Now that they hype train is finally pulling into the station, we can all sit down and enjoy just how powerful Xbox One X really is. Make no mistake, its arrival marks a watershed moment for consoles. By unlocking 4K and including high-end hardware under its hood, the imposing chasm that stood between consoles and the PC gaming market has finally shrunk.
PC is always going to have edge, considering the ever-evolving modular nature of the platform, but the last 12 months have finally presented consoles gamers with a way of enjoying their games with the kind of framerate performance and resolution crispness that's long been denied them.
Xbox One X has proved itself to be the proper mid-generation upgrade that PS4 Pro has come so close to being. It's got specs that will make your high-end double-A games and triple-A fare run noticeably smoother, and a GPU that will make them look all the more striking (if you have a 4K/HDR-ready TV). But with 4K now ticked off the bucket list, has the next generation lost one of its potentila unique USPs?
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So how will this affect PS5 and the Xbox console that will inevitably follow Xbox One X in the years to come? Hardware specs are clearly going to play a huge part. The industry, more than ever before, has shifted its attention towards hardware stats and technological capability. More importantly, consumers are more savvy to these dry figures.
It wasn't always this way. For years, consoles only needed one significant technical leap to make them stand out from older hardware. The jump to 32-bit gave PS1 the power to use 3D as its pièce de résistance; PS2 and Xbox brought online gaming to those didn't own a PC tower; even the jump to PS3/Xbox 360 changed the rules with its move to Full HD. Back then, those features, boiled down to a simple marketing term, was all that was needed to sway the general public.
In the modern era, just how capable your console is in its hardware specs has become - at least for the moment - the be all and end all upon which we're making our big game purchase decisions. Everything from critical opinion in the gaming press to consumer responses online has been coloured by this shifting perspective we have on our consoles.
There are also plenty of knock on effects we're not really going to full understand until we see titles running on the next generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have arrived slap bang in the middle of PS4 and Xbox One X's lifecycles. Will they effectively extend those lifecycles, adding another three or so years or will PS5 and the next iteration of Xbox simply roll around as if those mid-gen updates never happened?
The former, at least from sales and marketing standpoint, makes the most sense. Vanilla PS4s and Xbox Ones still make up the lion's share of the current-gen population, so that's not a demographic you want to isolate be deeming their expensive console inferior by proxy. So it makes sense for the lifecycle that normally takes around seven-to-eight years to last a little longer as devs push the hardware to its absolute limit.
Because without exhausting the current hardware under our TVs, why would we be excited for something new? PS3 was an amazing upgrade because titles such as God Of War II had pushed PS2 to its absolute limit. By the time that notorious Killzone 2 trailer rolled around in 2005, we were hungry for a machine brimming new possibilities. The PS2 and Xbox had outlived their welcome, and we were all ready to make the next big leap forwards.
But if we get PS5 or the next Xbox in the next few years, will it really feel as special? Will there be the significant leap we experienced between previous generations be present when the current line of hardware finally concedes defeat to a new one? Without a unique USP like Nintendo Switch, all Sony and Microsoft have to hitch their rides to are even beefier specs - and that's a mindset that's simply not sustainable.
Xbox One X has opened Pandora's Box and we're enjoying all those benefits in the here and now. Games running at 4K. Playing 4K UHD films on a console. Cloud-based enhancements. The gap between console gaming and PC has been shortened more than ever, but there has to be a consequence to getting all these Christmas presents early. Let's just hope all this innovation in the current gen doesn't come at the cost of those set to follow it.
- Why not check out... The best Xbox One X pre-order deals: how you can pre-order the 4K Xbox right now