So this is a bit of a mind dump, but with the announcement of the PS4 Pro being so sketchy, how can we have anything except abject speculation? So let’s have some about Microsoft’s Project Scorpio and in particular what will happen over the next year.
The general consensus is that this console, along with the PS4 Pro will be a part of the “point five” (.5) scheme that this console generation is experiencing. The similarities here are to the mobile phone market and the obvious comparisons to the upgrade culture that exists there. The incremental upgrading that happens on an annual basis will not be an easy sell to the video game audiences, although you can argue that this is exactly what PC users have been doing for years with their systems. Small upgrades of graphics, memory, hard drives, monitors, cases, neon lights, whatever.
What we need to ask, or at least work out, is who Project Scorpio is intended for. Sony have already made an assumptive leap with the phrase “Pro”. Pro gamer? Professional person who can afford such things? The PS4 Pro doesn’t really do 4K gaming, although it could probably be patched to do so with games that don’t require a lot. Four teraflops of GPU power compared to Scorpio’s six makes it underpowered in future but for now, the most powerful non-PC console on the market. Again.
But in essence, this is a tentative leap in to a technology that really doesn’t have a hold on the household market. 4K streaming is great, as is HDR and upscaling existing games to perform better. But ask yourself truthfully, as a person who might be considering these consoles and who might also be someone who looks for the progression of technology, would you really go back and play a game that’s been patched to look better?
I think no. Because in all fairness, you’ve probably played such games to death. You’ve completed them, enjoyed them and the only reason you’d return is to see how it looks. Curiosity is all, unless you really love a game in which case you’d still only be doing it for a single game. That’s not being a pessimist, but I can’t see myself doing it. I’ve played Uncharted 4, for example, and it looked amazing. Would I go back just for frame rates and HDR? Probably not. And given that any new games will have to have parity across both consoles, unless the games are underperforming on the base PS4/Slim, then I don’t particularly care. And why would they? With a 40million+ user base, why would you make a game that performs badly for the majority? You wouldn’t. It’s not going to convince me to take a 4K leap yet.
And that’s a big issue here. The market isn’t ready to take advantage of 4K. Back when the Xbox 360/PS3 came out, there was a massive push towards HD and that’s because there was a HUGE push towards digital television. Standard Definition compared to High Definition was noticeably inferior. This is also in part due to the compression that occurs in order to get a large amount of channels on your digital tellybox. The price of HD television was very much offset by a lot of people (pre 2007 market crash) having much more expendable income. There were a lot of factors that made HD an easy proposition.
So how does Project Scorpio come in? Very nicely. But for the rest of this article, I shall refer to it as Xbox4. Here is a fact in a piece laden with speculation: Project Scorpio will be the fourth console from Microsoft. Yes there have been various re-releases and slim versions but the base architecture of the consoles, regardless of how refined they are, hasen’t changed during a console’s lifespan. You’ve had the Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Scorpio is a big technological departure from the latter. So I believe that this won’t be a “point five” console. I think this will be the start of generations overlapping. Plus, given the stigma of Xbox One as a name (underpowered, poor launch, etc), it’s Microsoft’s chance to fully break free.
Microsoft has the upper hand here believe it or not. Sony have played their cards early. They have the biggest user base for a console that, compared to the last generation, is technically half way through its lifespan. Sony have a much more vested interest in the technology market and the sale of televisions compared to Microsoft to so they have a much larger target audience with which to show off their tech.
As much as we like to think that gaming helps launch the technology upgrades in the home (PS2’s cheap DVD player, PS3’s cheap Blu Ray player), it’s going to be television, and sports, that will force change. In the UK over the past year, Sky and BT have started their Ultra HD roll out. Whilst it is great, the price for this is still very much out of the average incomes of the U.K. Household. At least this year.
By the time that Xbox4 comes out, it will be towards the end of 2017. There will have been many sales by then, two Black Friday sales as well. There is a bigger likelihood of there being a 4K user base next year than this year. It’s not far fetched to say that Sony might have gone too early in this upcoming battle. Another thing with television is that all of these TV’s are smart TV’s which all include 4K streaming built in. Using the console is easier of course, but if you’re getting one, you need the TV which already has everything. So it’s not a great selling point to be a console that has 4K streaming when the device you need to use it already has it as standard. Then there’s the issue of HDR input lag, something we’re yet to fully understand or find resolves for. A year will be very important on both the TV and console’s ability to improve their technology.
Microsoft have also said that all new first party games will be native 4K, not upscaled. Which means that Microsoft will have a definitive catalogue of 4K launch titles. There will be games to play which will enjoy the Xbox4’s power. There will also be a huge catalogue of games that will work on Xbox4.
Compared to Sony, Microsoft have fully embraced backward compatibility. Now if you think that Xbox4 will play all the Xbox One titles, the ever increasing 360 library and will likely give a small performance boost to existing titles without downloads and faffing around (which PS4 Pro’s upgraded titles will need), it makes it appealing with the sheer size of the games catalogue. This could make an upgrade decision for those who have multiple users in the house (children, etc) very easy for those who already own an Xbox One. It will also make the Xbox One S the obvious budget option. A budget option which is already under £200 including the 4K Blu Ray player, which will again have all of the existing games catalogue and backward compatibility.
The thing that Microsoft have done here is cleverly played on Sony’s hubris in being the dominant console of the generation (Who knows what Nintendo will do?). Microsoft will take the 4K leap at a time when there’ll be a larger user base of 4K TV users and, most importantly, with enough of a lead in and clarity of message that people can plan what to spend their money on. I’ve planned PSVR for ages. Even if I had the TV to take advantage of PS4 Pro (announced to be released within a month of its VR unit), I couldn’t financially. I’m sure that’s the case for many people, especially close to Christmas with a very small announcement time. Forcing Sony’s hand, or at least forcing them in to clarifying their next model means that Microsoft can rock the boat.
It’s not as if there are any rules here about console generations. The Xbox’s sales have picked up but compared to Sony they still really have nothing to lose by writing off the Xbox One and going all out for an early generation leap (at least historically speaking). This restructuring of their line up is key for their own Windows PC integration, another platform that’s arguably taken a hit thanks to Apple. Microsoft can also see how VR performs on PlayStation. Will it be worth integrating support for Oculus Rift? Will the cost of that technology come down to be affordable for all or do they write it off like they have done for Kinect and concentrate on power? Microsoft have time to make those decisions now where as Sony have just surrendered that.
So I believe that Project Scorpio will be Xbox4. The fourth Xbox, the 4K Xbox. It will be the start of the 4K generation proper and it will come at a time when the home entertainment market is ready for it. Next year.