Microsoft and Sony are both closing the book on an all-too-familiar chapter in gaming: the 5-year console generation cycle. Both companies are set to launch updates of their current consoles — big, significant updates — more than a typical mid-cycle “slim” model. These new machines, code-named Scorpio and Neo respectively, will feature major hardware upgrades to meet the demands of modern gaming. This is huge. It sets a new precedent for the console business, and no one really knows how the general gaming public will react.
In three weeks, Microsoft and Sony will take the stage at E3 in Los Angeles, and will probably reveal plans for future console upgrades. Sony will surely talk about the Neo, as reported by Giant Bomb’s Austin Walker, expected to release this year. Sony has been demoing their virtual reality headset for about a year now, and while everything seems promising, some wonder how the current PlayStation 4 hardware can output the level of performance VR requires. Current demos of Sony’s PlayStation VR pair the headset with an external “mini-PS4-looking” device that boosts the power of the base PS4. It seems Sony customers will have two options for VR compatibility: the additional mini-PS4 “base” hub, or the out-of-the-box Neo support.
Included in Walker’s report are regulations for developers so that owners of the “base” PS4’s won’t feel left behind. This is reassuring, as Sony won’t allow, for example, extended gameplay features for Neo-versions of PS4 games. Getting complicated? Wait ‘til you hear what Microsoft has planned.
Less concrete than Sony’s leaked documents, a report from Kotaku and Polygon hints of Microsoft’s upgrade plans. Rumors suggest that Microsoft will release two new Xboxes over the next year. The first, a typical slimmed-down version of the current Xbox One, is expected. The second, and the one Microsoft wishes you didn’t know about, is the Scorpio: the 6-teraflop, VR compatible upgrade. The Xbox One, the weakest of the two current consoles, needs an upgrade. It often lags behind in both frame-rate and resolution for cross-platform titles. In addition to two new consoles, there’s also talk of a controller redesign, and a Roku/Apple TV-like streaming device.
When I tell my friends of the coming console upgrades, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is, “is there going to be a trade-in program?” I’d guess that neither company offers one, but honestly, when you’re talking about a transition like this, winning hearts and minds can be the key to victory in the console wars. We’ll have to see how generous these companies are feeling come E3.
One thing is certain: these console upgrades are coming, and business is never going to be the same again. This truly is a no-turning-back moment. This first round will probably be crazy, and full of pitfalls and mistakes, but like Apple’s annual iPhone updates, they’ll eventually become standard.