jump to navigation

Console War VI Part 3 March 13, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.

It was 2016, we reached the midway point of the Console War, and we had a clear race. Sony’s PS4 was in the lead, Microsoft’s Xbox One was in second place, and Nintendo’s Wii U was in the far third. At around the same time in the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii generation, Sony and Microsoft had decided to mix things up by adding in new motion control peripherals for their consoles. After the painful launch of the Xbox One with the Kinect, that was not going to be repeated. Something else would need to take its place.

In the PC space, another revolution was making way. Virtual Reality gaming was a big deal in the mid-90s, with enormous headsets that promised to put their users “inside” the game. However, while the headsets of the time could replicate 3D head tracking, the primitive computing technology of the time was far too limited to create detailed real-time 3D environments or characters. By the early 2000s, VR gaming had been passed over as a fad and companies no longer invested in it. However, over the 2000s, PC hardware was becoming more and more powerful, and the Kinect, Playstation Move and Wiimote has proven new methods of motion control tracking were available. By the mid 2010s, PC gamers everywhere started to ask, “The time is right to do VR correctly! Why isn’t VR back?”

Before this time, only multimillionaires had the power to finance major products. But the world had just given birth to services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which allowed millions of regular people to pledge financial support for potential products. A company called Oculus decided to test the waters and asked for financial backing for an all-new VR headset designed to take full advantage of HD gaming on high-end PCs. To say the campaign was a success would be an epic understatement and Oculus would go on to be purchased by Facebook. Even after the successful backing campaign, it would take a while before Oculus would end up on store shelves, but in that time many major companies including Sony and Samsung, stood up and took notice.

There was some disagreement over what kind of hardware would work best with the VR headset. Oculus argued the PC should be the best VR component. Sony, however, argued the PS4 would be the best option for VR, and revealed they were working on a VR headset specifically designed for the PS4, Project Morpheus. Even though the PS4 wasn’t as powerful as a top of the line PC at the time, Morpheus would be able to run most of the same software as Oculus, and get its own exclusives. Soon, Morpheus would get an official name, Playstation VR, and it would be compatible with all PS4s at a price of $399US. Besides the headset, gamers would still need to buy a Playstation Camera and Move controllers to play VR games, but that would be included in the headset’s bundle pack. Plenty of games were announced for it, including a VR sequel to Psychonauts and a VR game that took place in the Batman: Arkham universe. Also some standard PS4 games could ship with VR modes.

In 2016, few had high hopes for Nintendo. The Wii U was floundering at retail despite a lineup of great exclusive first party games and Nintendo had seemed to completely give up on the Wii U. At the time Sony and Microsoft started revealing their PS4 and Xbox One hardware revisions, Nintendo was musing about their next console, dubbed the “NX”. Only one Wii U game was shown at E3 2016, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with the caveat that it would also come to the NX when it launched. The game impressed everyone who demoed it, but it did not move Wii U sales. Instead, most gamers wanted to know more about the NX, but Nintendo was not talking about it yet.

On the other technology front, 4K televisions capable of Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolutions with High-Dynamic Range (HDR) color had hit the market months earlier (at very reasonable prices) but lacked hardware and content to natively take advantage of all the extra pixels in the television. There were no UHD channels (heck even to this day most HD networks don’t even broadcast in 1080p) and content providers did not have 4K capable cable or satellite boxes to offer customers who bought these new TVs. Most UHD TV home users would have to be satisfied with plugging a high-end PC into the TV to get native 4K content. This was not really the best option. In the last generation, the Xbox 360 and PS3 pushed the sales of HDTVs by offering customers the opportunity to take full advantage of their new televisions. The time was right for that to happen again.

Almost as if it was back to back, Sony and Microsoft announced new hardware revisions to their consoles were coming to retail and 4K would be at the forefront. Sony announced two new consoles would be coming to stores by that Holiday, a slim version of the PS4 that would be functionally identical to the original model (just smaller), and a 4K native PS4 Pro. The PS4 Pro would not only support all PS4 games, Sony promised they would allow developers to make their games run natively in 4K HDR. If a game had already been released, developers could bring 4K HDR support to their game in the form of a free patch. However, while the PS4 Pro could stream movies and video off the internet in 4K, the system would not support the new 4K Blu-Ray Disc format. To prove to their users that the base PS4 could still handle itself, Sony released a free firmware update for the PS4 to give gamers the chance to enable HDR on supported televisions. The catch was that HDR would sadly not work if the user had a PSVR connected to their PS4 although they promised PSVR games played on a PS4 Pro could look or run better.

Microsoft also announced two new console revisions were coming for the Xbox One, but admitted they would not be available at the same time. The first would be the Xbox One S, a slim Xbox One that unlike the PS4 Slim would support UHD Televisions, but only through upsampling their game. However, unlike the PS4 Slim or the PS4 Pro for that manner, The Xbox One S would ship with a 4K Blu-Ray Disc player. They also announced a Xbox One would be coming that would natively support 4K UHD games, and they were calling it Project Scorpio, but it would not be ready for a while.

The PSVR launched in October 2016 with a lineup of exclusive games and multiplaform titles ported from Oculus. Some games got positive praise including Batman: Arkham VR and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, but Arkham VR received negative points for being a brief game. VR enthusiasts unable to afford a high-end PC bought the PSVR headset day one, but very quickly it became clear that VR-enthusiast market was smaller than Sony expected. Ultimately, it’s high price, small catalog and hardware limitations did not push the PlayStation VR out of being considered a niche accessory to the mainstream consumers, but the users who bought it were very pleased and were eager for more games to come to the platform.

The PS4 Pro launched in November 2016 and eventually sold incredibly well, but not at first. There were stories of hardware issues with the first lot of Pros, although Sony would honor their warranty and replace units when needed. However, despite the improved graphics and native 4K gaming support, the PS4 Pro still used the same CPU as the original PS4, and some games updated for the Pro (like Final Fantasy XV) had minor performance issues the standard PS4 did not have. This made some current PS4 owners decide to wait on upgrading to the Pro. These performance issues would eventually be worked out, but it took time.

The Xbox One S launched around the same time as the PS4 Pro and went on to become the first major positive step for Microsoft in this generation’s console war, due to the fact it was cheaper than the PS4 Pro and could play 4K Blu-Ray Discs. This introduced 4K UHD TV owners interested in buying an inexpensive 4K Disc player the opportunity to also play a hefty library of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. Since the Xbox One S was merely upsampling its games, performance was pretty on par with the launch model of the Xbox One. However, the Xbox One S lacked the port for the Xbox One’s Kinect sensor, essentially killing that peripheral. Some users would be lucky enough to ask Microsoft to send them an adapter to make the Xbox One’s Kinect work on the new hardware, but Microsoft made VERY few and they disappeared from shelves quickly. This made current Xbox One owners hesitant to upgrade to the S, and many (including myself) decided to wait for Project Scorpio.

The PS4 Pro, PSVR and Xbox One S would all be out by Christmas 2016. The lines were drawn, and consumers were preparing to trade in their consoles for new systems. After 2017 began, Nintendo finally struck. It was going to be a VERY busy year, and that will be a story for next time.


No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: