Gaming at Home – Part 1: Consoles and What about Next Gen?

Overkill Lounge Gaming Setup

What should you look at while gaming at home?

So on Tuesday, I talked about the Switch and why it is (to me) the best portable gaming choice. The great thing about mobile gaming is you can play it at home just as well as on the bus! So if the Switch games library is what you are looking for, you can stick with the Switch happily 😀

You may be looking at playing games though that aren’t available on the Switch. As much as I would love to play Cyberpunk 2077 on Switch, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Aren’t first world problems the worst? 🙂

So, you want to play certain games (or have a more extensive choice within particular game genres), you have two basic options.

And those options? PC or Console. Hah – you thought I was going to say PlayStation or Xbox, didn’t you? Well, this will boil down to that discussion. But first, I want to talk about why I am not talking about other options.

PlayStation or Xbox Alternatives

So I talked about the Switch in reasonable detail. It’s a great gaming experience and is a solid choice for gamers as their only device. Because it’s portable, I class it as a portable console. If the Switch works for you, you already know why, so I don’t need to compare it to other consoles here.

Something I have looked at a lot (and made grabby hands for but can’t justify) is multi-arcade home cabinets. I would love one of these. I technically have the skills to build my own – well, electronics side. Rabbit’s assistance would probably be needed for cabinet building. After all, you have to know your strengths and limits.

As cool as these cabinets are, they have a limited retro library and cost a lot. They also take up a lot of room – not always practical. I would love a room full of pinball machines with an arcade cabinet in one corner, but that takes a lot of power, space and maintenance. I can’t justify the time and money required for me. If this is what you are looking at doing, go for it and know I am incredibly jealous. But like the Retro Handhelds I touched on in the last piece, I think this setup is a niche one, so I won’t talk about it any more.

Home Arcade
I would love a setup like this. But there is more than just the $ holding me back

Retro or ‘mini’ consoles are also an alternative. I have almost all of the mini-consoles I want, which I love. But I don’t play on them very often. I consider these consoles a niche nostalgia purchase as well. Sure, you game on them, but you are limiting your choices to the included titles.

The prominent alternative is, of course, PC gaming. Making a mini-PC to sit under your TV is a popular build, and so plenty of cases now allow you to install beefy graphics cards.

I am not putting PC gaming in today because even though you might put it in as a console, it is still PC gaming. PC gaming is great and offers many more hardware choices than consoles. It also comes with much higher costs than consoles.

Mega Drive Mini
Mini or Classic consoles are a great toy, but they aren't much more than that these days

Over the coming weeks, I will be talking about PC building and various componenets with all the pros and cons a lot. Also, comparing even the Xbox One X (the fastest console hardware right now) to a mid-tier PC is as unfair as comparing it to the Switch. Different target goals, different equipment, different experiences possible. Each will give you an enjoyable gaming experience, but the ‘good, better, best’ comparison will be made – especially if you have access to all three.

So to keep things simple and as Talking Tech is more for people just starting in video gaming, spoiler alert – Console Gaming wins for at-home gaming. Now to look at what console would best suit you.

What about next-gen? Will you be comparing PS5 and Xbox Series X as well?

Not really. I will be touching on some confirmed features when comparing the current generation of consoles, and describe my plans for the next console as of today. But for now, I won’t be describing the gaming experience on next-gen consoles. Why not? Because it’s all guesswork.

As I am writing this, Microsoft has revealed a bunch of hard technical specs for the Xbox Series X. I believe when this article is released, Sony will have finished their technical system presentation.

These specs are great, but numbers aren’t everything. A lot of this information is also being presented with marketing spin. I am not saying that the data is wrong, but we all know numbers can be presented to give a better impression than what you see in reality.

For example, Xbox’s 12 teraflops is a fantastic amount of computational power. That’s cool! What does it mean for you right now? Very little. It’s just a number. Even with that power available, until developers can make use of that capacity, it doesn’t mean much. It’s like having a car with a top speed of 400 km/hr. Until you can go somewhere you can drive at those speeds, it’s nice to see on your speedo, but it doesn’t truly help your daily drive to work.

Xbox Series X Specs
The specs sounds impressive (and they are), but they aren't everything

A hard detail is the Xbox Series X will have expandable SSD drives. I think this is great. Storage has always been a concern for me on a console. No pricing was given, so I don’t think it’s an attractive feature – yet. These are custom drives, so I am expecting a price jump on what I can buy NVMe for my PC.

What’s good to know that I can use an external drive for backwards compatible games (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One) and the Series X will need the new internal or custom expansion drives.

Xbox Series X Expansion Drive
Easy to use expandable and portable drives are something that people can evaluate today

This feature is a detail I can evaluate today. Game load times from an external drive will be about the same (maybe slightly better depending on your external drive) as what I have now. So I can use my 2TB external that I currently use for video capture as my ‘old’ games library drive, and the performance is what I have now – an immediately known quantity. This quantity is something that you can decide if you need now or even pre-plan for, but it doesn’t sound as catchy as ’12 teraflops!’.

This difference in information and its overall impact on your daily gaming experience is what I will continue to refer to as Marketing Hype. Remember, both PS5 and Series X are mostly running the same hardware. The differences are how the respective companies tweak their designs.

Think of it this way – you want a 2070 Super graphics card. One from Asus has higher numbers here, one from Gigabyte has better figures there. Which one do you choose?

Both are 2070 Super Graphics cards, and that gives you a baseline expected gaming experience. If a manufacturer makes a card that doesn’t meet that minimum expectation, the internet screams about it. Consoles are the same thing, just for more than one component. So while I am excited about the next generation of consoles, keep in mind a lot of what we will be seeing is Marketing Hype. At least until around October/November when reviewers get their hands on actual hardware and titles.

Also, keep in mind next-gen will be more expensive than the current hardware as well. Why do I say this? Because for the first time, console hardware is going to be ‘better’ than mainstream PC hardware.

RTX 2070 Graphics Cards
Each card is right for different reasons, but mostly you can't pick the wrong one

Wait, console will be better than PC?

Overall, no. Technology jumps, and while the new consoles will be ‘better’ than a lot of computers we use today, it’s only for a little while. The new consoles have access to tech that just hasn’t quite cracked the PC market – it’s available, we are just waiting for someone to sell it to us.

As advanced as the newer generations of consoles are, they are still mainly PCs. Not everyone likes to admit this, though. They run CPUs, RAM and GPUs just like any PC build. Yes, the SoC (System on a Chip – the CPU and GPU combined) is custom-built for the console, but that doesn’t invalidate that it still uses PC parts. Many physically smaller PCs like the NUC systems use custom SoC in the same way consoles do.

Consoles traditionally have used components that have tried and true manufacturing methods and availability. Examples were things like slower hard drives when PC people had started moving to SSD drives. For not much money, you get lots of storage! However, it can take 2-3 minutes to load your game every time you die. Pros and Cons, always.

With this generation, it looks like the consoles will have access to new tech that hasn’t made it to PC users yet. So for modern consoles, for the first time, they aren’t built like computers 2-3 years earlier.

Pro – Sacrifices in new games won’t need to happen on a brand new console like this generation. Con – consumers will be paying a premium for new products, including padding for higher failer rates, production troubles and the like.

Xbox One X Components
The layout is a little different, but any PC or Laptop has the same core components

So what are you doing with the new generation?

Barring what I think are lousy business or hardware choices when all the details about PlayStation 5 come out, I will be buying one. I am a Sony Fanboy, as I have said.

As for the Xbox Series X, it looks like it’s going to be a great launch. But I won’t be upgrading my Xbox One S for a while. Microsoft has said no Series X exclusive games for a couple of years, so I can play anything I want on Xbox still. Once the manufacturing process has settled down, I should be able to get a second revision Xbox Series X with any hardware improvements made.

I have a friend who is doing the exact opposite of what I am doing – Xbox Series X day one, PlayStation 5 maybe down the line. This plan (for both of us) is what I call ‘Fanboy Thinking’ – you have already made up your mind to get something based on brand loyalty over facts.

I am saying this upfront as an example of doing what I say, not what I do. The decision to stick to PlayStation 5 is a byproduct of my 25 years with PlayStation. S’s decision is a byproduct of her long experience with Xbox. The purpose of Talking Tech isn’t to tell you that my choice is the right one, but to help you decide what is right for you.

So should I wait to buy my first console when the next generation is released?

If you are looking at buying your first console, I would suggest a current-gen console with all the production kinks all worked out over the PS5 or Xbox Series X.

The end of life current-gen consoles are now almost always on sale – this helps the costs. Buying an established product minimises the chance of faulty products and some things that can reduce your experience. For example, when playing Destiny 2 my original PS4 Pro sounds like an aeroplane. I have barely heard my Death Stranding PS4 Pro fans at all. It’s not a better console – it’s just had a manufacturing revision that lets it run quieter. A ‘faulty’ product would be the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death.

The drawback of waiting is potentially missing out on some unique upgrades. You won’t have the super-fast load times of the next generation, for example. This is why I appreciate Microsoft committing that first-party games won’t be Series X exclusive for a couple of years – you know you won’t be missing out. But any decision you make on next-generation consoles will be a best guess decision. My advice is to wait and see what the consoles can do close to release when people have actual products.

Xbox One X EB Games
It's a guess, but the top of the line Xbox now will be about half the cost of the Series X

So if you decide to buy current-gen, looking at the PS4 and Xbox is exactly with me will be exactly what you need! If you choose to go next-gen only and wait, good news – looking at what the systems offer now is still what you need 😀 There is more to a console than just the hardware, and I will be looking at the current ecosystems as well. While it might all change for the next generation, you should have a firm understanding of what they are changing from to let you know what works for you.

So PlayStation vs Xbox – what are we looking at?

I hope today you can look at the information coming out on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and feel comfortable that you shouldn’t understand what they can offer you fully just yet. Until you can see one running (or listen to someone you trust what they say about their hands-on experience), it’s all an unknown.

So in Part 2, I will start delving into the pros and cons of the PlayStation and Xbox One families. Not just the base console hardware, but the services, ecosystem and additional abilities of the consoles as well. PSVR vs 4K Blu Rays for example.

Questions?

Again, this is all a lot to take in, and I kind of jumped to why you shouldn’t stress about next-gen today. I tried to explain all the main concepts, but this is all complex stuff.

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

How a PlayStation 5 rumour could ‘fix’ PlayStation Now for everyone

But PlayStation Now isn’t broken? Or is it? No, it’s just not out yet. But is it? WHAT IS THIS!

With the next generation consoles looming on the horizon, gamers everywhere are looking at what could be. Rumours fly around at an insane pace. Some are presented as such, some are clickbait. It would be best if you never put your faith in a rumour until the company in question confirms it.

And I am going to semi-break that advice while I cross my fingers and hope for new features in an existing service. It’s only semi-break because I am not counting on it happening, just “Wouldn’t it be cool if”.

Everything I am outlining is dependant on one rumour being true, then Sony making individual business decisions. This is an “I wish” discussion, not a report on what Sony is doing.

Anyway, now that’s all clear, some history.

What is PlayStation Now?

Short version, PlayStation Now is Sony’s version of Google Stadia. That came out first. To get around the complaints of the lack of backwards compatibility, Sony introduced the service in 2014 for North America. Within 18 months, access was added to the UK, then Europe and finally Japan.

For a monthly fee, you can play PS2, PS3 and PS4 games on your PS4 or PC. As the games are streamed to your device, all you need is a compatible controller. You can even use an Xbox controller for most games if you like.

For a couple of years, Sony pulled a ‘Vita’ and just let it languish. Not many titles, coupled with a pretty hefty internet requirement, meant it was still a niche product.

Don’t you pay the fee and play? Why can’t you use it?

PlayStation Now is only available in a few countries. Even in those countries, if you don’t have an excellent internet connection, good luck. This is a big part of the backlash over Google Stadia as well.

This doesn’t stop me seeing a bunch of ads for the last 6 years telling me to try it. Sony, you localise so much, maybe stop asking Facebook to ask me to try it for free?

Microsoft is going in pretty hard with streaming with the Xbox Series X as well. Here in Australia, while we are lucky to have Azure datacenters close by, the state of the internet infrastructure is a joke. That didn’t stop Microsoft coming up with a simple for everyone solution.

How Microsoft is paving the way for streaming while attracting new customers

Microsoft Game Pass is the first attempt foundation of consumer acceptance of XCloud, their own streaming solution. Want to try a whole bunch of games for one low price? Here’s Game Pass! Just click the title, and you can be playing it in a few seconds via XCloud.

It doesn’t work this way right now. Since 2017, Microsoft has been adding to the number of Game Pass subscribers. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of gamers all now used to access to ‘free’ games.

Game Pass PC Store
This is the new additions for PC. Xbox has even more choices!

How it works today is you download the games locally to play them. You need just enough internet to prove you can play it (basic account check), then off you go. Yes, you have to wait for the downloads and update them yourself, etc. People don’t worry too much, as that is how digital store purchases work already.

What has any of this has to do with rumours and PlayStation Now?

I promise I am getting there.

Nothing can help lousy internet. No matter how many settings you tweak or subscriptions to different tools you buy, if your line can’t handle it, that’s it.

Microsoft got around this brilliantly with Game Pass. Can you stream? Great play away! Internet not playing ball for some reason? Download the game and play on your console. Problem solved!

The reason Microsoft can do this is simple: Xbox has backwards compatibility. Put in an Xbox or Xbox 360 title, and you are good to go. Put a PlayStation 3 disc in the PS4, and watch the console get very confused.

But what if the PS5 has backwards compatibility?

Oh, I think I see where you’re going.

The statement from Sony is that the PS5 will be PS4 and PSVR backwards compatible. The rumour is that the PS5 will support all of the numbered consoles. Quietly I am hoping that the PSP and Vita can get in on the action as well, but that is extra fingers crossed territory.

If this feature is indeed real, Sony could pull a Microsoft and let you download the games to your PS5. No streaming required. Open PlayStation Now up to all PSN territories, and let that sweet subscription money start rolling in.

If you can stream, great. Instant game access on multiple devices is definitely the way to go. No waiting for downloads or updates, pick a title and play. I believe streaming content like this will be the norm at some point, just not today.

If you can’t stream, that would almost be better for Sony financially. Hosting the download files only is a lot cheaper than the cost of streaming infrastructure and would offset these costs. Especially as more people globally would be helping pay for it. Even in the areas PlayStation Now is available, only a percentage of players can use the service.

Metal Gear Solid 4
Metal Gear 4 I can't play again as my PS3 died. I could if I had PlayStation Now though...

Pull a Microsoft. Get everyone wanting to be a part of the service, not just the select few.

So your big ‘fix’ is to copy Game Pass. Why would they?

Why wouldn’t they? Sony couldn’t do offer this for various compatibility reasons in the past, but if that is fixed – why not? The setup is so good, I bought an Xbox. Two, technically. I don’t regret upgrading my preowned first purchase for the purple beastie 🙂

With one exception Rabbit bought for me, I have yet to buy a single Xbox game. That one game was Red Dead Redemption, and yes I know the sequel is prettier and everything but I try and judge a franchise from its roots. I haven’t had to. My games come with Game Pass.

The Purple Beastie
The Fortnite Xbox One - my Purple Beastie. Enzo loves it too, as you can see from the fur :p

Games suggested retail pricing is around $110-$120 in Australia. We usually pay less than this (just), but no one is going to slash the prices on launch titles. Say the PS5 is $100 less than the Series X, you lose that advantage in just one game purchase. And you will need that one game (at least) to justify your shiny new console. Online multiplayer? Do you have PlayStation Plus? That’s another $12 thanks. This does give you access to some free games, so that’s a bonus. But it’s a choice of 2-4 depending on the month, and you might not like any of them.

“Ah, but what about the games for Xbox? They still have to buy games as well!” I hear you say. “Both Xbox and PlayStation need all that extra stuff!” Well, yes and no. Yes, Xbox uses pricing tiers for different services. No, because you are getting more for you money from Xbox these days.

For AUD$16, you can buy the console AND Game Pass Ultimate access for one month. Play what you want. Play online straight away. Even get a couple of free games with Gold. Wanted to play that exclusive launch title? If it’s Microsoft Studios (which it probably will be on launch), it’s already included with Game Pass. Console cost + $16 to play over 100 games including new releases? Done.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

Well, I wouldn’t say I have been totally bought across. I am still Team PlayStation, I just appreciate what Microsoft is building. If it’s not on Game Pass, I will probably look at PS4 and Switch versions first. But they have my attention, and I will look. That’s more than they had from me 12 months ago.

The only way for Sony to combat this is to offer parity with Microsoft. On the surface, they do with PlayStation Now. But it’s not the same. With the service only available in certain regions coupled with no fallback option if things aren’t great internet wise, it’s chalk and cheese.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

Are you trying to say buy Xbox?

Gaming is expensive. You pay a lot upfront, but hopefully over the next 7-8 years that cost overall evens out. Doesn’t help that initial splash out though.

I will always say game on what works for you. Microsoft has given players ways to maximise their gaming cheaply (and legally) compared to the limited market PlayStation Now has. It has even used this low cost of entry early to bring across PlayStation fans like me.

I am really hoping that if the backwards compatibility rumours are indeed true, Sony launches PS5 with the new PlayStation Now that allows game downloads in ALL regions. If this is the case, and Sony undercuts the Xbox pricing, it would actually be an attractive saving for the consumer. Not just the superficial save that costs you more in the long run.

I really want streaming to work. Not just for the convenience as a gamer, but environmentally as well. Data Centers use huge amounts of power, which still isn’t great, but companies are doing everything they can for effeciency and plenty of centers are now being built to be powered by renewable energy only. Steps are being made, and each step forward is progress.

And like every complicated chain, that’s one part of the puzzle. Because people will be using lower powered systems to run games, they will use less energy as well. Without buying so many discs and cases, the amount of plastic created and thrown out is affected. Think Video Tapes and Music CD’s. Thanks to services like Netflix and Spotify, less of these are being made while the product itself reaches a lot more people.

Streaming makes sense in the long run, it’s just I don’t think we are there yet. This new generation of consoles will hopefully be the last generation that uses the digital download/play locally model, and I hope Sony takes advantage of this.

If they don’t? They may as well hand the next generation victory to Microsoft, similar to how Microsoft handed it over with the launch of the Xbox One.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD