A shorter lifespan for this generation of game consoles

This generation of console war has already been decided. When Sony and Microsoft both displayed their gaming consoles at E3 2013, it was easy to observe both jarringly different approaches. Microsoft was clearly aiming to evolve the living room into an automated hub. This new living-room relied on a freshly installed data center infrastructure to create a continuous flow of information between the people and their technology. It was and still is, a revolutionary vision of what is possible in the always connected world. Sony’s focus was on evolving what worked with game consoles in years passed. Perhaps, such an approach can be insightful to Japanese thinking. Japan’s tradition-based society is well documented in both literature and film. Both machines use very similar components from AMD in order to make cross platform development easier for third party developers. Despite nearly identical architectures, Sony’s PS4 includes one differentiator for relative purposes of game performance, the inclusion of DDR5 memory.

When game consoles process information, that information goes through a series of systems designed to deliver the information most effectively. Some steps in this system pass the information off to another step more quickly. One step in this system is DDR memory. The PS4 uses DDR5 memory which transfers at a maximum rate of 176 GB/s. Xbox One uses DDR3 at a maximum transfer rate of 68.3 GB/s. The Xbox also includes another very small buffer step (0.5 percent of total memory) which has theoretical transfer rates of up to 191 GB/s. This design choice is also insightful. It can be inferred that Microsoft’s mindset emphasizes the efficient transference of information between systems. Performance wise, DDR5 has a stilted leg up on DDR3.

Both companies have unique goals to accomplish with this generation of hardware. Japan’s Sony intends to upgrade the same experience we’ve known since last generation. America’s Microsoft ambitions lied with introducing a wholly new experience. Microsoft has already retracted from many decisions with this console based on consumer backlash. They have struggled with the consumer segment for several years and wanted to publicly grant consumers’ wishes. The problem here was the underlying philosophy with the Xbox One was never geared towards providing the consumer with best experience.

Xbox One was purposefully planned to help Microsoft flesh out new infrastructure and train programmers, who happen to be working on games. The idea of incorporating cloud systems into areas of gaming such as AI, lighting, or geospatial deployments can find roots in “doing more with less”, pooling resources, and good logistical flow of information. The consumer was a secondary consideration here, and money which could have spent on DDR5 memory was used instead to build a few additional servers in Microsoft’s new data centers. The noticeable differences in memory performance are minimal at the moment. But as game developers better harness the power of these new systems, the disparity in quality between games will become more easily discernible. The effects of this will likely be a shorter hardware generation for Microsoft.

Rather than the 8 years between the 360 and Xbox One, a lessened timeframe before the arrival of Microsoft’s next living room hub should be expected. In five years, broadband speeds will have doubled or tripled & UHD televisions will be mainstream. A demand for a console which can take advantage of these leaps in technology will echo consumer forums from the US to Japan. Microsoft will have exhausted less resources than Sony by this time and would have a more viable justification to build anew. Also accountable to decisions this go-round will be better trained developers and the infrastructure to support cloud-based computing for a decade or two out. Sony will retain good brand image amongst consumers but will have done little else in the way of future proofing the company’s other interests or better training programmers for other industries.


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