The upcoming release of the Xbox One X has created quite a flutter in the minds of the gaming public. The touted increase in processing power and the promise of stunning 4k visuals loom as Microsoft tries everything possible to challenge Sony’s domination of this generation’s consoles.
Consoles have often been a cause for debate amongst players, as, over the years, loyal gamers have been transformed into hardcore fan boys. However, it is difficult to argue the fact that if it is power and state-of -the-art gaming that one desires, then you can seldom find it on a console. With limited hardware, low price points and smaller and slimmer designs, consoles can never deliver the intended experiences that game developers desire.
Games like Assassins Creed Unity, GTA V and Mass Effect Andromeda have all had trouble in maintaining HD resolutions and a manageable frame rates as the chasm between gaming PCs and consoles has considerably widened.
Consoles, however, are the masters of the optimsed experience; the standardised hardware makes content creation, optimisation and game design easier for developers. The fixed processing power allows for developers to squeeze out every bit of performance without compromising on the resultant gaming experience.
A limitation that is actually a strength because it makes console-wise purchasing decisions as they are often future proof for a time period of 6-8 years and thus offering value for money when compared to gaming PCs with much shorter shelf lives.
The long shelf-life is a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that console manufacturers distinctly enjoy in an era where the silicon century has drastically shortened and hardware manufacturers have made the quantum leaps in processing and graphical power a routine annual fare. Thus, the PS4 Pros and the Xbox One S and the X are completely baffling developments in a market that rewards consistency and the early adopter. While mid-cycle refreshes have often offered subtle improvements and larger storage (often accompanied by slimmer designs), it is for the first time that the internal hardware has been changed.
The Xbox One X claims to deliver a 4k resolution and is 40 per cent more powerful than the original Xbox One; the PS4 Pro though not as powerful claims a resolution and framerate improvement as well.
These mid-cycle refreshes might spruce up the limited hardware but the manufacturers’ hastening of the process has made every early adopter regret his/her decision to buy what are now “outdated” consoles.
The developers of games too are in a similar fix as they must now make two versions of the same game for two native resolutions, and with two levels of graphical detail.
The process of updates, patches and improvements for games becomes two-fold as well as optimisation now becomes twice as difficult. Sony claims that while all games will work for the original PS4, there will be some special features for the Pro owners; an act that seems to punish rather than reward the most loyal of fans.
Gaming hardware and software companies have always tried to push the latest hardware to players by making games as power-hungry as possible. They are, thus, enabling the industry to constantly fuel a demand for newer hardware.
The console market was the last vestige of resistance to this trend but with magical words like “4k” and “60fps” being bandied about, the stability of the console generation may not last for long. The Nintendo Switch was a clear indicator that the industry is re-thinking the console market. As murmurs of a PS5 (shouldn’t be here before 2019-2020) begin to grow, we as players maybe enjoying our last full-fledged console generation!