Last week, I saw articles from BGR and Ubergizmo reporting that AMD’s CFO, Devinder Kumar, was quoted as saying, “the lifecycle of the products are probably going to be shorter.” This took place during a discussion regarding AMD’s role as the sole APU (GPU+CPU) provider for both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Given that we are just coming off of a nearly ten year console refresh cycle, such news seems to be a departure from tradition. However, there are some factors that make a new console release model appealing.
Beginning with this round of consoles, both Microsoft and Sony have finally transitioned to a traditional x86 processor architecture. This means that the CPUs in the Xbox One and PS4 are very similar architecturally to those found in most PCs. As such, not only will it be easier for developers to code for both consoles and PCs, but this also marks the first time that both Microsoft and Sony have made use of such similar components.
Because the x86 platform has been the standard in the PC realm for ages, developers should already be used to coding for it and have already been scaling their games to run on different PCs for quite some time. Likewise, the GPUs present in both current generation consoles are very similar to their PC counterparts and make use of similar APIs for graphics rendering.
By now, I am sure some readers are beginning to wonder what all of this means; so let’s dig into why Kumar’s statement is significant. Now that we are finally beginning to see some standardization across PCs, Xbox, and PlayStation, a logical next step would be for both Microsoft and Sony to advance on this same path for their next releases as it reduces R&D and production costs compared to designing custom architectures. This would mean the Xbox (insert name here) and PlayStation 5 should also make use of the x86 CPU architecture and DirectX/OpenGL compatible GPUs.
Were Microsoft and Sony to take such a route, questions surrounding backwards compatibility would finally be put to rest as legacy support could (relatively) easily be maintained. Furthermore, forward compatibility could also be made possible. Much like some PC games optimize their settings for specific components, a single game could be set to render at different resolutions or load different textures based on the console version being used. As an example, while the Xbox One may only be able to run Bungie’s upcoming shooter Destiny at 1080p/30fps, the Xbox Two could potentially play the same game at 1440p/60fps. In the same vein, future releases designed for the PlayStation 5 could be downscaled to work on the PlayStation 4 if users are willing to sacrifice some visual fidelity.
If the big two take this route, developers could then advertise their games as being compatible with certain console versions, much like mobile application designers do for specific iPhone models or Android releases. While I am excited about such prospects, I have my doubts that such drastic development changes will come to fruition as console manufacturers will most certainly resist sacrificing future sales to allow such interoperability. Still, the mere possibility of such changes is intriguing. What do readers think?