There have been many musings regarding the state of the console arms race since Sony's PlayStation press conference on the 7th of September. Both Microsoft and Sony have added new hardware to their catalogs, offering options for those that have nifty 4K televisions. Sony now has the PS4 Pro releasing this November to steal back some of Microsoft's thunder, but there's more on the horizon.
While it's easy to pick sides and try to declare the winner, it isn't actually all that clear who has the upper hand.
What is the PS4 Pro?
The biggest news of the Sony event was definitely the unveiling of their new hardware: the PS4 Pro. Not the PS4 Slim mind you (that leaked weeks in advance), but the more powerful option for people seeking 4K gaming.
Sony has sought to create a system that requires no compromises in gaming, offering better resolutions and higher framerates, in addition to supporting technology like High Dynamic Range (HDR). The Pro even boasts a pretty impressive specifications sheet, sporting a 4.2 Teraflops graphics processor (compared to the original PS4's 1.84 TFLOPS) and a 1TB hard drive as standard. All this technical jargon aside, it appears that Sony has a hole-in-one with the Pro. That is, until you look at some of the Pro's puzzling limitations.
Not every game will have increased framerates or higher resolutions as a default on the Pro, only select titles. The known "PS4 Pro Enhanced" games so far are going to be Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Horizon Zero Dawn, Infamous Second Son, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Watch_Dogs 2. Enhanced titles are also not required to utilize all the of the potential improvements either, as PS4 Pro Enhanced games only need to meet one of the four criteria that gains it that designation: enhanced visuals, frame rate, HDR 10 support, or resolution increases.
The PS4 Pro also lacks any form of 4K Blu-Ray support, a baffling omission considering that up until this latest model, PlayStation has been on the cutting edge of media support.
Microsoft hasn't been resting on their laurels lately. Instead, they've released the Xbox One S which supports HDR 10, 4K resolutions and 4K Blu-Ray, has a 2TB HDD (though smaller storage options are available), and in a significantly smaller form. Granted, the system doesn't sport the ridiculous 4.2 TFLOPS of graphics processing power, but it accomplishes many of the same feats in a neater package.
Then there's the infamous Project Scorpio to take into account. Microsoft has let out few details about the new system on the horizon, but what they're teasing sounds like it will one-up the PS4 Pro with far greater capabilities. With graphics processing power coming in at an alleged whopping 6 TFLOPS (impressive for a console), whatever Project Scorpio is will likely be the end all be all of Xbox gaming for quite some time.
How do they stack up against each other?
There are multiple things to consider before slamming down a judgment on which console version is the best. These iterations of the PS4 and Xbox One don't exist in a vacuum. The 8th generation console arms race has been going on for three years now, and it doesn't look like it's coming to an end any time soon. Here are some things to consider:
Pro Sony: The PlayStation 4 already has a massive lead.
There's little doubt in anybody's minds that the PS4 is ahead in market share over the Xbox One by an extremely large amount. The PS4 has sold well over 40 million consoles now and has easily been outpacing the Xbox One for the entire generation. It stands to reason that this trend will continue until the end of the generation, barring a huge misstep on Sony's behalf.
The PS4 Pro could solidify this lead by enticing gamers to buy an even more powerful system for a decent price.
Pro Sony: Project Scorpio doesn't have a release date or price.
The PS4 Pro will have a lead on whatever Xbox is brewing by at least a few months, if not a year. Couple this with the fact that the PS4 Pro has a price of $400 in the US and will be out by November, and it's obvious that Sony has the chance to snap up any buyers that would've been on the fence.
If Microsoft can price Project Scorpio equal to, or less than the PS4 Pro, then things might get interesting.
Pro Microsoft: Project Scorpio will be far more powerful.
If Microsoft can overtake Sony's claim to graphical superiority, then they might be able to convince console gamers to buy in on the Xbox platform, at least as a second console option. This higher graphical quality could also convince players that Xbox is the system they should default to for their multiplatform titles as well, since that is the stance that many gamers adopted with the original PS4.
Pro Microsoft: The PS4 Pro compares more to the Xbox One S.
The PS4 Pro, like the Xbox One S, only upscales content to 4K. This may not seem like a big deal, but when consumers are looking to buy a system that outputs to 4K and their options include two systems that only upscale to that resolution, there are other things to take into consideration.
In my experience, that's usually price. Price was a large factor in what determined Sony's lead in the console market early on, and with the Xbox One S base model only costing $300, there isn't much reason to front an extra $100 for a PS4 Pro. Unless of course the customer's mind is already dead set against the Xbox in the first place. It's hard to ignore that the Xbox One S offers more bang for your buck though.
Pro Microsoft: The PS4 Pro might be coming too early.
With the PS4 Pro coming out this November, it's slated to release well before Project Scorpio comes to fruition. However, according to Sony themselves, only about 15% of homes in the US will have a 4K TV by the end of the year. This is a far better outlook than the IHS, which in December 2015 estimated that 4K TVs will have less than a 10% adoption rate in the US by the end of this year.
Now it is possible that Sony may just be trying to get out in front of things, but that might hurt them in the long run. If people are waiting to buy a 4K set, they may decide to wait to buy a console that will work with it.
Microsoft could surprise us all when Project Scorpio becomes a reality. Being a more powerful concept system that could offer higher quality experiences in VR and on the big screen, Project Scorpio could be a game changer that steals the spotlight from PlayStation. The Xbox One S is also fairly new to the scene and may not yet have hit its stride and there's also the matter of how many people actually have TVs that can benefit from more powerful systems to consider as well.
It's a little early to say with 100% certainty, but it appears that Sony might have the upper hand for the time being. Gamers have flocked to the PlayStation 4 this generation, choosing Sony's offerings over anything that Microsoft has been able to provide. Whether this is because Japanese developers seem to prefer Sony's console, that the PS4 is moderately more powerful, or because Sony comes across as a company that courts gamers better is up for debate. The fact of the matter is that PlayStation 4 is on a roll and there doesn't seem to be any momentum being lost.