I was tempted to start this week’s column with some melodramatic superlatives on how the battle between the two biggest launches of the year has started, how sales have been phenomenal and how this will spill over to the next few months till one console will be declared the new king. I’ll refrain from doing that as I’m more fascinated with the questions thrown up instead. Almost no category in technology has seen more sudden success and unprecedented failure than this finger-mashing device world.
And the launch of the next generation of consoles underlines that legacy. It’s fascinating because no product launch has ever been more laden with confusion, befuddlement over features, as well as frustrating cloak-and-dagger games being played out by both companies. For each, the success of their console is of paramount importance as each represents a huge source of revenue and a failure would be catastrophic. It’s almost as if a macabre inside game is being played within the gaming console wars. From within this turbulent and perplexing arena, let’s try and get answers to the biggest questions.
Sales have started well, but will they sustain?
A million consoles sold on day one for both, ‘sold out’ signs everywhere and growing demand. A good start for both and this will continue, as Christmas demand as well as launches in the UK and Europe have begun.
Rushed job and poor quality machines?
Many have seen their PS4 bricked and unusable with a ‘Blue Light of Death’ striking. Many reported that the Xbox One is dead on arrival with a ‘Robot Vomiting’ sound followed by a ‘Green Screen of Death’. Poor quality machines released to catch holiday sales? Not really. This is almost a tradition with every console launch. Teething issues immediately crop up in the first lot of machines. Things stabilise pretty quickly.
Why should I buy a console when smartphones and tablets give an excellent gaming experience at a cheaper price?
Good question. While ‘app gaming’ is an excellent platform, it pales in comparison to what these consoles can deliver. From mind-boggling graphics and intense gameplay to online jousts and jaw-dropping augmented reality, there are many features that can’t be matched on a tablet.
But these consoles are seriously expensive.
Yes, they are. But on a feature-to-feature comparison, they are actually a bargain. This is your gaming console, Blu-ray player, media streamer, music-playing machine, your TV-watching-experience-enhancing machine, your voice and gesture command units, your first brush with true augmented reality and your online device. There’s no way a company will sell a standalone gaming machine anymore (as Nintendo realised with its Wii U); both machines are designed to be the centre of your entertainment universe.
Aren’t the previous generation of consoles a better buy, given they’re priced much lower?
Good to see you’re thinking on your feet. Previous generation consoles are powerful machines that will continue to fall in price. If you don’t own one, look for excellent bundled deals, usually announced about three months after a new generation console is out. Will the Xbox One and the PS4 be the first true 4K source players for your new 4K TV? In a world moving to Ultra HD (four times your normal full HD), shouldn’t the next generation of consoles deliver too? Currently, out of the box, they DO NOT! Yet both companies have made cryptic claims that in the future with firmware updates as well as add-ons, they will. I don’t see any way for these consoles to survive in the future without 4K output and can’t wait to see the first true 4K game!
Are these the last gaming consoles on the planet?
I’d go out on a limb and say yes. At least in the current form and definition of what we perceive to be a gaming console. In the future, we’ll play games of a much superior quality than what these consoles can deliver – we just won’t need a console to play them. Our phones and TVs may have it all built-in, and you won’t need games on a disc.
What about Nintendo?
In the current scenario and with what Nintendo’s portfolio looks like – it’s safe to say that it’s Game Over for them!
Which one is better: Xbox One or PS4? Which should I buy?
The big question and one that has people scratching their heads. Earlier, it was easy to decide as most gamers were invested in one already and would upgrade from the same company to protect the library of games they already spent a fortune on. Those rules don’t apply anymore as both consoles are notoriously poor at legacy gaming. This is a fresh start; one that shuns the boring old to bring in the absolute new.
In terms of size and form factor, the PS4 is sleeker, leaner and better looking, but that should be the last reason to buy a gaming system. Price isn’t much of a criterion either as the PS4 may be $100 less, but needs accessories that cost almost as much to get the console up and about to its fullest. Both consoles offer almost equal hardware specs as well. Even the biggest rule of console choosing seems to have been left in the dust: the games themselves! The opening portfolio for both is fairly mundane, the number of exclusive choices aren’t many and there doesn’t seem to be any one killer game in the future that will tilt the scale much. Then who wins?
The decisive winner will be the one that delivers on the digital hub promise – a machine that brings in all forms of media and entertainment and makes the experience that much more automated, jaw-dropping, customised and intelligent. Isn’t it amazing that for the first time ever, the last Gaming King of the Hill may well be decided not on gaming prowess – but the capabilities of the machine over and above gaming? True Technological Poetic Justice!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
From HT Brunch, December 1
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