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Back in December of 2019 a lot of speculation on the next console for Microsoft was put to rest.  During the annual Video Game Awards, Microsoft revealed the newest addition to their family: The Xbox Series X.  The most powerful console that Microsoft has ever made.  Sure, this is rhetoric that we have heard before, but it’s not necessarily false.  Let’s be honest here, every console they release should be the most powerful console they have ever made.

Several months later and we have all been waiting to hear what Sony was bringing to the table.  With the huge instant success of the Playstation 4, we are all eager to hear more about the Playstation 5.  Will our wildest dreams of next generation power come into fruition?  Will the rumors about full backwards compatibility down to Playstation 1 games hold true?  We had a lot of question, and still many remain unanswered, but as of recently we have a clearer idea of what Sony will be focusing in on with the Playstation 5 (PS5). 

With both systems going head-to-head in a fan fueled console war, we are left to wonder which side of the fence we all decide to stand on.  Playstation fans will flock to PS5, and Xbox fans will of course, run to the Series X.  Many people on the internet will just blindly support whatever their parents bought them for Christmas.  But there are a large amount of people who will begin to start thinking with their wallets, because this console generation is going to be the most expensive we have seen yet.

(Note: A lot, I mean a whole lot of this is based purely on speculation and the prices are not something final or absolute.  I figured I would tell you this now before your eyes fall out of your head.)

Xbox Series X

Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Elite, Xbox 360 Slim, Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X; boy do they have a lot of names.  Microsoft likes to have a thousand names for their consoles but each one does show a level of evolution from one system to the next.  In the last 19 years, Microsoft has been showing an intense level of hardware upgrades, making us all become slightly wary of what will be coming next within the next two to three years.  Microsoft knows that this is a huge issue that impacts the market.  When you make so many models and add arbitrary numbers and letters to it, it can confuse a lot of people.  So with this new model of Xbox, Microsoft claims that they are trying to start fresh with the name Xbox.

The idea in the name is that all consoles from here on out are simply “Xbox.”  The tag is the model itself.  When you take a step back and look at each model and tag as that format, it begins to make a bit more sense.  Especially if we are restarting the lineup with the Series X.  What will be the next one?  Who knows, but Microsoft is keen on creating this console with as much packed into it as possible.  I feel like this all needs to be stated because I believe confusion starts with a name.  If you can’t communicate the concept of hardware evolution simply within the name, people will lose you.  Especially those who don’t know what the difference is between any of this.

xboxseriesxspecsheet

The spec sheet above this paragraph is for the Series X, and feels a bit overwhelming.  We can only assume that the bigger the numbers are, the more powerful a unit is.  Which is true most of the time.  But system architecture is way more complex than the casual audience wishes to understand.  If anything the most important part of this whole sheet is the bottom for “Performance Target.”  We all know and understand the concept of 4k resolution with frames per second also slowly becoming familiar with the causal market as well.  To break it down, most games play at a 1080 resolution with 30 frames per second.  So Microsoft hopes to double all performance across the board.

Internal storage is also an interesting concept with this system.  What is it?  Think back to memory cards.  Yes, the console has internal memory with a 1 tb solid state drive.  That is a decent amount of room to start off with, but the expandable drive is something to really recognize.  This is because the card is proprietary to the console.  If you ask a lot of the hardcore gaming crowd, this seems like a bad idea, and was the very thing that killed the Playstation Vita (because it was pretty much necessary and was quite expensive).

Now because I am making the focus of this article about the price of the console, I can do a quick breakdown of what each part costs as if we were making a computer.

  • CPU: I found a AMD Ryzen 7 3.6 CPU at a price of $298.99
  • Memory: G Skill Ripsaws (16 gb DDR4) priced at $76.99
  • SSD: Samsung SSD 1tb for $69.89
  • GPU: ASRock Radeon RX 5700 priced at $379.99

We have a rolling total of $825.86.  That doesn’t include the price of a case, a full blown motherboard, software, and additional hardware.  The price total if we included all of those would be somewhere in the $1,200 area at the very least.  Which is very, very expensive when it comes to just trying to play video games.

But there are some facts to understand when it comes to the console market.  Microsoft and Sony alike usually make deals with companies like AMD for manufacturing.  Since Microsoft will make a certain number of consoles, AMD will most likely give a discount when it comes to the cost of the chips.  Microsoft might also create some hardware in house and not rely on others to develop parts for them.  The expandable memory is being developed by Seagate, but it’s not seen as a mandatory part right now.

So now here are the extras that determines the value of the system.  Xbox has been really great when it comes to ecosystem.  Your Xbox One games will work on this.  Backwards compatibility has been a thought out feature that Phil Spencer himself deemed important enough.  Mix that with the Ultimate Game Pass, solid online service, and their reach to the PC market; Microsoft is going all out to make sure gamers out there have a solid leg to stand on when it comes to choosing their platform.

So how much do I think it will cost for you to have one of these bad boys in your entertainment system?  If I had to guess, which I am, $600.00.  We have seen in the past that you couldn’t go that high.  The Playstation 3 saw a lot of blow-back for that price, especially when compared to the Xbox 360 price.  The Xbox One debuted at the price point of $500, and people didn’t buy into that either.  The starting price point of $500 is doable, especially since the One X released at that price.  But the strong argument could be made that no one really needs to have the Series X right away, as Microsoft said exclusives for the Series X are about two years away.  Meaning that you can still play next generation games on your XBox One X, but they just won’t look or perform as well as their higher end counterpart.

Microsoft has also stated that some games released now will have free graphical upgrades for customers who upgrade to the Series X.  This already includes the much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077, which has already been speculated to be a true next generation experience.

The Playstation 5

Okay, I wrote a lot about the XBox, and maybe it’s easier for me to write about them because I have had first hand experience working for that company.  But that being said, Sony is still looking to do something special with their console.  It’s is incredibly risky, but it may have a strong payoff when it comes to the evolution of gaming immersion.  I’ll get to that in a second.  The first thing to note is that Sony finally released information during a briefing where Mark Cerny gave an immense breakdown of the Playstation 5 hardware.  So let’s dive into that.

playstation5specsheet

Almost immediately we can look at this and become just as confused as we were when we saw the Series X breakdown.  There are some things to note on this sheet that we haven’t seen on Microsoft’s sheet though.  But just to be clear, a lot of the hardware is very similar.  We are still using AMD chipsets, similar SSDs, memory, so on and so forth.  But what stands out is the Tempest 3D AudioTech, and the peppering in of “variable frequency.”

I’m going to start with the variable frequency.  It’s a highlight, so I am going to explain it.  The term is self explanatory, things vary and the computer adjusts the aspects in what is being demanded.  Having both the GPU and the CPU offer variable freqency means that they can borrow off each other depending on the situation.  If the graphics need a boost, the CPU can lend that boost to the GPU.  Games like Uncharted may use this when going from platforming to all out gun battles with explosions and the like.  With the popularization of ray tracing, having variable frequency components is paramount to the system and delivering a unique, flawless experience.

Now, the Tempest 3D AudioTech, which I will just refer to as “Tempest.”  When you buy a Blu-ray disk and break down what is actually on it, sound takes up a large portion of space on that disk.  Get a three hour movie with HD visual and sound, and you are talking almost 40 gigs of sound.  Sony has shown an interest in the concept of sound, and Tempest is their first real breakthrough into truly immersive sound.  What does it mean?  Think about the concept of sound in real life.  If you drop something, someone knows where it is or where the sound originated from.  That is what they are trying to replicate.  Currently, sound plays in accordance to an area, a full area.  Sony wants to make it more exact.  When a bullet comes whizzing past your head, they want you to experience the sound from when the bullet leaves the muzzle of the gun to the brick wall behind you that the bullet hits.

This concept sounds truly game changing, but it comes at a couple of caveats.  The first one being that it isn’t a simple concept.  Everyone has a specific tone set, meaning that people will experience 3D sound differently, so it has to be fine tuned to fit you specifically.  What works for me, might not be what works for you.  So Sony is making 5 profiles available at the moment, with more sound profiles available in the future.  This also makes me think that perhaps the technology will not be used for third party developers, as the payoff might not be worth them spending extra time on.  If the game will also be released on other consoles, then it most definitely mean that they will not work on this concept.  First party development is almost a definite.  After all, Sony did enforce Sixaxis controls for many titles in the past on the Playstation 3.

Other things to make note of when it comes to the PS5, the biggest being the rumor of complete backwards compatibility for the entire Playstation library; it’s not happening.  Sorry folks, it was too good to be true.  The fact of the matter is that Sony will be bringing over about 100 of the top PS4 games over to the PS5.  It has been quoted that those games “mostly work” on the next generation hardware.  So there is a reason to keep your Playstation 4 pro console after all.

Now, let’s talk about cost on this one.  I can easily see this console also releasing for the $600.00 price point, but I have all faith that Sony will undercut the competition and release for $500.00.  Why is that?  Math of course.  One of the top reasons the PS4 took off was because of price.  Sure, the hardcore gaming crowd flocked to Sony after the infamous “How to borrow games” video, but for a lot of the casual audience the price was a main factor.  If you could get a great experience and save $100, then you would do it.

The Comparison

I know, the moment you have all been waiting for.  Time for us to look at both of these consoles and wonder which one will be worth the money.  There are some things to point out.  The Series X presents a more robust system, and will be more powerful out the gate.  Granted, Sony has always presented graphically stunning experiences on the PS4, and will continue to do so with the variable frequency parts; that is a technology that Microsoft has been using for years.

Microsoft will also feature it’s backwards compatibility to the fullest extent while Sony only offers the limited amount of titles that may or may not work.  Now, it’s not a game breaker, because you already own a PS4.  The PS5 is the true hardware evolution of Sony’s brand, and perhaps it’s better for them not to focus so much on the past as they want to build a strong future.

The biggest elephant in the room, I can absolutely say is going to be exclusives.  Sony has knocked it out of the park when it came to exclusives on the PS4.  There is an overabundance of games that you can get on the system, and the install base was so big you always had friends playing most of them.  A lot of third party titles also had additional items and content for the PS4 over the Xbox.  But Microsoft also has the Ultimate Game Pass which gives you access to over 200 games.  Sure, you won’t play 170 of them, but it’s a feature that really solidifies Microsoft’s value.  That and they purchased about 8 studios within the last four years, all dedicated to bringing next generation experiences to the Series X.  Microsoft is hell bent on not having an Xbox One lukewarm experience this time around.

Unlike Sony, Microsoft did show off the technical performance in two videos.  One being the multi-game suspension, showing how fast you can go from one game to the next.  The other being how fast games load with State of Decay showing almost a full minute faster loading time on the Series X compared to the One X.

What Should I Buy

The age old question, “what should I buy” can never be more complex as it is now.  Remember, the prices I stated for each console is only an assumption.  We could be surprised and see the numbers higher or lower than what I am thinking.  Microsoft and Sony could expect initial losses on system sales, but make up for it in the long run as their footprint becomes larger.  If that is the case, then the best thing for you to do as a casual gamer is wait.  By waiting, you can see what your friends go with, you can look at the library of games available to you when you eventually do make the plunge.

As a hardcore gamer though, buy or build a PC.  With Sony now starting to come into the PC market with some exclusive titles of theirs, and Microsoft already well established on the PC platform; you’re getting the best of all the worlds.  Because you can’t forget the powerhouse that is Steam and it’s bi-monthly sales.  Trust me, I try to forget, but my wallet and bank statements never do.

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