Before moving forward with the blog, I’d like to state that all the points mentioned, and everything from here on are my own opinions, I could be completely wrong or maybe completely correct [Extremes are not likely though 🙂 ] regarding the views and the further Speculations. This post will certainly be going a bit on the Technical / Geekier side (since the Scorpio reveal was Specs related) with all them FLOPS(Floating Point Operations per Second) and what not coming down the way. Although I’ve tried to explain or put the links wherever necessary.
This Helped me understand clearly about the FLOPS (you don’t necessarily need to watch this, it’s for them Geekier kids out there!)
The need for mid-cycle console refresh.
This itself is a huge debate on it’s own that has caused the video-game industry as well as the gamers to be on either of the sides (Would love to discuss it in the Comments). If you ask me, I’d say a big no, just as Bruce Wayne responds to Clark Kent about the Super Man!
So imagine me saying this [ with the same expression and tone 😉 ] ” Maybe it’s the Old School Gamer in me, we are JUST not cool in buying a new console every 3-4 years! ” Man this Movie! Please watch this movie after reading the post, if you haven’t watched it already! And f**k you Rotten Tomatoes.
Well, for the record, the mid-cycle console refresh has been implemented, so moving on to that. Back in 2013
when both the consoles were released, PS4 had a tremendous head start against XBOX One not necessarily because it was a better console than the XBOX, since both the machines were almost the same in power ( PS4 being a bit powerful) and performance and had almost the same hardware (x86 Custom AMD Jaguar processor) but because ps4 was $100 cheaper, and had no DRM ( so games could be exchanged easily as shown in the video below
and no “always online” constrain like the XBOX initially had, and to kill it all, PS4 was sleeker, light, consumed less power and was way ahead in design and aesthetics than the ” VCR ” -Esq XBOX One.
If Microsoft wouldn’t have those mistakes on their hands in the first place, maybe the XBOX wouldn’t be this much behind the PlayStation 4. As technically both the machines were almost same in performance, and to the surprise XBOX One had better launch titles than the PlayStation 4. And to those of you who’d argue regarding the PlayStation’s exclusives, the PS4 didn’t have a successful Exclusive until Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End as till then it was relying only on the 3rd party titles moreover all the exclusives were rather disappointments such as Knack, the order 1886, Rosegun and the Driveclub.
But what went unnoticed were the Specs of the machines, let’s have a look at them:
Let’s consider PlayStation 4, the most powerful console of the generation. It has an AMD 8-Core Jaguar Custom Processor Clocked at 1.6Ghz . Now looking at the Processor ( Xbox also has the same processor clocked @ 1.75Ghz) there were a few factors that raised the eyebrows.
- The Clock Speed: For layman it’s the Processor speed, how many instructions a processor can process in a second. So a 1.6Ghz processor in 2013 in a gaming machine was a bit on the lower end, considering the fact the PlayStation 3 was clocked at 3.0 Ghz and was launched back in 2006 ( now people will argue, that it was a single core processor unlike the 8-core processor of the PS4, but what they don’t see is that PS3 used a beast of a PC grade Cell engine, unlike the Jaguar CPU of PS4 which was initially a tablet focused processor )
- Processor Architecture / Class: The Processor type used in both the consoles Xbox One and the PS4 is of Jaguar type, for those who don’t know, the Jaguar type of processors are low Powered CPUs built for the Tablets.
- The Graphical Performance: In general sense it’s not as if the generation has struggled with the Graphics Quality or something, I mean all the AAA games have a decent Visual Fidelity.
Look at Uncharted 4, Forza Horizon-3, Gears of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, the Order 1886, these games stand toe to toe with the best looking PC games. To many People Horizon Zero Dawn is probably the most beautiful game they’ve ever played.
But the limitations were observed, when none of the console could even produce a consistent 30 Frames per Second(FPS) at 1080p resolution. PS4 although can output games Natively at 1080p but struggles to run all the games constantly at 30FPS. Only a few games manage to keep up the constant 30FPS performance.
It’s even worse when Xbox One ‘s performance is considered. Only a few games manage to reach 1080p natively, let alone the Frame Rates(more frame drops and less graphics quality when compared to PS4). While majority of the games run at 900p and in early days few games like the Battlefield 4 ran at 720p!
By 2013 the Full HD (1080p) TVs were a norm/standard in the Global consumer Market, and all the content was being curated for the Full HD TVs, from Netflix, to Cable Channels to Online Videos. And hence people had the expectations from the new coming 8th-Gen consoles to at least run the games at 30FPS/1080p at least. To which the consoles failed to deliver.
It was Sony to realize this limitation first ( Or they were the first to acknowledge the situation). Rumors began rolling that the PS4 will have 5 years of console life at max and that the PS5 would be coming in around 2018. Then on March 18, 2016 Kotaku was the first source to reveal that Sony is working on new and powerful PlayStation 4 which will be compatible with 4K Televisions.
Hence PlayStation 4 Neo, the code name of the new system was leaked. There must be a die hard fan of the Matrix Series among the Core PlayStation team, as the code names always end up being the names of characters such as Neo(PS4 PRO), Orbis(PS4), Morpheus(PS VR)
Fast Forward to November 10, 2016 the PlayStation 4 Pro is launched & priced at $399, Boasting an Enhanced overclocked CPU and an upgraded GPU, it does not render 4K natively but rather upscales the games to 4K resolution on a 4K TV. Despite of it’s rough and disappointing Presentation the PS4 Pro has been performing well in the market and lately has provided with great features such as the newly introduced Boost Mode.
The Project Scorpio!
And just so you guys know, I’ve always been a PlayStation guy since the PS2 days and will always have my loyalty for them but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate XBox or something, I ain’t one of them Ignorant Fanboys spitting shit. So I sincerely respect Phil Spencer and the decisions he’s taking, I might not agree with his “Generations” philosophy(discussed below) for the XBox but I do know that he’ll not let the downfall of the XBox Brand to happen at any cost, the reason being, he himself is a gamer, and knows what the gamers want from a console.
On April 4, 2017 Digital Foundry tweeted regarding the highly anticipated Scorpio reveal on April 6, 2017 at 2pm UK time.
And yeah, the Speculation was really there, as Phil Spencer had already informed that the Scorpio will be revealed anytime on any given Day.
And So it was. On April 6, Digital Foundry released a couple of YouTube Videos explaining the Specifications of Project Scorpio and what are it’s Potential. A couple of articles were also released, stating everything about the hardware.
My Thoughts on the Project Scorpio:
So before discussing further, I just want to make a brief statement and what I personally think of this machine, Irrespective of what is going to happen, just from a technical point of view.
“The Project Scorpio is One hell of a technical Masterpiece! Period.“
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the hardware in the Scorpio is that it’s all very similar to the hardware in both the Xbox One and PS4 Pro.
Microsoft didn’t opt for AMD’s new Ryzen chip, sticking with a beefed up custom AMD Jaguar CPU that runs about 30% faster than the Xbox One. The CPU’s eight cores run at 2.3Ghz as opposed to 1.75Ghz on the Xbox One and 2.1Ghz on the PS4 Pro. In other words, this is only a small gain. It’s in the GPU, system memory and the way the system-on-a-chip works that give the Scorpio its edge.
However, the main art of engineering is that Microsoft has included Direct3D 12 (DirectX12) technology on the chip itself which reduces API overhead by up to 50%, making that 30% boost more significant. What this means is increase in the efficiency by more than 50% as the DirectX12 API has more than half of the load distributed as it’s embedded on the Silicon itself in the form of Hardware. This will lead reduction of instruction set from a few thousands to just 9-11 instructions.
What this means: The Xbox Scorpio’s chip isn’t much faster than PS4 Pro, but it’s theoretically far more efficient when it comes to sending information about what the GPU needs to draw.
According to Digital Foundry, the graphics processing unit in the Scorpio is most comparable to AMD’s RX 480, though the chip has been heavily customized. Microsoft was able to test myriad Xbox One games when developing the Scorpio in order to have every bit of efficiency from the new system.
Again, Microsoft has managed to embed an RX480 Graphic Card equivalent on a single Chip that is the Scorpio Engine SoC ( the CPU, GPU and the Audio Processing Block on a single 16nm Chip).
The Scorpio does indeed hit the 6 teraflops goal Microsoft announced previously. The GPU runs 40 customised compute units at 1172MHz, which is remarkably fast for a console. Compare that to the 12 GCN compute units at 853MHz on the vanilla Xbox or the slightly faster Xbox One S at 914MHz. The PS4 Pro has 36 improved GCN compute units running at 911MHz. In other words, the Scorpio delivers significantly more Power than its chief rival, and is leaps and bounds faster than the vanilla Xbox One.
What this means: The Scorpio’s GPU is 4.6 times more powerful than the Xbox One, which is nothing to sniff at, and markedly more powerful than the PS4 Pro, though we won’t know how this translates to games and 4K gaming in particular until we see more. The PS4 Pro does a lot of very clever things with its GPU to achieve non-native 4K gaming such as the Checkerboard rendering.
All of us saw that it was outputting the Forza at 4K res @60FPS with 67% GPU utilization and it is really very commendable, but what the People are not talking about is that it was not native 4k. Now before yelling at me, I’d like to make one point clear as to why I’m saying that the Forza demo was not true 4K.
I admit that they are using the 4K assets and the resolution was also 4K, then why not true 4K? Well there’s a detail that nobody’s talking about, and I wonder why Richard from Digital Foundry also didn’t notify us. Just look at this screenshot!
So what does this “50% Resolution Scale” means. Well, in very simple language, this means that the resolution shown on the screen is twice than that of the rendering resolution. To be more clear, Microsoft are claiming that the game was tested with the 4K assets, meaning that the texture of all the cars, road and everything is natively 4K, and it is also outputting at 4k, so if that would have been the case, then the resolution scale would’ve been 100%, not 50%.
The 50% resolution scale simply means that, Microsoft had lowered the 4k assets to half which is 2K ( This does not mean that the 4K assets were replaced with 2K assets, this means that the 4K assets were down scaled to 2K natively, and then outputted to 4K res by upscaling. So this proves that the game didn’t run at true 4K res.
The Reason for this might have been that the GPU usage would have gone to the highest value, in which case frame drops would have been caused. So technically, Microsoft didn’t even lie to us, as these were initially 4K assets which were then downscaled to 2K.
And a leaked document also suggested that Microsoft will also be going for the Checkerboarding, just doing better than the PS4 Pro, and it makes sense, as even the 9TFLOPS NVidia GTX 1080 Struggles in outputting steady frame rates at 4K res. How the two will compare remains to be seen. So it is just a better PS4 Pro than a true 4K machine.
Once again, in the memory department the Scorpio comes out on top, and by a long mile. The Scorpio will have 12GB of GDDR5 RAM compared to 8GB of GDDR5 RAM in the PS4 Pro, and just 8GB of older GDDR3 RAM in the Xbox One. This translates to huge gains in bandwidth, which is important for high-definition textures needed for 4K gaming. Scorpio will boast 326GB/s memory bandwidth compared to just 68GB/s bandwidth on the Xbox One (which also had 32 MB of faster ESRAM which will no longer be present in the Scorpio) and 218GB/s in the PS4 Pro.
4GB of the 12 will be devoted to the system itself, leaving 8 full gigs available to developers. That’s a ton of very fast, high-bandwidth memory which is crucial for games with lots of high-definition assets.
Out of the 4GB, the 1GB RAM will be for the system UI and other stuffs, and the remaining 3giggs will be acting as a slow cache for textures to load quickly, resulting in faster load times!
The Xbox One comes in several configurations when it comes to hard drives, ranging from a mere 500 gigs to a whopping two terabytes. The Xbox Scorpio will have a much faster drive with a 50% increase in bandwidth but only in the 1 TB configuration for now. That’s the same as PS4 Pro which has a 1 TB hard drive as well, though it’s harder to say which drive is faster at this point.
The Scorpio, like the Xbox One S, will also include an ultra-high definition Blu-Ray player, meaning you can play 4K Blu-Ray discs on the console. That’s increasingly niche in a world of streaming, but still a nice feature that the PS4 Pro doesn’t have.
The audio is basically the same as the Xbox One. Indeed, the improvements coming to Scorpio—“spatial” surround sound and Dolby Atmos support—will also come to vanilla Xbox One and Xbox One S. This is nice for audiophiles, and the combination of Dolby Atmos and UHD Blu-Ray means both the Scorpio and the “S” will make wonderful home entertainment units, if you have an HDR 4K display and a Dolby Atmos surround sound system.
What this means: For a few thousand dollars you can play some truly amazing movies and games with rich sound that not only comes from all around but also from above.
Microsoft’s approach to 1080p displays.
This is Exciting! Microsoft is mandating that all games that run on the Scorpio have options not only for 4K displays, but also 1080p displays. In other words, any game that runs in 4K will be able to supersample down to a 1080p display, making it look even better, and gamers will have a choice between performance and visual fidelity no matter what TV they own. This is same approach from Sony with the PS4 Pro, .
What this means: All Xbox One games will look and play better on Scorpio whether or not you have a 4K TV. Even Xbox 360 games that are backwards compatible will look better on the Scorpio.
Now moving to what we aren’t sure about….
- The price. Digital Foundry and many others estimate the Scorpio will cost $499, the price of the Xbox One at launch. Others wonder whether it will sell at a loss in order to get into more living rooms. At $499 the Scorpio would cost $100 more than the PS4 Pro. That’s the same situation the Xbox One and vanilla PS4 were in at launch in 2013 (only this time the Scorpio is the more powerful unit, and isn’t more expensive due to the inclusion of a Kinect.) We will likely learn the system’s price at E3 in June.
- What I personally think is that it will be around $549 – $599 if Microsoft decides to earn profit from the get-go. Just because the system is beefy in every aspect, even the cooling Vapor chamber that is being used, no ordinary cooling component, it is used in GPUs like the GTX 1080 Ti. Or they can sell the system for $400 bearing loss on per unit and earning via game sale commission ( back in 2006, sony took a loss of $200 on sale of each PS3 console, it was in 2008 when they started earning profit.) By this, they can accelerate the the sales.
The Vapor Cooling Chamber
- What it looks like. Digital Foundry has described the unit as “compact” and said that gamers will be “pleasantly surprised” but they were not able to share images or written descriptions of the exterior. My guess is that it will look more like the attractive Xbox One S than the boxy mistake that was the Xbox One. We do know that the power unit is inside the case, which is nice, and that the inputs on the back are exactly like the Xbox One S, meaning no Kinect input (you’ll need an adapter) and a figure eight power input.
- When it releases. Best guess is Holiday season 2017, as the system is about six months away from launch. An actual launch date, and which regions Microsoft plans to launch in, remains a mystery. Again, expect to find out at E3, where we’ll also likely get our first glimpse at the system.
- What, if any, launch games are scheduled alongside it. Since this isn’t a brand new console, but rather a refresh of the Xbox One, launch titles aren’t nearly as crucial to its success. After all, every Xbox One game can be played on the Scorpio, and all the cross-platform games coming out this holiday will be available on the Scorpio as well. It would be nice if Microsoft had an ace up its sleeve in terms of software, of course, but right now we have no new game announcements.
- What the UI will look like. Digital Foundry’s reveal is all about the internal workings of the hardware, and while they did test out one game—a Forza demo—we learned nothing of the Xbox Scorpio’s UI and how it may or may not differ/perform from vanilla Xbox One.
Elephant in the Room!
Project Scorpio is going to be a beast. If the official specs are any indication, Microsoft’s upgraded Xbox One will be a 4K and VR powerhouse that trounces even the PS4 Pro in terms of power.
But none of those nuts and bolts can fix Scorpio’s biggest problem: it has no games worth getting excited about.
The PS4 has established itself as the clear frontrunner of this generation’s console war, largely because of Sony’s focus on delivering exciting exclusive titles. Below is the man behind PlayStation’s success Shuhei Yoshida
Just in 2017 alone, we’ve seen PlayStation-exclusive megahits such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nioh, Nier: Automata and Persona 5 from both first and third parties. All of these games got huge praise for delivering great gameplay and memorable worlds, not because they ran in 4K or loaded really fast.
What did Xbox fans get this year? Halo Wars 2, a neat strategy game, but not exactly a system-seller. Microsoft’s upcoming 2017 game lineup follows a similar tune — Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2 and Sea of Thieves all look pretty cool, but no one’s going to rush to a store to buy an Xbox just to play them.
In order to make Project Scorpio (and, for that matter, the Xbox One) a success, Microsoft needs to double down on what makes people buy consoles: games.
Give the fans some exciting new franchises to get immersed in, like Sony did with Horizon. Bring back fan favorites like Fable, and maybe try something truly new with Halo and Gears of War. Most importantly, convince us why we need to play these games on Scorpio. Because without exclusive games or features, Scorpio is really just a fancy gaming PC — one that you can build or buy yourself and still play all of Microsoft’s big games on thanks to the company’s Play Anywhere program.
Sony has a sweet spot when it comes to exclusive titles, firstly they keep bringing back their old exclusives such as God of War, Persona, Ratchet & Clank, Jack and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot, Yakuza, Nier etc and not only bring them back, but innovate on them decade old titles. Then there’s inclusion of new IPs and Characters with such a huge Potential, such as Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, and then there’s future games Like Death Stranding which Promises to introduce some new type of gameplays and narrative, Just look at them, how they would’ve convinced Hideo Kojima and Marvel to produce exclusive games with them, considering the fact that the exclusives don’t earn as much the 3rd party, as they are on a single platform.
Heck Nintendo has sucked at launching games for the Switch, too, but at least the company made sure it had one exclusive game so good it was worth the price of the console in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Microsoft doesn’t have a game that good, though in fairness, had Rise of the Tomb Raider stayed exclusive it would’ve been a contender.
Microsoft also doesn’t have as many cool side gimmicks going for it as Sony. The Xbox One S has a UHD Blu-ray player built in, as will Project Scorpio. But cool Blu-ray playback didn’t help the PS3 any, and it’s arguably even less necessary now, in the day of streaming.
History has shown time by time, that the most powerful console never guarantees success. Back when in 2001, when the first XBOX launched, against Nintendo’s GameCube and PlayStation 2, the XBOX was the most powerful console then with Xbox Live ( Quite a big thing at that time ), hell ps2 was the weakest console that gen, and still it sold the most to become the best selling gaming console of all time!
Even during the last gen, Nintendo Wii outsold both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 to become the second best selling gaming console after the PlayStation 2.
Microsoft also tried to make the Xbox One more appealing for PC users by allowing games, like last year’s Gears of War 4, to be owned and played on both the PC and Xbox One. You can even stream games from console to PC, or vice versa, and the Game Center of Windows 10 is stylistically similar to the Xbox One’s dashboard. But that’s done little to woo PS4 owners. Why should they care when they can already stream their PS4 games to their computer?
You know what console gamers do care about care about? VR. Microsoft has promised its coming to Project Scorpio, but Sony’s iteration is already the best selling VR system on the market (outside of mobile solutions). That’s going to require Microsoft to play a lot of catch up, overcoming not just 915,000 PSVR systems sold, but the 243,000 Oculus Rift systems and 420,000 HTC Vive systems too.
So the great specs Microsoft announced a few days ago. Those aren’t going to be enough to help it scramble back to the top of the console heap. But its certainly a start. Which is more than Microsoft could say yesterday.
Is this the end of the traditional console generation?
This is where we suspect there is a difference in opinion between Sony and Microsoft. Last year, Mark Cerny drew a line in the sand – PS4 and Pro were of the same generation and we’d require a radical upgrade in CPU, GPU, memory and storage to justify a prospective PlayStation 5. Mike Ybarra’s comments about users wanting the latest technology faster suggest something different.
Well Sony is going for the traditional generation approach ( luckily!), in which after 5-7 years there will be a new console having a drastic specs change and the previous console will be incompatible although there can be mid-cycle refresh such as the PS4 Pro, but as stated by Mark Cerny, it’ll be of the same generation.
Whereas Microsoft is going for an incremental model, such as with smartphones such as the iPhone, in which case microsoft will support a console for say 3-4 years and after that new model will have to opted, so in this case the previous console will not be barred from the support just as the new console launches, but like the smartphones, it’ll slowly fade away.
The downside of this will be that firstly, the console life will gradually decrease, and there will be no refresh point, and hence it’ll become sort of PC -esq market, in which all sorts of hardware exist, and it’ll create a huge problem for the developers as well, firstly because Xbox will have a variety of hardware to cater to, then there will be PlayStation following the traditional approach, so it’ll be chaotic as well.
Further Context on Microsoft’s Generation Approach:
If Microsoft had marketed Scorpio as the Xbox Two—as a completely new, fully 4K console that happens to be fully backward-compatible with the Xbox One—I don’t think anyone would have been overly surprised. Instead, Microsoft is taking pains to ensure that the existing Xbox One won’t be abandoned any time soon. All Xbox One software will run on both systems for the foreseeable future, and Eurogamer says Microsoft expects to sell more Xbox One units than Scorpio units in the near future.
The question, as always, is what comes next. The release of the Scorpio will put the bouncing “world’s most powerful console” ball firmly back in Sony’s court. Right now, it’s unclear if that response will come as a hard break PlayStation 5—complete with new software that no longer works on the older PS4 line—or yet another Pro-style upgrade that continues to grow and build on the core PS4 ecosystem.
On Microsoft’s end, the future upgrade cycle might be a bit clearer. After Scorpio, we wouldn’t be shocked if we see a new, even higher-end Xbox One every three or four years, with older Xbox One systems cycling down the price/value ladder in turn. As Microsoft’s Mike Ybarra put it to Eurogamer (emphasis added):
“When you think about phones, for example, consumers are buying phones more frequently than we’ve ever seen. Their expectation of technology is they no longer need to wait for it, it’s immediately there in front of them and they expect all of their content to flow across those devices, too.
“And so when you see people buy phones, their apps just download and they just keep going and it works seamlessly for them. … When we see consumers tell us they want ‘the latest technology, the latest experience, the best experience more frequently’ to our traditional console business that doesn’t really align with that, you have to pause, you have to take some pretty big risks.”
So what does the Xbox One hardware ecosystem look like in 2021 when “Scorpio 2” starts to make Scorpio look outdated? At that point, I doubt Microsoft will still require developers to release games that work seamlessly on the Xbox One’s relatively ancient 2013 technology.
But I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Microsoft of 2021 continues to support the original Xbox One as an ultra-low-end option—one that can still technically run many of the simpler games being newly released in the Xbox ecosystem. For gaming, then, the Xbox brand would become akin to a Windows-style operating system. Just like PC gamers, Xbox users would be able to choose how much they want to spend on hardware power with full knowledge that older/cheaper hardware will have a limited ability to run the latest software going forward.
That’s a pretty bold change for a console ecosystem where big upgrades in hardware power have often meant leaving behind the architecture and software that came before. Right now, Scorpio seems like the first step into a much more stable and more PC-like take on how console hardware platforms evolve over time.
I thank you all for going through this
please comment down below, let’s hear what you guys think about the Scorpio and the mid-cycle refresh.
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