The console market is about to take a complete 180.
Last Wednesday PlayStation held an event to formally announce the PlayStation 4 Slim as well as clarify some of the details surrounding the PlayStation 4 Neo, officially dubbed the PS4 Pro. There was little new information revealed, and zero new software announcements.
Of the upcoming games that were shown off (Mass Effect Andromeda, Infinite Warfare and Horizon Zero Dawn), the footage was abrupt and unsubstantial. The demos were pretty much just characters walking and showing off the Pro’s graphical capabilities, most of which was likely lost on viewers’ HD monitors.
Even the official reveal of the two consoles was lackluster, having been shown to a crowd that was palpably excited at the start of the event, and receiving light, awkward applause. Clocking out at around 45 minutes, the whole meeting felt wasteful and unnecessary, especially coming from a company with a recent history of killer press conferences.
If you missed the livestream, it’s probably not worth your time, unless you’d like a good idea of just how flat the whole thing felt. But regardless of how boring the PlayStation Meeting itself was, this is the first major misstep in what has so far been a near-flawless generation for the company. More importantly, the way this event was handled could have serious repercussions for Sony going forward into this half-generation.
For starters, let’s look at the facts of both of the new PlayStation 4 models. The PS4 Slim will become the standard PS4 going forward; it’s smaller, supports HDR (along with all other existing PS4s from now on) and uses less power. It’s also still $299, and will be available next week.
The PS4 Pro will support 4k gaming and streaming, and comes out November 10 at $399. At face value, these are pretty cool announcements for someone who hasn’t bought a PlayStation 4 yet or for someone with a 4k monitor looking to upgrade. But within the context of this “console race”, Sony just gave up some serious headway
A major deciding factor for those who bought the PS3 last generation was that it could play Blu-Ray discs at a time when Blu-Ray players were still expensive; neither PlayStation 4 model will have that sort of advantage this time around, because they’re both incapable of playing 4k Blu-Ray. If 4k takes off like Sony is hoping it does, ironically casual consumers will be better off buying an Xbox One S for $299, or else they’ll have to spend an extra $100 to buy a separate player.
As for pure power, the PS4 Pro beats out the Xbox One S no question, but Microsoft’s Project Scorpio will almost certainly be the more powerful machine when it releases in 2017. One of the only concrete bits of information about the Scorpio’s specs is that it’ll have six teraflops of computing power, roughly 30% more than the Pro’s 4.2 terflops. It can be assumed that the Scorpio will also be able to play 4k Blu-Rays like the Xbox One S, so those are two big advantages for Microsoft.
The one thing that Sony does have going for its new console is that it’ll be out sooner, but at this early in the shift to 4k, is being first really going to be better? Sony themselves only anticipate 15% of households to have a 4k TV by the end of the year. Once Scorpio does come out, the 4k market will undoubtedly be in a better place than it will be this November when the Pro launches, so it’s wise for Microsoft to just sit back and let Sony pump the tires before they ride the bike.
On top of Sony’s new console looking inferior from the get-go, a new study on online gaming networks found that Xbox Live was superior to PSN in nearly every way, including speed and reliability. So just like that, Microsoft has several major selling points for their brand leading into the holiday season and is now in the position to make a complete reversal. If this PlayStation meeting had never happened and these new consoles were just casually unveiled at E3, maybe the Pro wouldn’t appear like such a disappointment; instead, with the Scorpio looming on the horizon, those who decided to purchase the original PS4 purely based on its greater specs will have a strong reason to make the jump to Xbox for 4k gaming.
And on a quick aside, now that they’re in a position of power, hopefully Microsoft remembers where they’ve been at for the past 2 years. At the height of all this PS4 Pro criticism, heads of Xbox have been posting some pretty shady tweets regarding the Pro announcement. I’m not saying that Microsoft is wrong for openly comparing the two consoles in their advertising, but for a company which stopped revealing their sales numbers when they fell to nearly half of Sony’s and denounced the idea of a “console war” when they were losing, Xbox is sure quick to flip the script once they have the upper hand; it’s a smart business decision, but a little scummy.
Ultimately, I think this PlayStation meeting will be a watershed moment for this generation. It’s the first look we’re getting at these mid-generation consoles, and it’s the first chance that the indomitable Sony is giving Microsoft. It might end up that this short, forgettable press conference results in an about-face for the entire industry.
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