behind the PS4, despite both consoles experiencing higher sales at this point in the generation than previous. An upgraded console may help to level the playing field. 

Do you think mid-cycle hardware upgrades are necessary? Let us know in the comments. 

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