As the review embargoes drop on Microsoft's new super-powered 4K console, what does this signify for console gaming? Develop deputy editor Sean Cleaver offers some musings on the future that this console will bring to its market
It seems odd to be starting a piece about the Xbox One X with a quote from the head of PlayStation, but bear with me
In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Sony Interactive Entertainment president Jim Ryan said, "We know that the phenomenon of dual ownership does exist so there will be a population that does buy both... It’s probably a relatively small subset but it will exist.
It's really got me thinking about who this new addition to the Xbox One family is for? Is it for high-end consumers? Is it for converting existing gamers? Is it for developers who want more power? By the time you read this, you'll already know the general consensus on the new Microsoft console and the hardware and technical capability aspect will have long been addressed. But that doesn't mean that it tells the whole story.
X-PANDING THE TECHNOLOGY
According to The Telegraph interview, one in five new PS4s sold is a Pro, the Sony answer to the rising demand for 4K gaming. This makes sense if people are either buying in new at the top end or are upgrading without losing a digital library
But the technology stats don't lie. The Xbox One X is smaller than the old PS4, the PS4 Pro and the original Xbox One. It's quieter too and It doesn't run as hot. But most importantly, it does have technological advantages in processing power. The much promoted 6 teraflops of power does make a difference.
I've played games on the X in 4K and they are great, although it is a relatively new and young area for consoles. Gears of War 4 is the one I’ve had the most time with and textures and visual quality were all excellent, albeit with fairly visible differences in frame rates for things like blood splatter and flames in the 4K 30FPS mode.
Forza Motorsport 7 is as beautiful as any showcase game can be with lighting, particles and smooth performance that borders on photorealism for everything, not just the cars. The additional power available to developers is obviously helping, although it does mean that bugs and optimisations still need to be ironed out at times. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on backward compatibility runs at a much higher and smoother frame rate, which is to its detriment when it does slow. Halo 3 is so smooth, it doesn't feel like it has ever been any different, but again it suffers from drops
The tech behind the Xbox One X is pretty phenomenal for a console, no doubt. It's a middle gap between what console gamers know and what PC players often enjoy. PCR looked at what kind of PC you could get for the same price and came up with the conclusion that despite its price, it’s a fine piece of kit. But it is a bit too far up in the price range at £450 to be an instant choice compared to its console competitors.
THE MOVE TO 4K
The rise of 'HD Ready' TVs in the mid-late 00s was ripe for the Xbox picking and, thanks to some Sony stumbles with the PS3, the Xbox 360 dominated the previous generation's early doors. Some consumers are still waiting for 4K TVs to enter an affordable 'window of opportunity' to facilitate their upgrades and, arguably, if the TV market was more affordable and less confusing, the PS4 Pro might well be the dominant console right now having had a years head start.
But the move to 4K TV is one that people will do to get the best advantages from the tech they have to hand. TV services now offer more 4K content and the UHD Blu Ray on the Xbox One S and X is great. Seeing a well filmed 4K film is impressive and great for being a show off at movie nights. The upscaling for older movies is pretty good too. I always use the Blue Danube scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey to test this and I was not disappointed.
But, showing off aside, as a gamer I'm still torn. As one of these 'dual ownership' people, I get the feeling I'm a part of a very small group. Of course, I have professional interests, but many of my friends do not and they are all currently nestled in the PlayStation embrace. And that's despite being Xbox gamers before. A poor launch for the Xbox One and the exclusivity of Destiny content on PS4 was the dangling carrot that was needed for them to jump ship.
Fast forward a few years and the PlayStation 4 is still their console of choice. A mixture of finances and lack of desire to look elsewhere has kept them from this 'dual ownership' phenomenon. On the face of it, mid-generation, many gamers are invested in their game libraries and most of them are based on PlayStation at the moment. That's just how it's ended up this generation and as PS4 became the console of choice, so did the expansion of people's libraries on that console. Jacking it in for a new one would need good reasoning.
WHAT'S OLD IS NEW
There is a now relatively cheap back catalogue of titles on Xbox One, of which many are in line to get a big performance boost on the X. A lot of Bethesda's line up for example, which will be 4K ready on Xbox One X, will only set a buyer back £30. You can get the two most recent Dishonored games and Doom for that price, in 4K.
The Xbox One X will undoubtedly sell to a smaller, tech dedicated audience who want that 4K power and Microsoft has never shied away from admitting it is aiming for that audience. But it could begin to start this phenomenon of dual ownership. Especially if early PS4 adopters who haven't switched wish to keep their PS4 to retain their libraries.
There is no denying that the Xbox One X is an incredible console. Microsoft's early adoption of HDR has been a big help in getting its tech message across that power is indeed a wonderful thing for games development and developers. But for how good the console is, the extra power and the quality visuals it offers, the final verdict will probably lie on when the mass move to 4K TVs will occur and who will be better poised to take advantage of that move at the right time.
What this console does, however, is start the incremental upgrade model, albeit non-directly. Your console isn't as essential to everyday life as your mobile phone is. But it is an important part of many people's home life. When the next generation arrives, will it go further than the stats of the X, or will it just iterate and slim as technology progresses? And if that's the case, will people switch console?
The upgrade model for Apple or Android phones is a pertinent one as, just like the App Store has done, both Sony and Microsoft have let users put lots of money into their stores for non-transferrable products. Do you want to buy everything again? Probably not. Do you want something that will continue to play all your old stuff while giving you new boosts in performance? Undoubtedly.
But that does mean that, unless Microsoft can get more gamers on board or that 'dual ownership' audience, upgrades and ownership might go hand in hand. Whatever the reason for upgrading is. Microsoft's powerplay here might not get the massive run of sales it needs to up its user base, but it will indicate where the consumers want the market to go and how much will change, or should I say iterate, before the next console generation comes around.