The next generation of consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, is set to launch in less than 2 months time, but there’s a reason why some people may not be fully onboard the hype train. This isn’t to say that Sony and Microsoft are struggling to sell their console (in fact the opposite is true, considering how fast pre-orders sold out), but rather that the biggest features of this generation are difficult to show off to consumers without physical hands-on experience, making the overall promotion of next-gen an issue. I will explain why what you’ve seen from the PS5 and Series X so far is not fully representative of how good the next generation of gaming will be and why it will blow people away once they can experience the games for themselves.
The major reason for this problem is that gameplay and trailers online don’t do justice for the visual fidelity of the games. When you watch a video on YouTube the raw footage captured from a PS5 or Xbox Series X has been chewed-up and spat-out by YouTube’s compression algorithm. In order to save bandwidth and improve streaming speeds, YouTube compresses videos when they are rendered and uploaded, resulting in a blurrier and less detailed image regardless of resolution. Another issue is related to HDR. While it is possible to upload and play videos on YouTube with HDR enabled, many people will be watching videos on phones, tablets or monitors which aren’t capable of showing HDR compared to the displays that they will be gaming on. When we’re eventually playing these games at true 4K and HDR the power of these new consoles will be fully realised, but unfortunately, there’s no other way to show off the game other than online through social media.
Online gameplay videos are also limited from an audio perspective. One of the major features boasted by both companies for the upcoming generation is 3D audio. Powered by specially designed audio chips, PS5 and Series X games should have much greater audio clarity and more immersive and precise audio that surround the player; high-quality headsets that support this feature help to make it even better. While the same headsets could be used for watching YouTube videos, the high-quality audio itself can’t be translated onto the online platform. It is hard to understand how much better this technology is than current-gen based only on descriptions of how it works and, likewise to the video quality, we just have to take Sony and Microsoft’s word on it.
Boring Technical Specs?
The one thing that we an abundance of is detailed lists of the technical specifications of the consoles. However, when all we hear is terminology like teraflops, clock-speeds, GDDR6 and NVMe the excitement about the possibilities of the new games seems to get lost in the mess. Of course, if you understand these terms to know what it means for the games themselves then it can be exciting, but it requires you to compare the same boring stats with previous consoles and make a conclusion about what we can expect in practice.
For the first few months of marketing the consoles, both Sony and Microsoft only shared these specs with very little actual gameplay. This is understandable because at this point the games were nowhere near finished so perhaps this issue is unavoidable. Nevertheless, it can be difficult for the average consumer to piece together what each component adds to the greater picture of what is possible for next-gen. Fortunately, we now have a lot of gameplay and trailers to physically show us what the games will look like, but as mentioned earlier this isn’t a perfect representation of the games.
For the PlayStation 5, the new controller comes equipped with a range of innovative features which aim to add to the tactility and immersion of the games. Haptic feedback is the name of the game, which allows gamers to “feel physically responsive feedback” to your actions. The controller also features dynamic adaptive triggers to allow different actions in-game to feel different as you pull back the trigger.
So how does all this actually impact your gameplay experience? Well therein lies the problem. To completely understand how well these features work you need to actually hold the controller in your hands and play a game – something that can be difficult to do before the console releases even without the Coronavirus pandemic. The feel of a controller is very subjective, some people think the current DualShock 4 is the best while others prefer the Xbox One controller and neither of them are wrong. Having to rely on a limited number of hand-on experiences from industry insiders, such as Geoff Keighley, isn’t very useful as many people will have vastly different opinions.
Less Hands-On Previews
Speaking of the ongoing pandemic, the impact of lockdown has likely resulted in huge changes to Sony’s and Microsoft’s marketing plans. E3 was cancelled along with other gaming events where they could have shown off the consoles to the public for them to physically see them. This would allow for a greater number of people to give their impressions and share them online – which helps to inform people unable to attend about how good the consoles are in-person. Likewise, being able to play or watch demos of the games will be a better experience due to the limitations of online video streaming as mentioned earlier. In the weeks prior to launch, physical retail stores could have set up a PS5 and a Series X for customers to test out while they shop which can be a convenient way for people to try out the games before they buy, but with issues regarding the hygiene of hundreds of people touching the same controller, it is unlikely that this will be possible.
You could argue that streaming videos online doesn’t impact how well you can judge the raw quality of the graphics, but while this is true it seems as though for this generation there’s not as much of a significant jump in photorealism as with past generations. There’s still a clear improvement over PS4 and Xbox One graphics when it comes to lighting (thanks to ray-tracing) and texture quality but recent PS4 and Xbox One games already look incredible and shockingly games will also look incredible on PS5 and Series X.
The main improvements for next-gen are the new SSDs, with near-instant load times, plus resolution and framerate enhancements (more boring-sounding technical features). In practice, these have a huge impact on the gameplay and make gaming more immersive and enjoyable overall; however, they aren’t the sort of improvements that immediately catch many people’s eye as it ultimately comes down to just seeing bigger numbers in the promotional material. This was also an issue when the mid-generation upgrade of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X was released but fortunately, more people have 4K, HDR and high refresh-rate displays now.
Why They’ll Still Be Successful
While reading this article you may feel like the next generation of consoles will be a failure – that they’ve been unable to improve upon the technology and that it might be worth waiting to buy a next-gen console; however, this is not the case. The purpose of this article is not about negativity, rather what I want to make clear is that we truly cannot comprehend just how good next-gen actually is at this current stage. As more previews are released when influencers and journalists get their hands on the consoles early it will become obvious that “play has no limits” and how it will even make the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X look weak in comparison.
The PS4 and Xbox One both reportedly sold over one million systems on their first day of release in 2013 and the videogame industry has continued to grow exponentially since then. In fact, it could be argued that the coronavirus pandemic has, to some extent, increased the popularity of videogames due to many people being stuck at home with no work or anything else to do. Therefore the market and the consumers are primed and ready for the launch of some brand-new shiny consoles which have never been more accessible – especially with the options of the cheaper PS5 all-digital version and the much cheaper but less powerful Xbox Series S.
The issues mentioned earlier should become less of a problem after the consoles are released due to word of mouth. People will tend to trust the opinion of people that they actually know more than strangers online so as more consoles are sold, more positive feedback should be spread around. When friends talk about how surprisingly fast the new SSDs are or how 60 fps just feels so much better than 30 more people will realise that next-gen truly is worth it.