How Consumers Should Approach The Upgraded Console Future

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So now we know what Sony is offering with the PlayStation 4 Pro and it’s… the same console with UHD streaming and better performance for the same games. On twitter I’m seeing mixed reactions but whether or not the upgrade is worth it depends heavily on what each consumer’s situation is. From the beginning I’ve been saying that these upgraded consoles won’t be for everyone just like everyone doesn’t upgrade to every new iPhone model. People get what’s best for them, and what’s best is different for everyone.

My personal situation is that I own a gaming PC with a GTX 1070 that’s probably a lot more powerful than what’s in the PS4 Pro, but I also own a standard PS4 because of some exclusive games it has. I certainly don’t have the bandwidth or the TV screen to mess around with 4K streaming (not to mention my data cap), so for me the PS4 Pro’s only value is the improvements it can bring to PlayStation exclusive games. Big games like Uncharted 4 or Horizon: Zero Dawn  are gonna be what makes the difference here if they can show off demonstrably better visuals or performance on the PS4 Pro. If From Software announces it’ll patch Bloodborne to run at 60 frames per second (or if it just runs at a smoother 30) on PS4 Pro, that’s a big deal. However, outside those major releases, a lot of PlayStation’s current exclusive library is made up of relatively niche Japanese games like Odin SphereGravity RushNi-Oh, or Ni No Kuni II that might not stand to gain as much from better hardware. Maybe a better framerate but I’m not sure their developers have the resources to devote to added visual detail.

My situation might be similar to a lot of the PS4 Pro’s assumed audience — more invested consumers willing to pay more for better performance. For that audience though, the system might look stuck between the mainstream $299 PS4 Slim, the $299 Xbox One S which has an actual 4K Blu-Ray player (the PS4 Pro doesn’t), the Xbox One Scorpio coming out in a year which might be even more powerful than the PS4 Pro, and full-on PC gaming.

The one major advantage an upgraded PS4 has in the face of that competition is that it might be a better value proposition to PS4 owners who are already fully invested. If you already own Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on PS4 but you want to play them with better performance or graphics, it makes more sense to get a PS4 Pro than to buy the games again on Steam or for a Scorpio.

This is why I think the prospect of what the PS4 Pro represents in the long term is more interesting than what it offers in the short term. If Sony keeps offering more upgraded systems every three years or so that support the same library of games but each one potentially brings improvements to those games, it becomes increasingly more appealing to stick with Sony rather than switch to Microsoft or PC. That same effect is a main reason I’ve stuck with iPhones. There are games I bought for my iPhone 3G that still get updates to take advantage of the more powerful hardware in the iPhone 6.

You had to admit though that Microsoft just might be handling this upgraded console thing better than Sony right now. That “invested software library” affect applies for users going from Xbox One to Scorpio too, but for those people even switching to an Xbox One S might make sense: it supports 4K Blu-Ray, HDR, and it’s slightly faster than a standard Xbox One, all for $299. Then the Scorpio further down the line looks to be an even better upgrade than the PS4 Pro is looking to be.

For both Sony and Microsoft though I’ll say I think it’s a bit too soon to be focusing on 4K console gaming. Even among high-end PC gamers, 4K gaming isn’t that statistically significant yet. It may be an easy thing to market, but we pretty much already know most of those 4K games on Scorpio and PS4 Pro aren’t going to be native 4K, but rather upscaled. People are already suggesting the beefier hardware is better used making 1080p games look prettier and run at a smoother 60fps.

Crystal Dynamics seems to be taking an approach to Rise of the Tomb Raider that will give players three options: a 4K mode, a 1080p mode with the framerate cap raised to 60fps, and a 1080p mode capped at 30 with better graphics. Perhaps this is the route more developers should take.

At any rate, anyone looking to get into core gaming right now and doesn’t have any current hardware has a lot of options coming their way, which is good.

BULLETS:

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