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Are PS4 and Xbox One really hiding untapped extra power?

Are you hungry for power? No, I don’t mean your nefarious plan for world domination involving an army of hamsters; I’m talking about consoles. And, more specifically, whether the new consoles have got enough grunt in them to keep up with PC games for the next 9 years or so. Crytek’s US engine business development manager, Sean Tracy, is implying they may run out of steam much sooner than that, as reported by CVG News. Ah, but there are counter arguments flying around. Counter arguments that say, basically, you ain't seen nothin' yet. So what's the deal?

Just to be clear, neither machine is going to explode in a cascade of Photoshopped sparks (courtesy of yours truly). Tracy is concerned that the new consoles will run out of RAM sooner rather than later when trying to run the newest engines on the market. "We already had to manage quite intensely our memory usage throughout Ryse and this will be one of the limiting factors surely in this generation," said Tracy. "I would have to agree with the viewpoint that 8GB can easily be filled up, but also keep in mind that developers don't necessarily even have access to all 8 gigs of it," he added.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is the stuff that the computer accesses in super-fast time, holding it ready to recall in an instant, instead of having to load it off a disk and decompress it before it can do anything with it. So 8 gigabytes of the stuff may sound massive, but it can be all-too-easily filled with textures, game engine and what-have-you. And yet, counter to Tracy's fears about console RAM, both Xbox One and PS4 have seen stories this week saying their computational power is set to increase. 

Let’s start with Xbox One. With Kinect finally being relegated to 'optional extra' status, Microsoft has said publicly that the processing power previously set aside for Kinect’s functionality and future, unannounced Kinect upgrades, could feasibly be freed up for developers to use, therefore boosting the performance of the core machine. This is arguably necessary, as multiplatform games are running pretty much universally better on PS4 compared to Xbox One at present, namely in terms of frame rate and screen resolution. Quite how much extra power this Kinect reserve will free up remains to be seen.

What about PS4? Recent rumours suggest that PS4 may also be in line for a processing boost. This could be coming from the 'ICE' team, who are responsible for graphics technologies used by first-party Sony developers. And that includes Naughty Dog. Just imagine what Naughty Dog could do with Uncharted on PS4, with massively enhanced graphical capabilities. Yes, that is some super-tasty mind candy. Sony has actually got a track record of boosting performance midway through a console's life; PSP was deliberately underclocked for the sake of battery consumption when it was first launched, but the true power of its processor was ‘unlocked’ for God of War: Chains of Olympus. Some games like Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep even give you the option: faster clock speed for less slow-down, or lower clock speed for longer battery life.

One thing we can be certain of is that any upgrade will come from firmware/software rather than hardware. The days of N64’s Expansion Pak or Sega Saturn’s 4MB RAM cartridge (sold in Japan only, fact fans) are long gone. The new consoles may be based on PC architecture, but the only component Sony doesn’t mind you replacing is the hard drive, likely another example of not wanting to split the marketplace. There’s no way an official RAM expansion is coming to the new-gen machines any time soon. Or, indeed, ever.

Crytek will want to push the graphical envelope as far as an envelope can be pushed, and that means the most up-to-date graphics cards and drivers, which will only be available for PC until the next generation of consoles arrives. In that respect, yes, consoles could be left behind as PC continues its inexorable march towards photorealism. But honestly, history shows us that all developers really need with any hardware is time. If a ZX Spectrum can run Doom, I’m sure PS4 and Xbox One will do just fine anyway. Clever optimisation and a better understanding of the system architecture should keep console games looking great--and contemporary--for the foreseeable future. Despite Tracy's fear of RAM limitations, there's really no telling what the graphical future of PS4 and Xbox One will hold five or six years down the line.

16 comments

  • jedisamurai - May 20, 2014 12:43 p.m.

    Quite honestly I have seen absolutely nothing "next gen" that makes me want a PS4 or an Xbox One. My PS3 just got a yellow light of death last week, and if I won a PS4 I'd just sell it to get a PS3. Games that push the system are probably mostly 3 or 4 years away at best for the most part (though we all know Ninja Theory and Naughty Dog can work magic). I regretted buying a 360 so much when I first bought it that I nearly sold it. There simply weren't any games for the system I wanted to play until HD remixes of Ikaruga and Rez came out. That being the case, I'll wait till something I can't get for PC (not an indie game I can get for free) comes out that does something more interesting than rendering more realistic blood, bullets, water, and dust. I'm waiting for Valkyria Chronicles 5, a sequel to Child of Eden, Outrun 3, and games with such detailed animation they look better than Pixar with zero frame drops at 60 FPS in 1080p. Games by VanillaWare, SEGA, Treasure, Ninja Theory, and who knows who else? Until then I'll bide my time, buy up PS3 and 360 games on the cheap, and watch the price drop and drop on the new consoles.
  • mothbanquet - May 20, 2014 8 a.m.

    This is hardly a new thing. PCs are a constant, fluid influx of new gaming technology drip-fed to the users while consoles are more or less static entities. I do believe however, that this isn't necessarily a handicap. It forces devs to get more creative with the tech they're given and the results can surprise and amaze. There are plenty of games that 'shouldn't have been possible' on lower-spec hardware and for those feats of technological accomplishment alone we need the console side of the gaming coin. PCs are as essential now as ever for setting new benchmarks while consoles are needed to stabilise that growth and encourage resourcefulness among developers. If any new generation of console were to be future-proofed, I think I'd be very sad. Plus, for all my hyper-modded Skyrim and Ridiculo-Vision Wolfenstein New Order, I still couch Shadow of the Colossus as one of the most jaw-dropping games ever. And I only played it in 2011.
  • ryan-samurai - May 20, 2014 7:29 a.m.

    In all honesty, GTA 5 looks amazing and it runs on 360 and PS3 beautifully. As do a lot of other games. Why we are getting wrapped up with resolution and framerate is ludicrous. I'll take gameplay over any of that garbage. I just want more expansive games with evolution as opposed to realistic graphics any day of the week.
  • mothbanquet - May 20, 2014 8:01 a.m.

    Seriously, even on the PC I'm mostly playing old games with mods that keep the gameplay fresh. I haven't touched a new release in ages.
  • laurendavis006 - May 20, 2014 7:10 a.m.

    New update in Xbox You got to the give credit where its due; yes Microsoft made a lot of errors last year before the launch of the Xbox but they heeded the complaints of their customers and are trying to put things right. Sometimes, it's easy to bury your head in the sand and think you know http://goo.gl/Tep3za
  • Shigeruken - May 19, 2014 7:40 p.m.

    Driver optimizations improve performance. That's why nvidia does better than amd, their cards keep up better over time. Check out the latest set of Geforce drivers if you want to see drivers done right. Overclocking often has little impact on heat generation, and both of these new consoles are well ventilated. It wouldn't surprise me if Sony/MS were using all of that anonymous data to fine tune the clock speeds. Neither of these things will make a huge difference, but they may keep an average game running at 30 fps instead of 24 in two or three years from now.
  • Vonter - May 19, 2014 6:41 p.m.

    The more I hear people wanting the next gen already makes me concerned about how much impact this will have. I mean aside from realism I don't think most devs have tapped the potential of making high art visioned games. I want to see more experiments like El Shaddai, Okami, Dragon's Crown, Mad World etc. Even games like Child of Light show good art can create interest in a new IP.
  • d0x - May 19, 2014 6:04 p.m.

    PC gamers.. Well a lot of gamers actually seem to forget how much performance is gained from set hardware and constant optimizing of code. Not only that but improved tools from Sony and Microsoft will keep these consoles going for a few years. 4 years from now I want to hear about the next gen and 5 years (tops) I want it to launch. Until then the boxes we have will either hold us over or we will all migrate to pc
  • PretentiousTurian - May 19, 2014 11:50 a.m.

    Yet, 360 seemed to do just fine up till now with 512MB of ram and PS3 with half that
  • jedisamurai - May 20, 2014 12:49 p.m.

    I think the truly impressive games will come in the future when devs learn to use programming tricks to create new types of effects, not just upping the resolution and adding layers of eye-candy that people me never notice anyway. Additional power is only useful if you know what to do with it. So once they create new full-screen effects that have never been seen before (new ways to imitate hand-drawn animation, under-water, outer space, other environments, and find new ways to affect control and sound, THAT's when things get interesting.
  • shawksta - May 19, 2014 11:12 a.m.

    Its hard to believe that you can just "download more power" However what i do believe is that skills through the years can improve and show more power. Seriously, compare the last games of 360 and PS3 of this year and last year, to the first 2 years, there is a big improvement. There is an improvement as you get to know and understand the hardware your using. Untapped extra power? I doubt it, but they CAN improve themselves.
  • StrayGator - May 19, 2014 11:49 a.m.

    http://www.downloadmoreram.com/
  • shawksta - May 19, 2014 3:55 p.m.

    Heh well obviously were talking consoles and were talking the systems themselves just simply doing them, otherwise we can all mod our consoles.
  • theguyinthecloset - May 19, 2014 7:27 p.m.

    That is thee funniest thing I have seen all week! thanks for that!
  • jedisamurai - May 20, 2014 1:02 p.m.

    Game console power is like money. No one would turn down some extra, but it's not NEARLY as effective as learning to use what you already have well. People complained about the ram limits of the original playstation, then we got MGS and Gran Turismo. People complained about the power limits of the PS2, and we got Jak 3, Kingdom Hearts 2. People said the 360 had limits reached, then we got Mass Effect 2, Split Second, etc. This generation will be no different. They will say they've reached the limits of the hardware, then a few years later you will see a game come out that will blow your mind.
  • shawksta - May 20, 2014 3:35 p.m.

    Pretty much.

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