The PS4 vs Xbox One battle has famously focused on the PlayStation 4 GPU advantage ad nauseam. But is the Xbone not the only console suffering from a poor design.
In a related report by The Inquisitr, I once declared Microsoft’s claim that the Xbox One GPU is just as fast as the PS4 the gaming lie of the year, but I also bought a Xbone before a PlayStation 4 for practical reasons, assuming you can find a PS4 in stock at all for under $500. Of course, some analysts claim the majority of games just don’t care about comparing graphics differences and the only reason the PS4 is winning in sales is because it’s $100 cheaper (Microsoft just announced the UK market would see a $50 price drop, so expect the US to follow suit eventually).
In the past, I’ve already stated that both the Xbox One and PS4 GPU are relatively slow and will hold back gaming. But I never explained how fast they should have been. The main reason both systems do not meet my expectations is because when you compare the price to the hardware we’re actually getting less of a system in comparison to the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation (after being adjusted for inflation). The previous generation of hardware were major loss leaders while this time around Microsoft and Sony are about breaking even assuming you ignore the percentage given to retailers and everyone else in the supply chain.
Quite frankly, both the Xbox One and PS4 GPU should have been capable of generating somewhere around 2.5 to 3.0 TeraFLOPS, not the 1.33 TeraFLOPS and 1.83 TeraFLOPS they’re actually capable of producing. If you compare the Radeon R9 290X to the Xbox One and PS4 GPU you’ll see that graphics technology is currently capable of 5.0 TeraFLOPS. Yes, obviously we can’t expect a high end video card in a console, but I do believe from a price perspective that having similar performance to a Radeon R9 270 is reasonable considering it produces 2.69 TeraFLOPS and was supposed to retail at $199 (apparently, AMD video cards are currently selling for higher than MSRP due to Bitcoin miners).
As a comparison, a cost analysis of the PS4 hardware shows that it’s CPU, GPU, and GDDR5 memory are worth about $188 (keep in mind the CPU and GPU are not separate because of the SoC design). The Xbone GPU and CPU is a little less expensive, but the cost savings are wiped out by the higher cost of the Kinect and the 32MB of eSRAM. I also fault Microsoft for being cheap by using GDDR3 instead of GDDR5 memory. They saved a relatively small amount of money but game developers could have used the extra memory bandwidth.
There’s two reasons why I feel both should have been faster, overall. The first is graphics effects. Game engine makers have already stated the PS4 can’t handle full global illumination techniques based upon voxel cone ray tracing and must instead use a mix of dynamic and pre-computed. The interesting part is that some reports claim Microsoft insisted to AMD that certain changes were made to the Xbox One GPU that “to focus on this area beyond AMD’s standard implementations.”
In general, tech demos for voxel cone tracing were run using PC video cards providing around 2.5 TeraFLOPS of performance. Keep in mind PC games are held back by the CPU overhead of the API even if AMD Mantle is attempting to alleviate some of that. And voxels are already being used in video games like Everquest Next.
Some believe the PlayStation 4 might barely be capable of handling path tracing. To give you an idea what sort of graphics quality is possible I’d suggest checking out this tech demo:
The second reason is consistency. Everyone is talking about how the Xbox One can’t quite handle 1080p, 60FPS. But even the “mighty” PS4 struggles. For example, when the graphics performance of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition was compared it was noted that the framerate of the PlayStation 4 was higher but it also tended to fluctuate all over the map. Some testers even stated they preferred the 30FPS cap of the Xbox One version because gameplay was more consistent. In the past, Rockstar acknowledged how the framerate of its GTA series was low but they also felt that consistency in performance was key to a good gaming experience. More powerful hardware for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbone would have provided better consistency.
So who is winning the PS4 vs Xbox One battle? Personally, I think the gamers are losing out. Check out Part 2, which discusses the hard size and performance issues. In part 3 we consider how the Xbone and PlayStation 4 controllers have been better designed.