Would you try to play the latest games on a 5 year old PC? Chances are that unless you'd carried out some significant upgrades in the GPU/CPU or RAM departments, or were willing to put up with a poor graphics experience, you wouldn't even bother. But if you play on a games console, then you are doing just that.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 was released in November 2005, while Sony's PS3 and Nintendo's Wii were both released in November 2006. While the makers have in that time made some changes to the design of the console (Microsoft and Sony specifically, Nintendo hasn't made much in the way of changes to the Wii since it was released), the consoles are all relics from a different era. An era where PCs had a 1GHz single-core CPU, under 1GB of RAM and a GPU that's positively ancient by today's standards.
It's fair to say that things have moved on a LOT in 5 years. Not only are processors more powerful, but they offer more cores to spread the workload. GPUs are also a lot more powerful, energy-efficient and versatile, and RAM is cheaper and offers greater storage capacities. Consoles on the other hand, because of the desire on the maker's part to build an ecosystem and turn a profit, don't go through anything near the aggressive update cycle that PCs go through. Sure, these consoles were pretty high-spec when first out ) well, OK, that's a questionable statement to apply to the Wii, which was more innovative than high-spec), and all three have certainly aged well, but it's now also fair to say that a console developed now would be far superior.
But why do we need, refreshed consoles? Surely if they work, why disrupt the ecosystem?
Because of the ever-growing gulf between consoles and desktop PCs. It's a huge gulf too. Truly massive.
The difference in power between a high-end gaming rig and a games console is incredible. Sure, unlike a PC a games console only has to do one thing (play games), but it doesn't do that particularly well any more. In almost every category - graphics, overall performance, game load time (except possibly possibly simplicity) - consoles are lagging behind desktops. Only the other day I was playing the PS3 version of a relatively old PC game (Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV) and I was struck by the long load times and how long saves took compared to the PC version. Also, the graphics seemed blockier and nowhere near as smooth. Considering I was playing the game on a console purchased a few months ago, and the last time I played the game on the PC was a few years ago, that's not a good thing. It underlined to me just how old the PS3 really is. And the Xbox 360 and Wii are no different.
Sony and Microsoft might have bought some extra time for themselves as far as needing to come out with an upgrade was concerned by releasing motion-based controllers, but will this be enough come the holidays ... or Holidays 2012? I doubt it.
So what do new consoles need? Well, it's mostly obvious stuff really:
- Faster processors
- Better GPU
- More RAM
- Faster drives, with option for solid state drives
- Backward compatibility with current titles (not the sort of confusion that Sony caused before the launch of the PS3)
What do you think? Do we need updated consoles or are the current lineup good for a few years?