In recent years, the line between console generations has become increasingly blurred with the increase of games running at different resolutions between platforms, dynamic resolutions, different upscaling approaches & now with the current product cycle of partial upgrades in the PlayStation 4 Pro & Xbox One X. Sony opted for a modest power increase to support their VR headset & be the first to market with a mid-cycle console product, while Microsoft spent an extra year to benefit from faster/cheaper harder along with an emphasis on 4K resolution as their distinguishing value proposition.
Why does 4K matter? This increased resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels (also known as Ultra HD, 4x the resolution of HD) is slowly but surely gaining traction as one of the major quality tiers for interactive media. High Dynamic Range colours (HDR) and/or 60 frames per second (FPS) are also meaningful capability/performance achievements, but the ability to consistently deliver a 4K resolution is the main advantage of Microsoft’s newest console over the PlayStation 4 Pro for the next generation of games.
The Xbox One X is the first console targeting 4K as a baseline for new releases as well as select catalogue titles that can automatically take advantage of the improved hardware or become patched to do so. If it can consistently deliver on this publicly announced goal, the X offers a significant leap over the sporadic 4K availability of the PlayStation 4 Pro and the 4K upscaling of Xbox One S among intermediate or in-between generation products.
The new console also arrives on the market at an opportune time: 4K televisions have dramatically increased in popularity & decreased in price throughout 2017 while content providers from sports channels to Netflix have begun creating a steady supply of 4K content. The demise of 3D televisions paired with the lukewarm reception to dedicated VR headsets have established 4K as the natural successor to traditional HD screens, where the inclusion of a 4K Blu-ray player in the X but not the Pro may also prove enticing to high resolution enthusiasts.
The ball is now squarely in Sony’s court as they determine the timeline for a PlayStation 4 Pro successor, which may be accelerated in response to Microsoft’s latest offering. The X is an expensive premium product that is unlikely to ever take over as the highest selling Xbox One console variant, but it marks an important step in driving the industry towards consistently higher quality visual experiences & creates a competitive challenge to Sony that should benefit all console gamers in the long run.