Curb your enthusiasm this console launch

Sony Playstation 4 Driveclub skin

This console launch coming up next month is pretty important business for both Sony and Microsoft. The existence of the gaming departments on both sides of the fence depends hugely on both of their hardware endeavours paying off and making them some money. So much so that I think the message needs to be repeated to some people who may be disappointed at launch, or when they open their lovely PS4 on 13 December – you will not receive all features on launch, especially some big ones you’ve been promised. Both companies will make sure that the basics work, but everything else is a peripheral goal to getting the consoles out into retail stores to begin making some sales. That old adage that money makes the world go round is still completely relevant.

But hey, that’s a revelation to some people who only found out earlier this week that their PS4, for example, won’t be able to play MP3 audio files, or use a DLNA server, or have fast-resume supported out of the box. Perhaps we all forgot how tremendously gimped the PS3 and Xbox 360 were on launch – neither consoles resemble anything like their original iterations back in 2007. They evolved with the times and stayed relevant for a surprising amount of time, but they’re both much more feature-rich today than when the early adopters picked up their systems.

I don’t think Ken Kutaragi would have won any bets if you had to ask him what his creation would look and feel like almost eight years later. So here’s a couple of things to consider while you’re reading through the extra-long FAQ that Sony posted up on their blog, and keep in mind that many of these points apply to the Xbox One as well.

Its an entirely new architecture and OS

Even the user interface is a complete revamp from the old one.
Even the user interface is a complete revamp from the old one.

Some people seem to have missed this fact so I’d like to repeat it for your (and possibly their) benefit – the PS4 uses brand new architectures for its hardware. Literally everything in there is new, built up in a custom package for Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One by AMD. This includes a quad-module, eight-core processor that looks a lot like the FX-8320 one can find on the desktop for socket AM3+ motherboards. Its not going to set the world on fire (there might be a RROD or three), but it’s a good chip that will allow developers already familiar with the PC to easily step into the world of consoles.

The GPU is also custom-made by AMD and varies in specification and clock speed between the two consoles. In the end, the performance discrepency won’t matter for console exclusive titles, but third-party titles may elect to open up the extra graphical horsepower on the PS4 for better visuals and better game performance. This has already played out with the launch of Battlefield 4, where both consoles scale up the game from a lower internal resolution. Call of Duty: Ghosts also has this issue, but runs at 720p upscaled to 1o80p on the One, while the PS4 renders the game natively in 1080p.

Along with that, the operating system is vastly different from the PS3’s. Its based on FreeBSD Linux and is heavily customised and stripped down by Sony’s engineers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still bugs to iron out heading into launch and as Sony finds them they will be fixed.

But as for why so many legacy devices, controllers and headsets are not supported on launch, there’s your answer – a new operating system that requires re-written or patched driver support. Either Sony will provide driver support for these devices later on, or they won’t support legacy peripherals at all. Only time will tell which way they decide to go. My potential purchase on a Logitech Driving Force GT hinges on the former situation being the case. I don’t have much hope for the return of DLNA compatibility, because Cinavia content protection ruins the ability even for users who ripped copies of movies they bought onto a media server.

Not all online services will be functional

Xbox One funny advert

Hey, it’s a console launch guys! What good is a launch without some broken stuff? The Diablo III server issues, or the chaos that was Sim City is still fresh in our minds. GTA Online’s drunken server habits are still a very real issue for a lot of gamers right now. Many people cracked jokes at an Xbox One advert with the tag line “Beta tested in the future” but that’s pretty much an accurate way to describe what each platform will be going through. Not every little feature and ability will work or be available on launch because having everything turned on from the get-go would make finding and solving any problems much harder.

And there will be issues, I can guarantee you that. Despite the fact that Sony and Microsoft have managed their online services well enough thus far, what they’re promising for next-gen is very forward-looking and some countries just won’t be ready for the switch.

Its better to break one tiny thing on your network, rather than screw yourself over so hard by breaking all the things at once. I can speak from experience here, having once screwed up an Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange install so badly that the mail server needed to be reformatted.

Microsoft’s job, in comparison, is even more difficult. Those 300,000 servers they promised on launch? Almost all of them will be virtual servers, hosted in a hypervisor. While Microsoft is rightly very confident in the ability of their Azure platform to deliver the performance they require, it won’t be a seamless switch-on at launch. Many gallons of coffee will be consumed, midnight oil will be burned and lots of nerdy techies will have binary code bleeding out of their noses both before and after the new Xbox Live launch. That may be one of their reasons why they have elected to roll out the One in smaller stages. Once they can identify issues with the first rollout, they can use that data to make sure things roll out smoothly from then on.

Going digital is still not a realistic option for many

Do you remember the trauma of deleting save games? Do you?!
Do you remember the trauma of deleting save games? Do you?!

The PS4 and Xbox One both come with 500GB hard drives. Both have games that need to be installed on the drive for best performance. The games on these systems typically take up to 50GB of hard drive space. I think you may be gleaning on to what I’m saying here but I’ll be blunt – a 500GB hard drive today is going to be as much use as those 128KB memory cards you used on a PS One.

Not only do the new consoles copy the game entirely onto your hard drive, both keep that data on the drive unless you elect to delete it to make space for moew games. So from the start, you’ll only be able to keep around ten AAA-size games on the hard drive. If you want more, you need more storage space.

But storage isn’t the main issue when you take into account that many, many people on the internet are running on uncapped accounts that throttle them once they hit a certain data limit. You can laugh at the mad pirates who download an entire terabyte’s worth of series in a month, but if you download just five games from the PSN, that’s 250GB of data right there. And that’s before Youtube, or Netflix, or browsing and e-mails or online games, or your cat’s porn that it sneaks into your browser history. Or game streaming, which both consoles can do thanks to agreements with and Ustream.

If you’re going digital, make sure you have a high line speed, a competent ISP, and that you schedule your downloads to run at night when people are sleeping, or else nothing will finish in good time. For anyone on a 1Mb/s line, I’m sorry to tell you this, but… you have to be downloading constantly for over 119 hours to complete one game. You’ll have a better chance going to your nearest BT while doing a handstand and singing the national anthem while wearing a DA t-shirt and cutting your way through a crowd of ANC supporters to buy your game than get it online.

Source: Sony’s Ultimate PS4 FAQ

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