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By Michael Heiss July 22,2013
The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)
has often been described as, “The CES of the game
world.” At every event, console manufacturers
and independent third-party publishers such as
Ubisoft, EA, and others showcase their latest
software offerings. It is the rare E3 where we see
the introduction of one new hardware platform, let
alone two. This year’s E3 was just that sort of event,
with Sony and Microsoft showing the platforms and
content for their “next-gen” consoles.
With that, one would have expected lots of
discussion about processor speeds, connection types,
gigaflops, video memory, and other technical mumbo
jumbo. Surprisingly, that was not the case. Talk
about connectivity? Yes, but in a different direction
than what the pre-show teases led us to expect. Fancy
new motion-driven controllers? Yes, kinda sorta, but
not really even mentioned by Nintendo, the company
responsible for starting that type of game input.
Content services made possible by the new hardware?
Not a peep about them during Microsoft’s pre-show
press event and only a passing mention during Sony’s
with the presenting executive going to length to
say that they were part of the gaming experience.
Nintendo? For the first time in E3 memory, they
didn’t even hold a pre-show event and thus didn’t
even have a venue to talk about content services even
if they wanted to, and clearly they didn’t.
|Yes, despite the development of new hardware platforms, this year’s E3 was all about the games. |
Sitting through preview after preview of the
forthcoming games with little, if any, mention of how
the new hardware enhances their reality was strange,
but perhaps understandable. Game consoles as a
market are facing pressure from the games played on
smartphones and tablets by casual gamers and by the
hard-core gamers who use PCs. To keep both casual
and hard-core gamers coming back to consoles,
rather than defecting to other devices, the messaging
then becomes clear: It’s all about the games.
With that, and again in the face of the incredible
build up for the place of game consoles in the
streaming media environment, particularly from
Microsoft in their late May tease, you would be
right to ask if these devices hold any interest for the
custom world anymore. To that, we still answer a
The obvious answer is that you will find gamers
of all stripes within the families of your clients, so
there will certainly be a call for you to install them.
That will definitely require some changes as to what
you do and how you do it. Secondly, streaming
services or not, all of the consoles, new and old,
are network-centric and that requires more work
on your side. There are other items and issues that
make these new consoles attractive, but at the end
of the day it is still a fair bet that despite the “games
only” attitude at E3, the new consoles will become
portals for streaming services.
|In conjunction with the increased processing power of Xbox One, the new Kinect, bundled with the console, can sense and render with high accuracy and even report heart rate. |
Xbox One vs. PS4
Before getting to the differences between Xbox
One and PS4, let’s go to the basics. Both were said
to be available this year, though the exact dates
are still subject to some speculation. Microsoft said
“November” and Sony said “this holiday season.”
In terms of pricing, Xbox One will launch at $499,
a full $100 more than the price for PS4 at $399.
Note, however, that while both systems include the
console and a controller, Xbox One also comes
with the new Kinect, something that sets you
back about $129 at list price while it will cost an
additional $59 to add the PlayStation Camera.
Draw your comparisons accordingly. Unlike with
Xbox 360, Kinect is an essential part of the new
system so price aside, bundling it as standard makes
sense, but it does raise the initial cost of entry.
Price and games aside, there are similarities
to the two systems. Both will launch with built-in
500Gb drives, both have built-in 802.11 b/g/n
connectivity for wireless broadband access, both are
based on an AMD processor and will be equipped
with 8GB of RAM, and both feature a built-in
Blu-ray drive for movies and music playback as
well as for game load-in. Both include USB 3.0
connectivity and feature internal–rather than an
external–power supply as is the case for the current
Xbox. Both are black (at launch) and both are
rather angular and square-ish compared with the
pinched-waist look of the Xbox 360 and the “you
can’t stack anything on top of it” rounded top of
PS3. Both will come with updated controllers; you
definitely cannot use the current Xbox controllers
with Xbox One and the same will probably be the
case for using current controllers with PS4.
Resolution and Connectivity Questions
There are also some key things beyond the exact
launch dates that are still unknown. Neither brand
would provide full details on 4K support, even though
what we do know about the hardware points to 4K
games as being a possibility. No word on when we
might see 4K games, if ever, or whether or not the Bluray
playback will be upscaled. Since the long-awaited
“HDMI Next” specification was still not announced
as of E3, there was no comment on whether or not the
new boxes will be compliant with that.
Along with the great improvement in the realism
of the Xbox One games (and, to be fair, PS4 games,
as well) due to the advanced hardware architecture,
Xbox One will have at least one of their franchise
titles, Halo, render out at 60fps. Thus, while we
don’t really expect any 4K games for a while, at
least high frame rate is on the near-term horizon
and it was stated that the Xbox One will pass
through 4K content, albeit likely limited to 24p or
30p unless they pull a rabbit out of their hats with
the new HDMI standard.
|Don’t bother to look for analog video connections on PS4 or Xbox One. There aren’t any.
More important for systems integration, there
was no word if either of the brands would have
“home theater remotes” designed for disc and
media navigation rather than game play, as both
of the current systems and a number of third-party
companies offer. Xbox One uses WiFi Direct,
so that would require a new remote, and it will
certainly provide some level of challenge with
regard to integration. Similarly, we don’t know
if there will be a similar product for PS4 or if the
codes and commands over Bluetooth will allow
use of current remotes. It should be noted that
Microsoft’s “Smart Glass” apps for iOS, Android,
and Windows 8 phones can control the current and
pending consoles and if you will be able to use a
Sony Vita to control a PS4.
With regard to connectivity, remember that you
will need HDMI for both these systems, although
each does have an optical port for digital audio.
There is simply no analog connectivity on Xbox
One and the AUX port on the PS4 is for the Play-
Station Camera with no mention in the spec sheet
of analog adapters.
Thus, if you
are called to replace
a current generation
of the next-gen
is now in use, a new TV will be required.
As reported from their pre-launch event,
Microsoft’s Xbox One will have an HDMI pass through
so that you can use its media management
capabilities for traditional program content when
connected to a cable box or satellite STB. While
nothing more was said about that at E3, the “all-in-
one” concept was certainly touted by Microsoft
not only in its booth signage, but in stickers on all
the rest room mirrors. We’ll have to wait for more
information on the details, but suffice to say that
this in-line connectivity is something you will have
to play for.
The price of this integration, as well as the way
in which Xbox One will operate is that a persistent
broadband connection is required. If the console
goes more than 24 hours without the ability to
authenticate to the Xbox servers, you won’t be able
to play (most, if not all) games. Blu-ray playback and
live TV viewing is not impacted by this restriction.
While it may be a small thing, it should be noted
that the new PS4 has both of its USB 3.0 connection
points on the front panel while Xbox One has two
on the rear panel and one at the front
edge of the left side. That means you won’t be able
to flush mount the Xbox One and still have access
to the USB port if required.
It seems clear, though not 100-percent
confirmed, that the architecture of the new systems
is sufficiently different and that legacy games will
not play back on the new systems. That is important
for input-constrained installations, as you will need
to keep the existing Xbox 360 or PS3 to play your
clients’ current games. PS3 games will be available
to PS4 owners via download, but it was not clear if
this would require an additional purchase. Thus, if
you are adding a new console to an existing system,
remember the input needs.
Kinect was optional for Xbox 360 and Move
for PS3, being used only in specific games that
were designed to take advantage of the motion and
position-sensing capabilities. (The Wii Bar, of
course, is part and parcel of both Wii and Wii U.)
Move seems to be less in the plans for PS4, and no
games using it were demonstrated at E3, but Kinect
is key to Xbox One, even when it is not essential to
the game play. That means you will have to make
sure it is installed with any Xbox One.
The new Kinect makes installation a bit easier in
some regards as it has a greatly improved horizontal
and vertical field of view. It also has better depth
capabilities working from about 2.5 feet to over 15
feet. That means no accessories will be needed for
use in smaller rooms or when there are more people
playing. That said, the connection is still a fixed
cable using a proprietary connection to the rear
panel; there are no “extension cords” or wireless
for Kinect, yet.
|Microsoft did not mention the media connectivity functions
of Xbox One in its press event, but did place ads about it on
all the restroom mirrors.
The best part of the new Kinect, however, is yet
to be explored. Thanks to a full HD 1920x1080
sensor and improved IR sensing, Kinect can do
neat things like heart rate sensing and much more
accurately track body mechanics with regard to
position, motion, and force. Beyond the use for
system control and game input, the home health
and monitoring potential for this is obvious. As has
been the case with the first Kinect, a Kinect for
Windows SDK will be available for $229 that may
result in some interesting applications where there
isn’t even an Xbox involved.
Replacements Not Necessary
Where does all of this leave you in planning for the
new consoles and seeing how and where they co-exist
with current game systems? First, don’t plan to have
the new replace the old; any gamer worth their salt
will want both. Second, be certain that along with this
you have at least two more HDMI inputs available
on the display, AVR or surround processor, as you’ll
need them. Analog connections? Not for these games.
Networking? Beef it up, as the games will consume
and trade data massively. Game consoles with Blu-ray
playback, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services
in place of a player upgrade? For a few hundred
dollars more than a plain player, this is not a bad idea.
(WiiU excepted). More labor to fit in another Kinect?
You bet, and same for the new PlayStation Camera,
although it seems not to be as integral to the PS4 as
Kinect is to Xbox One. Short on rack or cabinet
space? That will be a problem, as moving to the new
Xbox or PlayStation may not mean that you’ll be able
to move the current system out.
Yes, despite the development of new hardware
platforms, this year’s E3 was all about the games.
That said, when you look at the market direction,
the integration of streaming services, and physical
disc playback, depending on the specific game, the
integration of social media, portable devices, video
chat or Skype and all the rest, it’s more than games;
it’s about the total system.
Michael Heiss (email@example.com) is
a CEDIA Fellow and contributing writer to
Residential Systems, based in Los Angeles, CA.