When Microsoft announced the Xbox One X earlier this year, it was immediately clear that the console would be substantially more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro. The console packs a number of features, including support for FreeSync, a Polaris-based GPU that’s substantially more powerful (and efficient) than the GPU in the original console. It’s marketed as 4K capable, including “native” 4K in some instances. The PS4 Pro demonstrated that a checker box rendering method could produce results very nearly as good as native 4K while requiring substantially less horsepower. Microsoft has announced more than 100 games will be upgraded to support the Xbox One X’s higher resolutions and HDR (though HDR is also available on the Xbox One S). Despite these improvements, there’s still a question as to whether or not the Xbox One S will sell very well.
Data on how well the PS4 Pro has performed is limited. Sony has previously stated that their console was selling above expectations, but hasn’t broken out how many PS4 Pro’s it’s selling versus conventional PlayStation 4’s. Sales figures compiled by VGChartz show an uptick in PS4 Pro sales through Q1 2017, implying that upgrade sales have been fairly robust.
Over at Engadget, Devindra Hardawar argues that the Xbox One X is arguably a console without a well-defined market. He argues that the console’s higher price ($ 500 vs. $ 400 for the PS4 Pro) and the lack of any communication from Microsoft about the console’s VR support could ultimately tank its appeal come Christmas 2017. Pre-orders thus far are fairly robust, but this isn’t always a great way to measure a console’s popularity. The Wii U’s initial sales figures were quite good. As the graph below shows, the Wii U’s launch quarter was only slightly lower than the Wii and the Nintendo Switch.
Upgrading, however, is only part of the equation. Microsoft’s other goal is to convince people to either switch to its own platform (unlikely), or to attract new buyers who didn’t previously own either console. Objectively, I think the Xbox One X is a much better deal than the Xbox One was at launch. It’s GPU is much newer (and far more powerful), and while its Jaguar-derived CPU cores will never be confused for high-end processors, raising their clock by 30% will still improve overall throughput and performance in CPU-bound scenarios. As we’ve previously discussed, you can’t beat the Xbox One X’s features and capabilities if you’re building a PC from scratch. (Upgrading an existing system sometimes beats the $ 500 price point and some OEMs sometimes offer sales on bundled deals that brings the price down).
The one thing to keep in mind is that both the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro– require substantial investment in other peripherals if you want to take full advantage of the system. 4K TVs with HDR support are a must-have if you want improved visual fidelity and you’ll need a surround sound system with Dolby Atmos if you want the boosted audio options. While the Xbox One supports HDR, remember that there are different types of HDR, and they aren’t mutually compatible. If you’re in the market for a TV, look for one that supports HDR10.
If the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro meet or beat expectations while goosing the market for both companies, I suspect they’ll adopt the so-called ‘iPhone model’ in the future. That doesn’t mean either company will stop building new versions of their platform, but I suspect we’ll see those versions stick around for longer. The slowing pace of Moore’s Law and the lack of Dennard scaling means a longer wait time between major console cycles and less difference between games on the old platform and games on the new. Conversely, one could argue that the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro are what the Xbox One / PS4 should have been. From that perspective, these new platforms can finally offer a gaming experience that’s significantly better than the PS3 or Xbox 360.