In the past we have witnessed a few different hardware add-ons for some consoles. The SNES had the Super FX chip. The Sega 32X and Sega CD graced the Genesis/Mega Drive and the Atari Jaguar and a CD unit, just to name few. These units were created to increase their respective console’s performance. Base consoles were still required for the add-ons to work though. However, since PlayStation launched back in 1995, there weren’t many attempts to make consoles more powerful. Nintendo did provide a memory expansion card for N64 but mainly to increase texture quality.
This generation is different though. PS4 and Xbox One launched in 2013 with hope to last for at least 5-6 years before being replaced by Next Gen Consoles. We still may see PS5 and Xbox Next in 2019/2020 both Sony and Microsoft decided to provide upgraded consoles half-way through the generation. PlayStation 4 PRO and Xbox One X consoles are both iterative upgrades over PS4 and Xbox One base models. Both are backward compatible with current gen games and even though they are based on the same CPU architecture, much more powerful GPUs allow for better visuals and performance in many games.
What about Nintendo, one may ask? They seem to be doing their own thing with Switch now, ignoring the power race that Microsoft, Sony and PCs are part of.
With PS4 PRO on the market and Xbox One X launch fast approaching, many have raised a question – what next? Are we going to see more of these upgraded consoles every 2 or 3 years?
It seems like Microsoft and Sony have different approach to this subject. Sony is still planning PlayStation 5 as a Next Gen console, while Microsoft hints at more upgrades of a console in the future. So which approach is more beneficial for gamers then? There is no simple answer to this question as both paths have pros and cons.
Let’s have a closer look at Sony’s Next Generation console approach first. The biggest advantage of PS5 being a next gen console would be the fact that PS5 exclusive games would not be held back by older consoles – PS4 and PS4 PRO. Developers would be able to focus only on one specification to take full advantage of the console. Hopefully Sony will enable backward compatibility on their new machine. There sure are not going to be a lot of PS5 games at the beginning. The possibility of playing older games on a new system is a must next time around.
The downside of a Next Gen console is the fact that you most likely have to purchase most of the accessories again. Additional controllers, camera, steering wheel, etc will probably not work on a new system, so one would have to buy new accessories and this can cost a lot of money. New Generation consoles usually come with a new OS which makes cross play possible if developers choose to do so so but it’s not automatic. So if your friend is on PS4 and you’re on PS5 you may not be able to play together.
Now it’s time to look at iterative upgrade path which Microsoft may be approaching. First of all – all games are backward and forward compatible. So if you get a game for Xbox One X in November – you know that it will also run on Xbox One S and Xbox Next in the future. You get to keep and still use all your accessories that you have purchased for your previous console. Xbox One S & X controller, steering wheel and other accessories will work with future versions of Xbox which can save you a lot of money in a long run. You get cross play all across all Xbox devices. All Xbox consoles shares the same OS and Xbox Live platform allowing you to play both with Xbox One S and Next Xbox gamers in the future.
The only downside of this approach is that the older consoles may hold some next gen games back. This can be overcome but it would require devs to optimize for 2 or 3 different specifications which is not ideal. But on the other hand they can offer their games to a wider consumer base. We are living in a world of very flexible game engines that can take advantage of new hardware with the click of few buttons.
Right now we can only speculate but we will know which road is right in the not so distant future.
There are exciting times ahead of us for sure. All 3 major players on the market could choose a different approach which means more diversity for us gamers. So no matter which path is right, we get to benefit anyway.