When one thinks about modern console gaming, then there are basically two players that matter — Microsoft and Sony with their Xbox and PlayStation brands dominating the landscape for the last 20 years. Sure, there is Nintendo which also has the Switch but that’s more of a portable console than a powerful hulk that can take on PC gaming. With that as a backdrop and in the influx of cloud gaming initiates like Google Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud, the next generation of console gaming could be the last hardware generation.
That’s why what Microsoft showed off earlier in the day what could be the most powerful console of the next generation, if not the last. Yes, I’m here talking about the Microsoft Xbox Series X which takes a massive departure from what traditional game consoles have done in terms of looks and could be the flagbearer for this forthcoming generation that’s dawning upon us. Post this announcement, there is plenty of evidence that points towards its invincibility.
- Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s czar for all things gaming has said that the Xbox Series X will be the most powerful console of the next generation. This isn’t just marketing speak – there are some basic facts in place. In an interview with GameSpot, he claimed this console will be twice as fast as the Xbox One X and eight times as fast as Xbox One. And we already know that the Xbox One X is the fastest console of the current generation.
- But moving beyond just basic comparisons, there is enough public technical information roaming about that indicates that the Xbox series X will be bonkers in terms of firepower. It is aiming to have around 12 teraflops of computing power on the GPU side and CPUs that are 4 times faster than the Xbox One X. It is based combination of AMD Zen 2 GPUs that support raytracing technology, 8K resolutions at 120fps and variable refresh rates backed up by ultra-fast storage in the form of NVMe solid-state drives and GDDR6 RAM which will basically eliminate the loading screen. We are totally in the realm of high-end PC gaming, but with the advantage of standardised hardware which will allow game developers to have more optimised experiences.
- There are other new technologies which will be making a debut on a gaming device for the first time – Spencer catalogues the addition of auto low latency mode (ALLM) and dynamic latency mode which has been designed for a cloud-first future. So yes, if you’re worried if this hulking beast may hit obsolesce faster than the current generation because of things like xCloud, then think again. Microsoft will probably be able to optimise games even better as it will probably use the same hardware like the Xbox Series X.
- Microsoft is putting its money where its mouth is. It showed in game-engine footage of Hellblade 2 which has been development by Ninja Theory, a game studio, it recently acquired. And the footage was incredible with raytracing effects and a level of realism not seen before on games on video game consoles. What’s more impressive was the fact that all this happened in real-time. They have the console singing because Ninja Theory wasn’t acquired by Microsoft till recently which means this footage is probably not even close to the full potential of the console, a normal thing for some first-party games of a new generation console.
- Last interesting tit-bid is the design itself. While the technical details aren’t out, its cube-like tower shape marks not only a huge departure from the more appliance-like nature of game console but also a philosophy behind the gadget. Phil Spencer outlined an engineering first vision for the device stating that they wanted to be the most powerful console for the generation and the design based on hitting the technical specifications first. And clearly, its PC inspired design ensures seemingly that it will not only have killer computing hardware, but also great thermal envelop which is always a limiter to peak performance of a console. Its design should make sure superb peak performance and great longevity even in a world moving towards the cloud but a slice of the past with things like a disc drive and IO that’s 40 times faster than anything on the current generation consoles.
- The last reason why Microsoft has an advantage in this space is as it has signed a deal with Sony for using the Azure cloud for PlayStation Now. If Sony is using Microsoft’s prodigious hybrid cloud for the sake of its cloud gaming service, it needs to ensure that its hardware is similar to what Microsoft is offering in its datacentres for better compatibility and optimisation so that game developer’s and users’ throng to the platform which they haven’t. This also means that Microsoft knows what Sony is up to on the hardware side and also can scale its hardware better while maintaining base level architectural parity. Because of this cloud thing, anything that Sony does, Microsoft can just beat it with optimisation of the server and software as Windows is also the underlying platform for the PC and Xbox.
- Sony can’t beat Microsoft’s advantage on hardware or the cloud but I think they are more worried about having better games which traditionally they always had especially first-party exclusives. Also, they definitely don’t want to be competing with both with Google and Microsoft on the cloud because that’s not their strength. They have also proven this by bungling the Gaikai acquisition which they acquired before the launch of the PlayStation 4 and this service was the original pioneer in the cloud gaming space which morphed into the average PlayStation Now service.
- Sony, today, isn’t the consumer electronics leviathan that has free cash like Microsoft and Google to spend billions building a cloud gaming backend which is why it will never enter this space on its own. It’s better off going with Microsoft as they have also been in the console business for a long time which is why they wouldn’t want an immediate break to the cloud but would prefer a more phased-in approach. But all this also means, in the next generation, Microsoft will always have a hardware, software and cloud advantage over Sony – Sony can only usurp Microsoft by having better exclusive games, which honestly is the point of gaming.