Has the PC triumphed over game consoles?

  • Sony announces faster version of PlayStation 4
  • Videogame consoles adopt features from the PC
Has the PC triumphed over game consoles?
 

IS it finally game over for the consoles?
 
Even a cursory look at the current videogame market might lead you to think that the PCs have finally triumphed over game consoles in the decades-old battle for supremacy.
 
Earlier last week, Sony announced a newer, more powerful version of its PlayStation 4 console - the PlayStation 4 Pro, previously codenamed "Neo."
 
The company's representatives describe the PS4 Pro as a more powerful sibling of its original PlayStation 4 console, rather than a complete replacement. "With PS4, we're pretty much maxing out what 1080p TVs can do with games, which is why we’re excited for 4K and high-dynamic range, or HDR," said PlayStation chief Andrew House.
 
This is a clever tactic borrowed from the realm of PC GPU manufacturers who are always eager to point out display or interface limitations rather than anything related to the GPU itself.
 
Perhaps, in an attempt to prevent too many comparisons with the ever-evolving PC, PlayStation 4 system architect Mark Cerny said, "PS4 Pro is not intended to blur lines between console generations." He showed on stage how the new PS4 Pro outperforms the original in terms of GPU processing power and storage. 
 
You can see the introductory video of the new PlayStation 4 Pro below.
 

 

 
It is not just Sony that is adopting tactics from the PC world. Microsoft is also scheduled to bring out an upgraded version of the Xbox One next year, codenamed Project Scorpio. Like the PlayStation 4 Pro, it will also support 4K rendering.
 
So no matter how Sony or Microsoft spins it, the key facts are undeniable - the clear marker between console generations is now gone.
 
What exactly has compelled the console manufacturers to do a product refresh in the middle of the console cycle?
 
One of the great traditions of the console market dating all the way back to the original Atari 2600 is that the total computing power of the internal hardware in each generation never changes. Many consoles like the original PlayStation became smaller as the size of the internal components shrank. But their combined processing power always remained the same until the end of their lifetimes.
 
It could very well be that Sony and Microsoft have realised that their consoles are just another set of consumer electronic devices - like an Apple or Samsung smartphone. This immediately requires them to get on the annual upgrade treadmill.
 
Another reason could be that the console market itself is shrinking. Since the heady days of the PlayStation 2 when it sold over 150 million units, no console has even come close to Sony's barnstorming system. Releasing a hardware refresh half-way through the traditional console cycle is Microsoft and Sony's way of keeping their gaming systems in the minds of fickle consumers.
 
The new incarnations of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have another advantage that PC gamers have enjoyed for decades - backward compatibility. Historically, most consoles have eschewed software compatibility with the previous generation. Even if the new console had limited backward compatibility at the start of the new console cycle, like Microsoft's Xbox 360, it was quickly discarded.
 
With the upgraded PlayStation 4 Pro, the same videogame will run on the original PlayStation 4 and the new hardware. Also, as an icing to the cake, all PlayStation 4 models (not just the new PS4 Pro) will be getting support for HDR. So now, the proud owners of new HDR-enabled 4K TVs will be able to play games which support the feature. In other words, the once 'fixed' game console experience will now scale up or down based on your hardware - exactly like gaming on the PC.
 
"The same discs and downloads will run on both the standard model and PS4 Pro, but they will play in multiple ways," enthused House. Sony has given a preview of the first set of games that will support 4K and HDR rendering on the new PS4 Pro.
 
You can see this in the video below.
 

 

 
Since the advent of this generation of consoles, it has been clear that the hardware itself is identical to a regular PC. The consoles from both manufacturers have x86 CPUs and GPUs from AMD. Even the software in the Xbox One is now a version of Windows 10 with support for DirectX 12.
 
Some of the business models are also borrowed from the PC. The free to play sales model which began in Asia on the PC is now available as an option to game developers on both consoles. Steam is now the dominant sales platform and games community on the PC.  Both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live sell games directly to gamers and have Steam-like community features.
 
Since game consoles are now more like regular PCs, it would be fair to say that the humble PC has well and truly triumphed.
 
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