Quite a few other promises were made to us last generation, only to be broken eventually:
- XBOX 360 was supposed to allow players to fully customize their games, and was supposed to offer a marketplace for game modders to share these customizations with others – even making money selling them.
- We were told that Playstation 3 would support two monitors, and would have some pretty interesting multitasking features (that actually seem similar to what Xbox One is doing with snapped windows when you think about it).
- XBOX 360 also promised cross-platform gaming with PC users, including allowing PC gamers to control games completely differently from console gamers – like being able to play an RTS with actual players controlling the units.
- There were plenty more completely outlandish ones for the PS3, including having the PS3 build an indoor map of everyone’s home and office, eventually replacing Google Maps, presumably… Then you have all the promises of Cell architecture itself, which I won’t even bother getting into.
So with each new announcement, it’s fun to look at each one trying to pick out fantasy from reality.
The problem this year is that both Sony and Microsoft announced their consoles pretty early, without much in the way of details (this was especially the case with Sony, who later said that their presentation was more about “…the philosophy behind the system”. However that doesn’t mean we can’t scrutinize what we did say.
We will be basing these predictions on actual statements from executives, but only ones that haven’t been backtracked upon later. In other words, we’re not going to comment on Xbox One’s used game situation. We don’t know yet, and it’s probable that they haven’t decided what to do just yet either.
External USB 3.0 Storage Can be Used – What About Third Party?
This is a pretty recent story – Microsoft have been telling blogs that while you won’t be able to upgrade the 500 GB hard drive that comes with the Xbox One, you will be able to leverage the USB 3.0 ports on the back to add your own external storage.
What they didn’t say was whether you could go out and buy any brand of external storage you wanted, or if it had to be a Microsoft product. As we know, Microsoft loves to have users to buy first party accessories to extend the capabilities of their hardware, going so far as to blocking third party storage devices. The XBOX 360 could only ever use their own very expensive hard drives. USB storage capability was added later, but only a small amount (up to two 16GB devices), and games couldn’t be installed to them.
So while this isn’t exactly a “promise” being made, it is possible that they are leaving out some information for now.
The Ultimate All-in-One Entertainment System – The Only ONE You need
Obviously the biggest point Microsoft wanted to drive home with last week’s announcement was its usefulness as an all-in-one entertainment system. More than that, they say it’s the only “one” system you will need to watch TV. This is so important to them that they named the console after this ability. However, I have my doubts.
Xbox One has an HDMI input that can take the video from any cable box, and overlay a nice interface on top of it. Additionally, it has a neat voice and gesture based interface, allowing you to change channels and switch inputs without the use of a controller. Pretty neat so far, and if you only ever watch live TV, this would be pretty impressive.
However once you think about how the system actually works, it really is nothing new. In fact, Microsoft did pretty much the same thing with WebTV. Xbox One can indeed make watching live TV easier by downloading program guides and recognizing voice commands. However, it still has to send those commands to the cable box itself. When you say “Xbox, watch Price is Right” the Xbox One will determine which channel it is on, and switch the cable box to that channel – if the show is currently on.
That’s right, there seem to be no DVR features at all on the Xbox One. That means that if you watch TV like pretty much everyone else watches TV, you will still have you pick up your DVR remote, switch your TV input to it, and set up your recordings the old-school way.
It actually would have been cool to be able to say “Xbox, record Game of Thrones tonight” and have it do so. But by all indications, this won’t be possible. Microsoft haven’t said one way or the other, but they have been very dodgy with their answers when asked. Ars Technica writes that they “…dodged a question about whether or not the Xbox One will be able to record TV shows directly, as it does gameplay, but hinted that the feature would be unavailable due to rights issues.”
So it looks like the Xbox One won’t be the One platform you use to watch television after all.
Cloud Computing Will Quadruple the Power of the Xbox One
The big thing everyone is talking about now is Microsoft’s cloud network of 300,000 servers that they claim can quadruple the power of each Xbox One.
No, really, they said that. The exact line went, “…for every physical Xbox One we build, we’re provisioning the CPU and storage equivalent of three Xbox Ones on the cloud.” … “any game developer can assume that there’s roughly three times the resources immediately available to their game, so they can build bigger, persistent levels that are more inclusive for players.”
How’s that for a lofty goal? Out of all the promises, this seems to be the easiest one to break. So much depends on the infrastructure, and the fact that a lot of things will be impossible to do over the internet. For instance, anything based on user input would not be fathomable – users need their reactions to be shown within a few milliseconds. Depending on your internet connection, the Xbox One’s communication with the network could be anywhere between 100 ms to 1 full second or more.
The one example they used in the presentation was the ability for games to have realistic day/night cycles and weather based on information updated online. This is more along the lines of what I would expect. Start a level, it checks the network to see what time it is, and sets the lighting based on that. Do you really need three consoles to do that though?
Other examples were shared with Ars Technica – lighting rendering, volumetric fog, even physics. All things that the console itself can do, but offloaded to the cloud. And from what I can tell, all things that don’t really need quadruple the power of an Xbox One to perform.
And since the Xbox One will be able to play games without an internet connection (once the game has been validated online), developers have to keep in mind that many users won’t even have access to the network. They also probably have to keep in mind people with slow internet connections overall. Not everyone lives in an area served by great internet. And no, we’re not going to move to “deal with it”.
Will this be Microsoft’s PSP Rear-View Mirror? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure – it would be useless for me with my 8 Mbit connection in a rural village.
What About Sony?
I actually wanted to do a similar separate article about Sony, but the fact is, they didn’t really make what I would call promises about the PS4. I just watched the presentation again, and while a lot of overall information was given, the presenters appeared to have chosen their words with extreme care when talking about the more aspirational features of Playstation 4.
Most of these features had to do with Gaikai, their game streaming service. We know that Gaikai works well enough to stream games over a fast internet connection, with latency that seems to be acceptable to the people who have tried it. But when Dave Perry mentioned being able to use the network to add backward compatibility of Sony’s entire history of consoles, he used the words “some day” and “we could easily”.
Another question for Sony is the video streaming service they are adding. Partnering with Ustream, users will be able to stream their games, but again you have carefully chosen words when describing this. Sony says that you will be streaming to “your friends” and “to anyone that you want to invite”. Does this mean that you won’t be able to stream games to everyone who wants to watch? We don’t know yet.
And the idea of being able to take control of someone’s game via this network is an interesting one. But now this capability depends not only on your connection to the Gaikai network, but the other player’s upstream connection to that network. Unless some sort of trickery is done where you aren’t actually playing their game, but merely playing their level on Gaikai, and later sending them some savegame information, I have my doubts on their ability to deliver on this one.
What promises do you think will be kept or broken? Let me know in the comments below!