Neither Microsoft Nor Sony Is Making A Coherent Case For Their Premium Consoles – Forbes

The Xbox One X


The Xbox One X

E3 is wrapping up, and many will be debating who “won” the event between all the different press events and game reveals. I’m not going to wade into that (…Ubisoft?), but I do want to talk about a missing narrative from two of the show’s major players.

I just don’t think Sony or Microsoft is doing a great job convincing players to pick up their premium consoles, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.

For all intents and purposes, this is the “new” console generation. These upgrades are what we’re getting for a good long while instead of a full-on PS5 and Xbox Two, and that may not change, given that we are now in an era where huge leaps in technical prowess really aren’t happening in the console space like we’ve seen with past generations.

The problem is that we’re entering an era where this new tech relies on a completely separate, expensive device in the form of a 4K TV. While both Sony and Microsoft are attempting to explain how games will look and play better in various ways without a 4K TV, it’s a hard message to convey, and it’s easy not to understand the difference after seven months of the PS4 Pro and Microsoft’s big Xbox One X reveal. If there are incremental upgrades, it’s almost certainly not worth $400-$500 for those without a 4K set.

But even those with one? We’re still in this really weird limbo where these consoles throw out “4K” every other word, yet a lot of the difference in visuals is in the set itself, not the console. I maintain that the biggest leap in visual fidelity is going from a 1080p set to a 4K set, even without changing your console. After that, at least in the case of PS4 Pro which is currently out, you can slip into this weird placebo effect situation which I’ve written about previously. Do your games really look that much better on Pro? For some yes, like Horizon Zero Dawn, crafted to fully take advantage of all the Pro has to offer. But others, like Prey, you could get through an entire 40 hour playthrough and not realize the patch for PS4 Pro support hadn’t even arrived yet.

Arkane's Prey


Arkane’s Prey

At E3 2017, Sony suddenly became allergic to talking about the PS4 Pro and its capabilities. They did their “it’s all about the games” bit, and just showed back-to-back trailers for an hour. That’s great, and many of those games looked fantastic, but it’s a little weird that at the biggest games show of the year, you’re no longer talking about your premium console that just launched seven months earlier. In this case, they probably didn’t want to be butting up against Microsoft who did make a big presentation about their new unit which goes out of its way to be more powerful than anything else on the market, including Pro.

But Microsoft, even doing an actual sales pitch, was not great at conveying the Xbox One X’s strengths. They liked to talk about “True 4K,” presumably a jab at Sony, but one that doesn’t really mean all that much upon further inspection. The only major Xbox One game that is confirmed to be “True 4K” is Forza, which was built specifically to hit those specifications, but for other titles, first and third party? Microsoft cannot say which of those will be render in native 4K at 60 fps. Some suspected (myself included) that maybe some games were being artificially restrained from maximizing the potential of the 1X due to exclusivity deals with Sony, unable to get to 4K or 60 fps for that reason, but at least in one case, Bungie came forward to say that Destiny 2 is sticking with 30 fps for CPU reasons across both consoles. This gets to a pretty key point, that both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, despite all their horsepower bravado, actually have fairly weak CPUs. It’s why it’s expensive to build a true 4K gaming PC, and why everyone was skeptical that Microsoft or Sony would be able to fit that tech into a $400-$500 package. The evidence, so far, says that they…really haven’t, in most cases.

Again, the biggest component in all this is a 4K TV, which by itself can be $1000 at the low end to $3000 at the high end, which is no small purchase. But both of these consoles are heavily reliant on at least the appearance of 4K (mostly through upconversion) as a selling point.

But even with a 4K set, if a game like say, Destiny 2 is technically limited to 30 fps on all four old and new consoles, and the only 4K it’s getting is through upconversion, I really question what the point is of these systems is at all.

The PS4 Pro

Sony Entertainment

The PS4 Pro

I’m not saying there are no noticeable improvements with this increased power, but I don’t think that Sony or Microsoft is doing a good job spelling out and showcasing what those improvements are, and why they’re worth $400 or $500 respectively, particularly when their “lesser” consoles are half that price, and a 4K TV alone will make all games look twice as good.

Maybe the Pro and 1X are fine with being niche consoles, but niche they will stay unless Microsoft and Sony can come up with better pitches for why these consoles are necessary, not just extravagant luxury items for a select few. Because right now, that’s precisely what they feel like. This is in contrast to say, Nintendo, whose new concept for a system was an easy sell: take your console games on the go, and now they’re reaping the rewards of that simplistic pitch. Sony and Microsoft’s products rely on far more technical knowledge of what exactly you’re getting, and whether you can even tell what you’re getting once you have it. And upon closer examination, especially compared to its eternally more robust rival, PC, what’s usually being offered is a facsimile of 4K 60fps, and in many instances, not even that.

We are living in a weird console generation, and if you’re confused, I don’t blame you. My advice, if you’re sticking with console gaming, make getting a 4K set your first priority, but then think long and hard about whether you want to replace your current console with these “upgraded” versions for hundreds more dollars. They may technically be the “best” way to play their respective games, but for the cost, you have to question if their best is good enough.

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Neither Microsoft Nor Sony Is Making A Coherent Case For Their Premium Consoles – Forbes