With E3 just within touching distance, the rumour mills are in overdrive (as they always are at this time of year). The biggest rumours this time around are all about console hardware. Are we going to get a new slimline Xbox or redesigned PlayStation, or could we even get the more ambitious Xbox Scorpio and PlayStation Neo/4K? With the old adage that ‘there is no smoke without fire’, surely some of these rumours have to be true. If that is the case, we will be in a situation where for the first time ever we will have an intermediate console generation. How this kind of move will go down with the respective fans, we won’t know until they hit the marketplace, but it makes me question whether the eighth generation of consoles came too soon.
Nowadays, console generations are a strange thing. Back in the early days of gaming, the leap between console generations was very clear. The difference between the 8-bit consoles of the Nintendo Entertainment System & the Sega Master System, and the 16 bit consoles of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System & the Sega Mega Drive is obvious. Similarly, the increase in power between the SNES and the Nintendo 64 was noticeable for all to see. These generational jumps were like quantum leaps and allowed game developers to push boundaries. Generally the NES could only display 25 different colours on-screen at any time, whereas the SNES could display 256 different colours on-screen. The introduction of the Nintendo 64 and original Playstation allowed developers to create three-dimensional worlds for us to walk around and explore; those kind of differences are huge.
When we look at the modern generations of consoles, we see significantly smaller technological leaps. While the power of the CPUs have increased each time, if anything,, the biggest technological leaps in the last few consoles were actually in the storage media. It’s actually possible to trace the development of digital media by the release of the different PlayStation models. While early game consoles relied on cartridge technology, the original PlayStation (along with the Apple iMac) helped to popularise the CD-ROM. The release of the PlayStation 2 marked the beginnings of the dominance of DVD. The PlayStation 3 came to the market the same time as Blu-rays hit the market. The last generation of consoles, featuring the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, marked the jump to 1080p images (hence the move to Blu-rays); however there has been no such technological leap with this console generation.
Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are more powerful consoles than the last generation, however there is no particular change in technology. The consoles are still using 64-bit processors, still outputting 1080p images, and still using Blu-rays. Both Microsoft and Sony seem to have just packed their consoles with the same tech as before but just added more of it. For instance, the Xbox 360 had a 3-core 3.2GHz processor, whereas the Xbox One has an 8-core 1.75 GHz processor. The Xbox 360 had 512MB of RAM (as well as 10MB eDRAM) and the Xbox One has 8 GB RAM (and 32MB eSRAM). This increase in power has led to some impressive looking games, such as ‘Ryse: Son of Rome’, ‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’, and ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’. These games look great but there really isn’t anything revolutionary going on with these games.
A good example of the upgrade between games in the last generation and the new generation is Grand Theft Auto V. When the game came out on Xbox 360 it was incredible, the game looked great and the technical achievement that Rockstar managed in getting the game to run that smoothly on the last gen hardware was amazing. When the game was released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One it was essentially the exact same game but the draw distance was massively improved and the number of things on screen at any time was also increased by a significant number. For me, this sums up the difference between the console generations, they are very similar, but this latest generation has a little bit more power.
Despite the fact that the seventh generation of consoles (X360 & PS3) was one of the longest generations in console history, I really think that they should have held off a little longer until the technology was affordable enough to make a significant forward leap. The eighth generation of consoles should have been machines that allow full 4K gaming or even Virtual Reality ready consoles. The rumoured release of the Xbox Scorpio and PlayStation 4K/Neo proves that these companies are not entirely happy with where their current consoles have landed. It also makes me very concerned for how long this generation of consoles will last. If the consoles are already underpowered are they going to be able to get another 2-3 years out of this console cycle? What’s more, if we don’t get the 4K ready versions of these consoles until 2017 does that mean that gamers are going to be asked to pay $450-$500 for one of these powered-up eighth generation consoles only to be asked to spend a similar amount for a ninth generation console a year or two later?
Whether or not the eighth generation was released too early is now a moot point as they have been released. I just hope that if the release of 4K ready consoles comes in the next 18 months that we get some reassurance from Microsoft and Sony that it’s going to be at least another 3-4 years before the ninth generation of consoles is released.