Both Sony and Microsoft currently have two console upgrades in the making, in the form of PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio respectively, which represent something of a breakthrough and could have a long-term impact on the games console market. With these two new devices, the companies are releasing a more powerful version of the current generation of consoles— a souped-up PS4 as well as an Xbox. Exactly what the devices will look like is still not known, as up until now, both companies have kept a low profile—they didn’t even provide any information about the new consoles at this year’s E3. A PS4 Neo release appears to be on the horizon, but seeing as Sony has not yet made any official announcements regarding the console, all current information is based on insider reports and rumors. One thing for certain is that both devices will build on the existing models, and will be compatible with old games as well as other software and hardware. Additionally, both are placing particular emphasis on virtual reality, 4K media and various in-game graphics settings. But what do these two projects mean for the console market of the future?
Generation for Generation: It Used to be so Simple
Up until now, it has always been simple: different consoles could always be categorized within a specific console generation and were technically on similar levels—even if several different manufacturers competed for gamers’ attention with their own hardware. Once the technology was advanced enough that new consoles boasting more power, better graphics and more extensive games could be developed, these companies produced new devices and a new generation was born. However, with the current generation—which is largely dominated by Sony’s PlayStation 4—this old pattern is changing for the very first time. Instead of developing completely new consoles, as Nintendo is doing with the Nintendo NX, Sony and their competitor Microsoft are focusing on a hardware upgrade for the existing consoles. The PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio will be the first new consoles which cannot really be classed as a new generation of consoles.
PS4 Neo and Co.—the Trend towards Fixed Upgrades Instead of Modular Design
It has been clear for several years now that the games console market and the related technology would change in the long-term. With the comeback of the gaming PC in particular as one of the most predominant gaming platforms, and in light of falling hardware prices, many experts predicted that console manufacturers might focus on modularly expandable consoles, with new exchangeable components being released at regular intervals. This was based entirely on the principle of gaming PCs, whereby memory, graphics cards and processors can be exchanged relatively quickly. Steam Machines in particular, which were initiated by Steam operator Valve, nurtured the belief that consoles would also take this direction. Finally the upgrade is here—not modular, however, but as an entire package.
What Became of the Steam Machine?
Speaking of Steam Machines, what actually became of the PC/games console hybrid which supposedly brings Steam to the TV screen? The concept can, with all due respect, be considered a failure. To-date, less than half a million Steam Machines have been sold. In comparison: the PS4 has sold over 40 million units and the Xbox One almost 20 million. Still, with their daughter company Alienware, Valve and manufacturer Dell have not yet waved goodbye to the concept and continue to release Steam Machines. However, gamers and market experts are in agreement that the PC-console-hybrid experiment doesn’t have a very promising future.
Key Features of PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio
Rather than just updating the already successful consoles, these new releases present them as a completely new system. Even if the Scorpio and PS4 Neo releases still appear to be a long way off (according to rumors, the final quarter of 2017 seems likely), it is already clear what the console manufacturers are focusing on:
- 4K Content: In the first leak, the PS4 Neo was referred to as the PS4K, as the focus was clearly on content with 4K resolution—hereby implying more films, series and other content rather than games. Games in 4K are considered unlikely by technology experts, as this would require enormous computing and graphics power which would drive the price of the console up too high.
- Virtual Reality: Both manufacturers will also focus on virtual reality and on making the consoles fit for this new gaming trend, as VR essentially requires more hardware performance than normal games. With PS VR, Sony already has the necessary peripherals waiting in the wings for October 2016. Thus, many consider a bundle comprising PS4 Neo, PlayStation VR, PlayStation Camera and Move controllers to be likely.
- Better hardware = better graphics: In order to ensure that games will be compatible with both PS4 and PS4 Neo (or the Xboxes), there will be two different possible modes. Whilst gamers on PS4 Neo can enjoy games in all their splendor and a more stable frame rate, “normal” PS4 owners must accept a loss, or choose between game performance and graphics quality. Although owners of both the original and the new version will be able to play all games, this still gives rise to a two-class society.
Conclusion: Anything is Possible
Will there be a PlayStation 5 or a new console from Microsoft at all? With the PS4 Neo and the Scorpio console as upgrade versions, it is questionable as to whether there will actually be a “real” successor. Whether the hardware updates within one generation can be justified—thus carving out a new direction for the devices—will ultimately be determined at the checkout. Will gamers welcome the update and, in doing so, validate the manufacturer’s decision? For both the manufacturer and the publisher, this would of course, be the best case scenario: using the same fundamental structure of various consoles, the player base remains large and game sales are maximized, as the hardware borders are virtually eliminated. It’s possible that for players in general, the upgrades offer little appeal for those who don’t already count themselves among the early adopters and graphics enthusiasts—at first glance, anyway. As soon as the first sales figures are available following the PS4 Neo release, the future viability of this concept can be assessed.