The Xbox One and PS4 are getting some killer updates in the near future, bringing support for 4K gaming and VR. Microsoft's 4K-capable Xbox One S even has a release date in August. If you've been watching the news or waiting to upgrade, here's what you need to know. Photo by Wikimedia Commons. Illustration by Sam Wooley.
This week at E3, Microsoft announced two new consoles: The Xbox One S, a slimmer, 4K-capable version of the Xbox One which will come out this August; and VR-capable Xbox codenamed Project Scorpio, which won't be out until 2017. Meanwhile, Sony hasn't officially revealed any new devices, but it has confirmed that it will make a new, more powerful PlayStation capable of playing games at 4K at some point in the near future. Don't worry, though. You don't need to ditch your old Xbox One or PS4 just yet. If you've been waiting to upgrade from the last generation, though, you might want to wait for these bad boys.
First, Let's Talk About 4K
Image by Wikimedia Commons.
The biggest change with all of the new consoles announced is 4K. The new Xbox Project Scorpio and the mysterious Sony console will fully support 4K. The current PlayStation 4 can play your own 4K videos and photos, but it can't play 4K games, stream 4K video from Netflix or play 4K Blu-rays. The Xbox One lacks any kind of 4K support at all. This will all change with the upgraded consoles in the future.
4K content has been gaining traction, but it comes with drawbacks. Netflix can't stream 4K content at its fullest quality (plus it burns through data caps if you have one), and 4K Blu-ray players and movies are still pretty expensive. On the other hand, a new 4K console can pump out high quality 4K content for your shiny new TV without getting bogged down by network restrictions. In other words, if you own a 4K TV, these new consoles will probably be very appealing to you.
This also means that if you're in the market for a new TV, it's about time to start thinking about 4K. The last time we checked in with 4K in 2014, we said you probably shouldn't buy a 4K display just yet. Since then, prices have gone down, and we're seeing more and more 4K movies and discs available to normal people. If you want 4K media to put on your TV, you can stream it from Netflix, buy it on Blu-Ray and, starting in August, play it through your Xbox. The Xbox One S won't support 4K gaming just yet (much like Sony's current PS4), but it will become one of the cheapest 4K Blu-ray players around.
The Xbox One S Is Just a Smaller, 4K Video-Capable Xbox One
Beyond the new 4K support we already mentioned, the Xbox One S is slimmer than the current Xbox One, and a couple of the ports have been moved around, but beyond that it's essentially the same model you can buy today. It still packs the same hardware for rendering games (which means it can't play 4K games) and supports all the same titles. There will also be a limited edition 2TB Xbox One S for $549, which is pretty great considering that current 1TB Xbox One bundles cost $549.
There are some nice features in the new Xbox One S, though. A built-in IR blaster will allow the One S to turn on your other devices, like your TV. Currently, the Xbox One can only turn on your TV if it supports HDMI-CEC. This also lets the One S control other devices like your A/V receiver or set top box. The new Xbox also has the power brick built into its body. Finally, the new Xbox controller will be Bluetooth, so you can connect it to your console as well as directly to your Windows 10 computer.
These minor changes aren't likely to convince any current owners to upgrade their consoles. The One S will still play all of your old Xbox One games, and new games will still work on both consoles, so there's no real reason to upgrade, unless you want in on that sweet 4K action.
New buyers might be a different story. The new Xbox One S consoles will cost $549 for the 2TB model. That's the same price as comparable existing Xbox Ones, with one key difference: Bundles. Right now, most Xbox One consoles are sold with games bundled in. For example, the $499 Name Your Game bundle comes with a 500GB console, plus your choice of included games. The One S pre-order costs $50 more, but comes with nothing. If you don't care about 4K video or storage size, and don't mind the larger chassis, then you're better off getting a game you like with the older console.
Sony's 4K-Capable PlayStation Is Coming, But VR Gaming Is the Big Sticking Point
Illustration by Sam Wooley.
Kotaku first reported that an upgraded PlayStation 4, codenamed Neo, would arrive later this year with more powerful hardware and support for 4K gaming. Sony then confirmed the existence of the 4K Neo and that it will be more expensive than the current PS4, but that's all the info we have right now. We don't know when it will be released or how much it will cost.
However, Sony has tipped its hand about its Virtual Reality gaming plans, which might inform your decision to wait. We learned at E3 that the PlayStation VR headset will go on sale on October 13 for $549.95, but you won't need the new PS4 Neo to use it. We all assumed that since the existing PS4 can't play 4K video games, it also wouldn't have the power necessary to play games in VR, since their processing requirements are pretty similar. Apparently this isn't the case. Unlike most VR headsets which rely on 4K-like graphics quality, the PlayStation VR will use a 1080p display. This means that the existing PS4 can run it just fine.
The downside is, this introduces a little uncertainty. We know the new PS4 Neo will be better and support 4K gaming, but when it comes to VR, it's less certain. Will there be a higher-quality VR headset to go with the Neo? Or will it only benefit users with a 4K TV? Until we know more, you probably shouldn't buy a PS4 anytime soon if you're interested in both 4K gaming and VR games. This is going to be tough, knowing that a full 50 games are coming to the PlayStation VR in just a few months, with planned releases for awesome titles like Resident Evil 7 or Batman: Arkham VR. However, until we know more about what the PS4 Neo brings to the table and how it improves on the existing PS4, it's wiser to wait if those things matter to you.
Xbox's Project Scorpio Will Offer Upgraded Graphics and VR Support
Unlike the One S, Microsoft's other new console announced today — codenamed Project Scorpio — is a huge departure from the existing Xbox One. It will be able to crank out 4K gaming, as well as power VR headsets, unlike the current Xbox One models.
Additionally, Microsoft is planning to put all that new horsepower to good use. On the current Xbox One, games are often capped at 30fps to maintain a constant frame rate. With Project Scorpio, that cap won't be necessary. Games will be able to run at full 60fps. If you were unhappy with the performance of the original Xbox One, Microsoft wants to win you back. (Though you should always take lofty promises like this more than a year from release with a grain of salt.)
Most importantly, Microsoft says that Project Scorpio won't mark a break from the existing generation. All the old controllers, accessories and games will still work with Project Scorpio. Presumably, any VR-capable games will need the new hardware to run (unlike Sony's PlayStation VR, which will run on current consoles), but everything else will still be compatible with older hardware.
If you're interested in VR gaming or you want to get the highest video quality out of your consoles, Project Scorpio should interest you, and you should probably wait for it. While we don't yet know the price for Project Scorpio (or even what it's final name will be, or even what games will be VR compatible with it), it might just be worth waiting a year before you get a new Xbox if you haven't made the jump to this gen and you're eager to get into VR gaming.
The bottom line here is that if you don't care about 4K or VR gaming, you can buy the current Xbox One and PlayStation 4 safely right now. If you like 4K video but don't care about 4K gaming or VR, the Xbox One S might appeal to you. We may see some price drops this holiday season as the new consoles push the older ones down, but fortunately you won't have to leave all your old games and accessories behind when the 4K and VR future arrives.