The ‘next generation’ of video game consoles has come to life with the recent releases of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4). These consoles offer levels of processing power, graphical capability and unique features never before seen in home video game consoles.
One of the key new features of the Xbox One is the inclusion of a ‘Kinect’ sensor with every console. This device is a large black rectangle and is designed to be positioned just below the television set, allowing the camera to face the users of the console. An extension of the device first seen as an optional peripheral to the Xbox 360; Kinect is a vital piece of hardware that underpins many of the Xbox One’s key features. The device features a camera capable of tracking up to six users’ movements and facial expressions simultaneously. With an internet connection, it can also use facial recognition to sign-in users to their Xbox Live accounts, even if these have been created on another console. Each user on all Xbox consoles can create an Xbox Live profile, which keeps track of the user’s progress in all games that they play. Additionally, Kinect can identify which user is holding specific controllers, allowing seamless transitions of gameplay between a large number of people. This will then ensure that any challenges completed during subsequent gameplay will be attributed to the correct user’s Xbox Live Account.
Kinect also features voice recognition software. A list of commands can be spoken verbally to perform functions on the console, for example, saying “Xbox On” can turn the console on from a standby mode (this feature can be disabled). A simple setup is all that is required to enable the console to identify the user’s voice. Although the Kinect is included with every Xbox One console, it can be disabled partially or entirely in the console’s settings. It can also be physically removed from the console altogether and is not mandatory.
The PS4 features a similar peripheral. The PlayStation camera is an optional accessory, not included with the console. It currently retails for around £45. The camera is a similar shape to Kinect, albeit much smaller. It is also designed to be positioned in a similar way. Like Kinect, the camera can identify players using face recognition and sign them in to PlayStation’s own profile service, The PlayStation Network (PSN). However, the camera can only sign one user in to PSN automatically. If multiple users are detected, the console will ask the player who wishes to be signed in to hold the controller under their chin for identification. The controller features a motion detector which can be identified by the camera. Voice recognition is also included with the camera, although the available commands are not as exhaustive as those of Kinect. For example, whilst the PS4 can be turned off vocally, activating the console from standby using vocal commands is not possible. Sony has commented that software updates in the future may enable additional commands to be implemented.
Perhaps to introduce users to the features of the camera, Sony has included free software on every PS4 console – named The Playroom. This software features three game modes, all of which require the PS camera to operate. Two of these games project the user’s room onto the screen. Subsequently, robots are superimposed into the setting on the screen. This allows users to move their bodies to interact with them, for example, kicking out will cause many of the robots to fly around the room. The third game features an enhanced version of the classic arcade game, Pong. Users can use motion control features to alter the field of play from a traditional square to more unusual shapes.
Another significant hardware feature of the PS4 is Remote Play. This allows the console to connect via Wi-Fi to Sony’s handheld console, PlayStation Vita. The Vita can then be used to view any video or game footage that is also being shown through the PS4. Some games also support the Vita as a second controller or screen, to view additional information such as maps of the game environment. The Vita’s touchscreen can also be used to input text on the PS4 quickly and easily.
Microsoft’s SmartGlass application works in a similar way. The app is available for a variety of devices including smartphones and tablets and can connect to the Xbox One via Wi-Fi or 3G networks. The device can then be used to control the interface and menus of the Xbox One. Keyboard functionality is also supported on selected devices. The app also allows users to browse the Xbox One library of games and view information about their Xbox Live accounts.
Both consoles also feature newly designed controllers, echoing but adapting previous designs. The Xbox One controller features enhanced vibration motors in the twin triggers, an improvement on previous designs. The battery compartment is now inside the controller itself and is unobtrusive. The wireless functionality of the controller is said by Microsoft to be up to 30 metres from the console and eight controllers can be connected at any one time.
The PS4’s Dualshock 4 controller also exhibits significant improvements over its predecessor. In a first for a PlayStation controller, the Dualshock 4 features a speaker, allowing specific sounds to be relayed closer to the player for greater immersion and realism. For example, in a first person shooting game, whilst enemy gunfire can be heard through the television, as if it were some distance from the player, the player’s own gunfire can be heard through the controller’s speaker, directly in their own hands. The controller also features a touch pad on the front. This provides an alternative method of input in certain games. For example, the actions of scraping, rubbing and tapping are possible to perform. At the top of the controller, a motion detector is used to allow the PlayStation camera to follow the movement of the controller, if one is installed.
The rise in popularity of social media over the last few years has clearly influenced the development of many features on both consoles. Both consoles’ settings can be adjusted to record video and audio footage of gameplay onto the consoles’ inbuilt hard drives. These can then be edited before being uploaded. There is a strong emphasis on the ability to share and compare footage with friends online. Both consoles can record gameplay continuously, starting at the commencement of any gameplay session. Typically, the last fifteen minutes of gameplay can be retained in the consoles’ hard drives. This allows for the sharing of unexpected events and sequences not foreseen by the player, and for which specific recording have not been set up beforehand. On the PS4, videos can be shared quickly and easily via links to the PSN, Twitter and Facebook. The PS4’s controller features a Share button which can be pressed to upload media instantly. The Xbox One’s video recording functionality can only be uploaded to the user’s Xbox Live account, YouTube or Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive.
The SkyDrive service allows users to store large amounts of information on Microsoft’s servers, which can then be accessed anywhere in the world using a compatible device and internet connection. In other words, it is a form of external storage which can be quickly and easily accessed, albeit one which is physically located far from the user’s device. This is known commonly as cloud storage. The PS4 also utilises its own form of cloud storage, allowing users to upload save data and game progress to be accessed from other consoles. Any games purchased from the PlayStation store are tied to an individual user’s account, allowing them to sign-in, download (if necessary) and play these games on any console. When downloading games on either console, downloads do not have to be complete to begin use of the software. Once a large enough portion of the game is downloaded, users may play the game whilst the remainder is still being downloaded. Moreover, when downloading certain games, the PS4 asks the user whether to install the single player or multiplayer component first, affecting which mode can be accessed whilst the other is downloading.
Whilst some older consoles were able to play discs from previous generations, Xbox 360 and PS3 games are not supported by Xbox One or PS4 respectively. However, Sony has launched an upgrade programme whereby users who have purchased selected PS3 titles in disc form can download these titles on the PS4 in digital form, with enhanced gameplay features. The PS3 disc must be inserted into the PS4 at all times for this to work, however. Sony has also announced that their cloud service will enable certain PS3 games to be streamed to the PS4 at some point in the future. Xbox One does not support any Xbox 360 games or downloads in any form, and there are no known plans for it to do so.
However, the Xbox One does have a unique feature not present in the PS4. An HDMI video cable can be plugged into the console, allowing for footage from any video source such as a satellite box or other game console to be relayed through the Xbox One’s interface, enabling a split screen experience. This allows half of the television screen to be used for gaming, and the other for television programmes simultaneously.
Many of the features of both consoles are very similar, with only minor differences. However, software updates to the previous generation of video game consoles added countless additional features. It is not only possible, but highly probable, that in time many more features will be made available on both consoles through these software updates.