Sony and Microsoft are already planning for their next generation consoles
The current console generation (or is it the next generation?!) is not yet eighteen month old, yet already many video games fans are looking to the PS5 and Xbox Two. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the most prominent is that the existing video games systems have perhaps been a little underwhelming.
It is a bit harsh to describe the PlayStation 4 in particular in this way, as it is essentially a very solid video games system which has already delivered some excellent titles. Sony will undoubtedly be satisfied with the commercial performance of the PS4 in the video games marketplace, but yet hardcore gamers are not entirely satisfied with it.
The fast moving PC market means that both the PS4 and Xbox One are already falling behind, and despite the fact that both Sony and Microsoft are currently working on virtual reality systems, there are question marks over whether the existing console technology will be able to deal with it.
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Additionally, the whole video gaming model is changing. The inordinate popularity of smartphones has contributed to this, as casual gamers would rather play titles such as Flappy Bird and Angry Birds on iPhones and Android-enabled devices.
And the time when cloud-based gaming renders the console obsolete may not be a million miles away. Although we are likely to see at least one more generation of video games consoles, both Sony and Microsoft are already investigating the prospect of gaming in the cloud in this generation, and it could be that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two will be centred around this concept.
While both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have delivered some visually impressive titles, there is also the feeling that nothing which has appeared on the systems as of yet is truly next generation. The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5 in particular are exceptional games which look beautiful on the next-generation consoles, but they are nothing more than upgrades of previous generation titles.
In terms of delivering a truly unique and revolutionary experience, it is doubtful whether either the PS4 or Xbox One can deliver. With this in mind, virtual reality is extremely important for the industry. Already analysts’ predictions are that the PlayStation 4 will sell around 80 million units in this generation. These are pretty good figures for Sony, but when one considers that this is just over half the number of PlayStation 2 units which we shifted, it is evident that consoles need to deliver something truly groundbreaking if they are to reclaim their market share. Or even retain it.
So the first element of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two which will be important is outstanding support for VR gaming, which will also necessitate hugely increased specifications, processing power and improved graphics chips. Many analysts, observers and even video game fans believe that both Sony and Microsoft were pretty cautious when making decisions about the internal components of the PS4 and Xbox Two. And given that the consoles are already falling behind the PC market in terms of capabilities, it is clear that by the time this console generation ends that this will be a major issue.
It is not surprising then that the existing consoles will have a much shorter shelf life than previous iterations of the PlayStation and Xbox series. We will probably see the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two by the end of this decade, whereas previous Sony and Microsoft consoles have had a natural life of 10 years or more.
Attempting to solve the short lifespan of consoles in the existing gaming landscape may take some radical action from Sony and Microsoft. As mentioned previously, it is extremely likely that both corporations will place a greater emphasis on streaming technology with their future consoles. While the demise of physical media has been predicted continually, and indeed incorrectly, for some years, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the PlayStation 4 an Xbox One could be the last mainstream video games consoles to include discs.
Even if this is not the case, by the end of the decade broadband speeds should have improved considerably, and streaming services for contemporary games could become feasible. This would prevent consoles dating as quickly as they do at present to a certain extent, although it must be said at the moment that the cloud-based gaming model certainly needs to develop somewhat before it becomes truly viable.
PS5 and Xbox Two to focus on 4K
Another aspect which PS5 and Xbox Two will need to deliver on is 4K resolution. This will be another area where the existing consoles are going to be left behind pretty rapidly. Although both consoles have the capability to display content in 4K, the chances of either of them running modern games in this resolution are absolutely zero. The Xbox One has actually struggled to deliver 1080p gaming, and although the Sony machine is the more powerful of the two, there is no way that it can support 4K gaming.
This will be critical in the coming years, as we are already seeing 4K resolution becoming a mainstream technology. There is speculation that Samsung or LG will release the first 4K mass-market smartphone this year, and Apple has already unveiled the 5K resolution Retina iMac.
Undoubtedly Sony nailed the ethos behind its existing console, got the branding spot on, and placed the PS4 in an attractive context for gamers. And it is equally unquestionable that Microsoft completely misjudged the market and made numerous PR blunders with the Xbox One. But the job of designing, delivering and marketing the next generation of video games consoles will be far more complicated.
Not only will the PS5 and Xbox Two need to embrace technology which has not been fully developed yet, and which is well beyond the capabilities of existing Sony and Microsoft consoles, but they will also have to compete in a world in which the video games market is diversifying. Competition from other devices, and the expiration of the model in which consoles have operated since they first appeared on the market means that Sony and Microsoft will have two deliver outstanding PS5 and Xbox Two consoles, as well as accurately gauging the market and consumer expectation.