09 July 2013

One Difference in the Next Generation of Consoles

When the original PlayStation launched in 1995 Sony included a CD drive which, along with the $299 price point, was enough to catapult the company to the top of the console ladder as well as revolutionise the way in which games were played.

In 2000, when the PlayStation 2 was released, it included a DVD player which again gave scope for developers to push what could be done as well as helping to popularise the DVD format. While DVD would almost certainly have replaced video tapes eventually it did so much sooner than it might have without the aid of Sony's console.

Once again in 2006 Sony brought a new format to their system: Blu-ray. Granted, Blu-ray has never dominated in the same way DVDs did - in part because the PlayStation 3 did not dominate the market in the manner its predecessors did and equally in part due to the rise of digital as a medium. Yet it nonetheless marked yet another format innovation.

PlayStation 4 is notably different than its forebears not because of its added new features but because it hasn't changed one of the principal features of the PS3; namely, the Blu-ray drive. To a degree, it's a testimony to the foresight of Sony's engineers and their counterparts in the other firms which constitute the Blu-ray alliance that not only did they create a platform which was able to defeat HD-DVDs as a medium but Microsoft - which backed HD-DVD for Xbox 360 - would go on to include a Blu-ray drive in the Xbox One.

In effect, this means that a tiny percentage of the Xbox One's $499 price tag is making its way to the Blu-ray group and ultimately to Sony.

If nothing else can be said for the PS3 at the very least it has always been an excellent Blu-ray player and remains one of the best on the market even today. Whether the PS4 can match that legacy remains to be seen and will likely not be quite as significant a proposition given the proliferation of game-downloads and streaming in the near future.

To say the future is entirely digital is too general. You can still buy DVDs, and for that matter CDs and even vinyls, despite the widespread availability of digital options. The same will likely hold true of physical games for some, perhaps even many, years to come.

This is an unusual generation. Not only have we seen perhaps the biggest U-turn in this industry's 40 year history with Microsoft's policy reversals and the departure of Don Mattrick to Zynga mere months before the launch of the Xbox One but it's also the first time any PlayStation platform has ever used the same primary format as it predecessor.

PlayStation, PS2, PS3 as well as PSP and Vita have all had their own unique driver, but not PS4.

In the end, this will not mean anything at all yet in the context of gaming history and Sony's specifically, it's an interesting footnote at the start of the next generation.

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