Image credit: Game Scouts.
Video Game Consoles
The current generation of video game consoles have been around for a very long time. The good news is that for the prospective buyer of one of these consoles, there is no shortage of high quality triple A titles, third party (and first party) accessories, and almost most importantly, the prices have come down pretty substantially since their inception. For the value oriented buyer, there is an absolute plethora of good buys to be found by searching for used titles of older hit games. The drawback to the current crop of consoles being on the market for so long is that the hardware being used in these titles are definitely show their age and holding back the graphics and experience of the latest games. Microsoft and Sony have released updated versions of their hardware, but there was are no changes to the hardware that provides the console the “horsepower” that it needs to power today’s most demanding titles.
Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 back in November of 2005. The original model of the Xbox 360 came equipped with just a 20GB hard disk drive. Today, they 360 is available with hard drives all the way up to 250GBs in capacity. Not only have they made improvements to the internal storage capacity, but advances in processor technology has allowed Microsoft to utilize processors with smaller, and more efficient transistors. The end benefit is an Xbox 360 that runs at lower temperatures, draws less power, and is more reliable than ever before. The original Xbox 360 was launched at a retail price of $399, you could also buy a “Core System” model (later re-named the Xbox Arcade) for $299. The original Xbox came equipped with the 20GB hard disk drive while the Arcade came without an internal hard drive, and was instead bundled with a 256MB flash drive. Today, an Xbox came be purchased with the optional Kinect hardware for only $99 with the customer signing a two-year commitment to Xbox Live Gold service or $199 without the Kinect and the requisite commitment to Microsoft’s online gaming service. In addition to the 4GB model, Microsoft also continues to sell its 250GB equipped model at a retail price of $299. Other benefits to the Xbox 360 is its ability to stream media from your home PC straight to your TV as well as play back DVDs from your personal collection. Unfortunately the Blu-ray format is not a supported media type. Lastly, the purchase price of Microsoft’s current console does not include free access to online gameplay. Online gameplay requires premium (paid) membership, called Xbox Live Gold. The rates for Xbox Live Gold are $9.99/month if purchased each month, $24.99 for three months ($8.33/month), or $59.99 for 12 months ($5.00/month).
Sony came a little later to the current generation of consoles, and was officially released in November for 2006, a full year after Microsoft launched the Xbox 360. The original Playstation 3 came with a 20GB or a 60GB hard disk drive and came at a retail price of $499 or $699 respectively. Sony justified their higher pricing with features included in the PS3 that were not included in the 360. These features included the ability to play back Blu-ray disc media, free access to Sony’s online gaming service, and wireless connectivity. One other notable feature was included with the original PS3, which was full backward compatibility with PS2 games; unfortunately, this feature has been removed from the last several iterations of the PS3 hardware. As time and the cost of hardware has dropped, the PS3 has also dropped in price, becoming nearly as affordable as the Xbox 360. The 160GB model can be had bundled with various game titles for $299 or less. Just as Microsoft have introduced new designs to the Xbox 360, so has Sony to their PS3.
The Nintendo Wii was initially met with much fanfare and enthusiasm. Nintendo launched the Wii at roughly the same time as the Playstation 3 in November of 2006. A combination of hype and a limited supply of the console made it very difficult to obtain a Wii. As a result of this, consumers were largely unable to obtain a Wii until the first quarter of 2007. The main draw and excitement that was surrounding the Wii was due to it introducing a new concept to the gaming world. It was the first console to incorporate the movement of the user into gameplay. The Wii remote utilizes a combination of accelerometers and infrared sensors to indicate what actions the player was performing. Unfortunately, Nintendo used hardware components that were mediocre at best in terms of sheer computing power, instead relying on the innovation of the Wii Remote to sell units. The unfortunate effect of this is that high end gaming titles that required more processing ability are incapable of running on the Wii’s dated hardware. Nintendo put the focus of their games on the casual user as opposed to the traditional “hardcore” gamer type, since the casual user was less likely to take issue with inferior gaming visuals. Lastly, the unique advantage of the Wii, namely its motion sensing technology, has been duplicated by Sony and Microsoft in their consoles in the form of the Playstation Move add-on for the PS3 and the Kinect for the 360.
In addition to the next generation of consoles by traditional hardware makers mentioned previously in this article, there are fresh concepts on the horizon which are poised to change the way we look at gaming. One such console is the Ouya gaming console. The Ouya runs a customized version of the Android open source mobile operating system. The Ouya is different in that it is a low cost console which is set to retail for only $99 and comes in a tiny 3 inch cube! The first iteration of the Ouya console will be released with the Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM processor. The advantage of this processor is it’s extremely low cost, the disadvantage is the relatively low processing power that it has in comparison with modern processors that will be coming in the next generation of hardware by Microsoft and Sony. The creators of Ouya have stated that the console will likely be released with updated hardware each year, in order to keep with the times and updated graphics of future games. Valve, the company behind the Steam digital distribution platform has been working on what they have internally codenamed “Bigfoot”, which will be released as the Steambox. The Steambox will be pre-installed with the Linux operating system (which will be capable of running Windows). The main premise will be a tightly controlled hardware platform similar to traditional consoles, but with the open software nature similar to the Ouya and other Android/Linux based devices. The Steambox controllers are said to incorporate unique and innovative features such as biometric readers, motion controls, and even gaze tracking. 2013 promises to be a big year for gaming, one that will probably bring several firsts to enthusiasts and casual players alike.
Late in February 2013, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 as well as the technical specs of it. The new PS4 controller features a host of features of all sorts that will certainly open PS4 games to interesting new gameplay elements. The first feature is a light bar that will allow the camera peripheral to track a players movements in a very similar manner to the PlayStation Move. The next new aspect of the controller is the addition of a headset jack, which seems to be taken straight out of the XBOX 360 playbook, as a matter of fact, the PS4 will also be bundled with a headset, just like what Microsoft does for the 360. Lastly, they’ve implemented some sort of a “share” button for various social interactions, something that seems to be becoming a ubiquitous feature among all electronic devices, software, and websites. The PS4 will also be featuring an 8-core AMD processor, codenamed “Jaguar” as well as an AMD/ATI Radeon GPU.
Officially, the next generation of Microsoft’s XBOX console doesn’t yet exist in any form. However, supposedly trustworthy sources have leaked information regarding the upcoming console. One of the biggest details include the fact that the Kinect sensor will no longer be an optional peripheral, but something that will be included with every single console. The newest version of the Kinect will also be more advanced in terms of the precision of motion tracking; it will even be able to track the movement (supposedly) of individual thumbs, determining if your hands are open or closed, and even read your facial expression! Another big improvement over the Xbox 360 is the inclusion of integrated WiFi hardware, as opposed to the 360, where you had to purchase a WiFi dongle separately. As far as specs go, it is rumored that the new Xbox will also be equipped with very similar hardware as the PS4, made by AMD.
Finally, Nintendo has already released its next generation platform, the Wii U. The Wii U is backward compatible with titles from the original Wii, but not the Nintendo GameCube. Perhaps the most innovative feature of the Wii U is its primary controller. The Wii U GamePad features its own built-in touchscreen display and can even be used as a standalone screen without the use of a television. In addition to the screen, the controller features other items you expect from a Wii console: gyroscope, analog sticks, and accelerometer. Other new items include a built-in microphone as well as near-field-communication (NFC) technology. The Wii U is powered by an IBM PowerPC triple-core processor and is paired with an AMD Radeon GPU. Other new features include access to various streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, YouTube, and even has the ability to browse the web using the GamePad or your TV as a screen.