Both Sony and Microsoft have started placing cards on the desk; the similarities between their apparatus — that both derive from essentially the exact same AMD-sourced CPU and GPU structure — have been famous for a long time, but now we are starting to find the all-important differences.
The merits of the massive technical differences — that the Series X has a particularly punchier GPU, while the PS5 has opted for a significantly faster SSD — are going to be hotly debated by specialists for months, and even more hotly debated by clueless individuals for years.
What we can see for now, however, is a very real difference in the strategic approach being taken by these two companies — not only to their consoles but to the whole process of communicating about these consoles to the general public.
What is arguably just as intriguing as the cards we’re starting to see laid on the desk, then, is which cards are being put and when. Microsoft and Sony are playing quite different games in this respect; the former has been extremely open, to the purpose of having enabled the media to play and movie a”snap-together” version of its Xbox collection X hardware showing all the internal elements, not to mention being revealed off final console and controller designs, and lots of core attributes of the new system program.
That is, as far as I can recall, a really unprecedented degree of openness for a system that’s not set to launch until this winter. Besides the vital price point info, there is remarkably little about the Xbox collection X we don’t know already.
Sony, by contrast, is playing a more traditional game. We all know more about PS5 after Mark Cerny’s presentation this week — we understand a lot more detail regarding its hardware functionality and functionality — but we’ve yet to see much of the consumer-relevant stuff about this console. We do not know about its cost, naturally — muttered rumors about trouble with keeping down the manufacturing costs aside — we don’t know more about the system software, the launch exclusives, or, the physical layout of the hardware.
At the face of Microsoft’s willingness, this is beginning to look oddly reticent and even suspicious, but in reality, this is much nearer to the timeline we would usually expect for information on a brand new console.
The easy answer is that it’s doing this since it may; its previous generation of consoles underperformed badly in the sector and, as a result, it doesn’t have to be worried about stepping onto its long tail. It could whip up early hype to the next generation safe in the knowledge that it was not selling enough units of the current generation system to need to fret about deferring customers’ purchases — a somewhat different calculation to the one faced by Sony, which would still rather like to market many more thousand units of the PS4.
That is not the only motive for Microsoft laying out its cards so early, however. There is also a question of first-mover advantage to some level, particularly since the corporation will no doubt have understood for a while that it was likely to have an edge on Sony in terms of raw teraflops of processing power. Microsoft showing its hands first is very smart from a communication perspective since it means that all the other aspects Sony sought to emphasize — the extremely fast SSD, the revolutionary way it is balancing the system’s energy consumption to permit variable clock rates without throttling games in unpredictable ways, the different pieces of custom silicon it’s construction to allow unprecedented data access rates and some quite intriguing noise processing — ended up sounding somewhat like explanations for why the bottom-line numbers do not match Xbox Series X.
This wise bit of time, together with the appealing simplicity of the teraflops comparison, is very likely to have established that the”graphical prowess” argument in favor of this Series X already. Regardless of any protestations about the benefits of Sony’s strategy in other respects, Series X is obviously likely to be regarded as the more powerful of the two systems.
Raw horsepower, of course, has rarely been a determining factor in any console match-up. While it’s very apparent that Microsoft’s hardware presents a significant challenge,” Series X is stronger, but…” is a clause which could end up being followed by any number of announcements if Sony’s remaining cards prove to be sufficiently impressive.
In that respect, another motive for Microsoft showing its hand so early could be that it sees a benefit in allowing users become accustomed to the honestly very unusual (and somewhat awkward) physical form variable it has chosen for its Series X. We still don’t understand what Sony’s device will look like — besides the controller, which basically just looks like a DualShock 4, but will have some significant hardware differences under the hood — but a couple of remarks in Cerny’s presentation hinted that the PS5’s engineers have found a heat dissipation alternative for the hardware which is somewhat less plus-sized than the Series X, also might permit a more traditional form factor for the gadget.
If that is the case, allowing people to get used to the Series X before PS5’s is disclosed was probably a wise move. Moreover, displaying a few of the features enabled by the SSD from the Series X, such as the impressive game resuming performance, has definitely taken the wind out of the sails of similar functionality enabled by Sony’s even higher performance drive.
Why, then, hasn’t Sony brought forward its announcement program to commemorate Microsoft of some of these early-mover advantages? Firstly, as stated above, Sony nevertheless finds itself somewhat limited by the continuing success of PS4 — it doesn’t need to wreck the present console’s last significant year in the marketplace by beating the drum too hard, too soon for its own successor. It no doubts laid its plans for showing and promoting the new system many months past and doesn’t intend to divert from that deadline just because Microsoft is revealing details much earlier than usual.
1 key thing to keep in mind about all this maneuvering on the part of both businesses is that this stage in a console’s lifecycle — the weeks where details are introduced and conceptions of the machine form in consumers’ minds — is incredibly important, but only in a very large risk sort of manner. Success is rarely sealed at this point in the life of a console, however, failure absolutely is. Sony sank the PS3’s early bundles with foolish, badly calculated statements and conclusions in the months round its unveiling; Microsoft’s bad positioning of the unveiling of Xbox One laid it low for a creation.
However, while traps litter the tracks and a misstep can mean total failure, really getting through this pre-launch period unscathed doesn’t guarantee success — it only allows a console to get to the starting line without its shoelaces tied together. Convincing consumers a games console is great requires quite a while and a great deal of fantastic software; convincing consumers that a console is rubbish can happen in a heartbeat. Both Microsoft and Sony have been burnt from the latter in the recent years, and both companies’ communication approaches can be viewed as an effort to avoid that happening, either by carefully timing the release of data, avoiding major surprises that might be taken up badly, or simply enabling the public have enough time to get used to changes in business design or model and thus avoid a backlash.
Up to now, despite their divergent plans, neither company has genuinely committed a foul. If they could keep things that way in the forthcoming months, this generation’s head-to-head might be the flattest match-up involving console platforms we’ve seen for decades.