CRank: 5Score: 27400

Building the Next Generation : PS4, XBox720, Wii HD

The next generation is //not// nearly upon us. It will be several years before any of the current console manufacturer's come out with new hardware, and a couple years, at the least, before such hardware is announced. Hardware progress has slowed down immensely in the past near-decade, and shows no signs of picking up. Parallelism has "taken over" the speed gauntlet from clock frequency, and it requires more raw hardware, and a different programming paradigm, for even a modest upgrade.

Compounding the issues with hardware advancement, are the facts that the "next gen" will not face the same advancement hurdles that this generation did. There will likely not be a new video standard, so a new storage medium (past Blu-Ray) will not be needed. Rising development costs further inhibit the need to fill so much disc space, and evidence goes to show that rare few HD games can justify 50 GB of space, although certainly more than 9 GB seems worthwhile. HDTV is still solidifying its place in the market, and once it does, will likely not be replaced for many years -- 1080p is the target of the next gen, and its not as big a leap from current hardware as 720p was from the last generation.

That said, rumors still abound. In this post, I'm going to take a closer look at the hardware battle each of the current-gen manufacturers have to face, in their effort to enter the "next gen". I'm a "random internet gaming hardware expert", and I'm not going to expound on the source of my knowledge on some random internet forum, so take this with a grain of salt. These aren't rumors from any sort of "official" source, they are pure speculation on my part, posted for the ponderings of the reader only. Take it or leave it, as you will, and comment freely.

For fun, I'm going to go in order that I think these platforms may come to light. Honestly I don't have a lot of honest backing for this order -- just a gut feeling. So bear with me.

Nintendo: the Wii HD

Nintendo has a sweet deal going with the Wii. Their audience consists of, largely, an entirely new crowd of casual gamers, as well as a small legion of Nintendo gaming fanatics, and of course, tons of kids. The Wii has, by a longshot, the easiest upgrade path going into the next gen, and likewise, the least barriers.

The Nintendo Wii is the "last" in a long line of consoles which adhere to the single-core, single-process paradigm. In a sense, it belongs, technologically, in about the year 2002 -- yet it still sells like hotcakes in the year 2010. When I say Nintendo has the easiest upgrade path to the next-gen, I'm thinking -- they could choose to do so, at any time.

The 360 proved that DVD-9 is plenty of space for HD gaming, and Nintendo has never liked large storage mediums. The Wii HD could have a DVD-9 drive, much like the Wii, and not really suffer any serious consequence. Likewise, the single-core paradigm has plenty of room to grow in the Wii -- the 743 MHz PowerPC inside could very easily up upgraded to a 3 GHz PowerPC, and still retain 100% backwards compatibility, which is oh-so-important for early adoption rates of any console. Improving the graphics chipset inside the current Wii architecture, to again retain BC, will be a little more difficult, if 720p HD gaming is desired, but its very doable.

Almost every aspect of the Wii is *easily upgradable* to HD standards, while still adhering to the Nintendo standard of several HW cycle backwards compatibility, and the "other" Nintendo standard -- make it cheaply, and make profits off hardware.

Nintendo has the power to upgrade when they choose, and they'll do it precisely when the market demands it -- no sooner, no later.

The Wii HD:

* 2.8 GHz, single-core PowerPC with 2 HW threads and SMT, 1M L2 cache. Will have out-of-order execution, and decent branch prediction.
* 600 MHz programmable graphics chipset, with flexible pipelines, and a pre-made API to emulate the fixed functionality of the current Wii and the GC. 16 MB eDRAM frame buffer on the chip, for full 720p gaming with goodies like AA.
* 256MB RAM, 256MB VRAM
* DVD-9 drive
* 100% BC with the Wii and GameCube

Microsoft: the "Xbox 720" (they won't call it that)

Microsoft has created a monster in the X360 -- a fantastically powerful console for its time, it will be near-impossible to emulate on any architecture of the future that will also be cheap enough to put into a console. Lucky for Microsoft, CPU power has proven itself secondary to GPU power, in the games race... although it certainly can't be discounted.

By adopting a Nintendo-like approach to the next console generation -- not increasing console power that much, and keeping the console cheap -- they stand a good chance of accomplishing all of their goals. Emerge before the competition, hit the shelves affordably, sell to the majority, namely families and kids, keep the XBox brand alive, and most importantly, keep Microsoft in the living room.

Microsoft is all about conquest, and making money, and not about giving the ultimate entertainment experience. This attitude will keep them in the living room for a long while to come, even if it upsets some of the more hardcore MS gaming crowd.

The XBox 720:

CPU: Hex-core 3.0 GHz PowerPC, with "turbo" which allows up to 3 cores to run at 3.2 GHz, and a single core to run at 3.8 GHz, when other cores are running at lower frequencies. 2 HW threads per core, 3MB L2 cache. Will have out-of-order execution, and decent branch prediction, unlike the current Xenon.
GPU: A 600 MHz "Xenos 2", with twice the flexible pipelines, and 16MB eDRAM. Enough to run 720p HD flawlessly with AA, and 1080p decently.
Memory: 1GB unified
Drive: Blu-Ray
100% BC with XBox 360, and partial XBox BC.

Sony: The PlayStation 4 (they probably will call it that)

Sony is a company which revolves around its marketshare concepts (like many companies) -- one of which is "premium user experience". Sony is a premium brand name, and they will never, ever, change that dictum, because doing so would damage their brand name, and its meaning to the consumer. Thus, the PlayStation 4's release will not come before its time... it will come when the PlayStation 3 is reaching the end of its lifespan, and no sooner. (not necessarily directly related to competition!)

Sony made a grand plan for themselves with the PS3, when it comes to hardware -- perhaps too grand. Only now are many developers finally embracing the powerful Cell architecture.. is it soon enough to have not influenced the PS4's design? I'm going to play devil's advocate and say NO. At this point, retaining the Cell would be the cheapest, most effective path to the next gen, and I actually think Sony should stick with it. Losing PS3 BC would be a nightmarish reset on the PlayStation brand, and frankly, by the time the PS4 releases, the Cell concept will be so hardened into the minds of the games industry, that a Cell 2 is certainly not an obstacle. I'm going to put a twist on this one though. Lets make it a Cell/standard CPU hybrid.

The PlayStation 4:

CPU: "Cell Hybrid", 8-core, dual-threaded PowerPC PPU with 8 SPU processors, at 2.8 GHz. "Turbo" mode allows for 1 PPU core and 7 SPUs to run at 3.2 GHz, as well as dynamic overclocking for other usage patterns. SPUs still have 256K localstore, and 1 is reserved by the system, leaving 7 available to developers (as opposed to the PS3's 6).
GPU: 600 MHz unified shader chipset, with 512 thread-warped pipes. BC with RSX, via disabling the thread warping.
Memory: 1GB XDR2 RAM, 512MB VRAM
Drive: Blu-Ray.. there won't be a new video standard to support yet, although larger-than-50GB BD formats may be supported.

============================= ==============
Leave a message, tell me your thoughts... but explain yourself. Think through your ideas carefully. Give an educated reason as to why you think I'm wrong or right, if possible.

frankymv5171d ago (Edited 5171d ago )

Not sure what you mean with //not//.

I can guarantee that at least the Wii HD and the xbox 720 will be announced at E3 2011 for release in fall 2011. By then the 360 will be 6 years old and the wii 5 years old. I am looking at this purely from a business perspective (I have an MBA in international business from an Ivy League school) so please excuse my detachment from the gamer's perspective.

The 360 is aging rapidly and limitations abound, particularly with the storage medium. PS3 exclusives are blowing the 360 out of the water in terms of graphical prowess (and superior overall titles) and the gap is only widening. Wait until Agent is revealed. Furthermore, PS3 has practically closed the gap with the 360 in terms of install base and is now outselling the 360 worldwide on a month to month basis. Technology has improved dramatically since 2004 and MS could make a console with vastly improved tech at a competitive price. Remember that early adopters will buy at launch and will gladly pay $450 at launch for the cutting edge. MS will move to a two console strategy (the PS2 kept Sony afloat during the early part of this gen) and will relegate the current 360 (probably a slim version with integrated natal) for the casual market (notice that MS is having a completely separate Natal conference aimed, at the casual market, at E3 2010, that will complement the main presser), and the 720 for the hardcore. The most telling evidence yet is the fact that MS's 2 biggest franchises, Halo and Gears, are set to have conclusive games: Reach in fall 2010, and Gears 3 in April 2011...a perfect Segway to E3 2011. Furthermore, everyone knows that this will be Bungie's last Halo title and that MS game studios is working on another Halo title for the next gen.

As for the Wii, basically its time. With sales down a staggering 20% year over year, people are bored with the wii. Furthermore, with PS Move and Natal being more compelling alternatives, Nintendo would have to be insane not to launch the wii successor next year.

Sony is the enigma. They may wait 1 year and launch in 2012 since their games still look incredible. However, they might launch day and date with the 720 as the 1 year gap had them playing catch up this gen.

In conclusion, we are out of the recession, 2 of the 3 console manufacturers are showing their age, and we have a sea of early adopters that is ready for the next gen. At least 2 new consoles in fall 2011 GUARANTEED.

Trroy5171d ago (Edited 5171d ago )

Your detachment from the technological perspective is sending you down the wrong path, conceptually. IMO, you're making some critical errors in your analysis, by assuming the tech industry, and associated products, will continue to behave as it always has, during its infancy. It is no longer an infant -- it has nearly completed its evolution. The laws of physics themselves are now the obstacles, rather than mere process.

The available tech both isn't cheap enough, and isn't powerful enough, to justify new console hardware by 2011, except, perhaps, for Nintendo.

Keep in mind that a new console is only as good as the software it comes with, and the output devices it utilizes. By 2011, it will still be extremely difficult to put new hardware on the shelves that both noticably outperforms the PS3/360 and is cheap enough to make headway in the marketplace. Without BC, said console would be doomed to failure, and without a serious power difference, current HD console owners would see no need to upgrade.

Note how people still compare PS3 games to high-end PC games, when comparing graphics. The PS3 is nearly a half-decade old -- hardware has just not advanced that much in that time. This generation will NOT follow the rules of previous generations, which were driven primarily by rapidly advancing tech, and similarly dropping hardware expenses. Tech advances are simply not as affordable as they used to be -- not even close.

Regarding Nintendo, the Wii's "drop" still leaves it in first place, with regards to monthly sales. Nintendo is in no immediate danger. They do not need to upgrade for another couple years.. 2012 seems likely. Upgrading too early will damage their marketshare, and they won't do that -- providing a HD-capable Wii effectively pushes the SDTV user out of the picture, and that's Nintendo's prime demographic real estate. They will wait patiently for more users to adopt HDTV, and subsequently look for a family-friendly HD console. HDTV adoption isn't yet high enough to warrent a HD-capable Wii.

frankymv5171d ago (Edited 5171d ago )

Wrong again. The available tech will be cheap enough. In business, you have what is called economies of scale, meaning that when producing on a mass scale, for every unit you produce, costs will decrease. This applies to expensive products primarily. The 360 elite launched sold for $479 originally and it sold very well. MS can launch and an xbox that is at least 4x as powerful and price it at $459 and it will sell.

As for hardware not advancing.....uhhhh...every major developer from Crytek to UBI has clearly stated that they already have people working on the next gen ste to arrive 2011/2012. Cryengine, UE4, iD tech 5 are all Next gen engines that are scalable. Nvidia fermi and ATI have advanced leaps and bounds from what was around in 2004 (the 7800 which the PS3 is based on). Sony has already chosen the successor to the Cell, the IBM power7 CPU and will pair it with the Imagination Tech Power VR6 graphics. This is a sea change from what can be accomplished now.

I think you shouldn't confuse not being able to afford a new console (which is your case) with thinking that the next gen is not right around the corner. How old are you?

Trroy5171d ago

Frankymv... the PowerVR series is a mobile chipset, and hardly capable of competing with the RSX for overall performance. They will not use it in a home console. Its a handheld GPU.

You're being overly optimistic about the tech economy, in my opinion, and making some pretty serious assumptions without any actual foundation. No developers have claimed the next gen is around the corner -- they'd be sued by the console manufacturers for even mentioning it, at this point.

The GPU output of modern PC GPUs, and older GPUs, can be found pretty easily on the WWW, as can the prices of said chipsets. If you're interested, you could make your own graphs and note the trend, as well as checking out the IEEE roadmap for process step sizes in the next decade, which is the basis for drops in tech costs of components like CPUs and GPUs.

You're welcome to disagree all you like, of course. The post is only my opinion, and you obviously do not agree.

frankymv5171d ago (Edited 5171d ago )

Trroy..this is just too easy...(don't feel bad, I'm a trial lawyer and I make a living smoking people in court)

The powerVR is a mobile chipset......NOT the VR6


You said " No developers have claimed the next gen is around the corner " Really Trroy?

let me get popcorn

Trroy5171d ago (Edited 5171d ago )

I don't understand. Where did any of those devs state they knew what hardware was in the next gen, as opposed to them merely updating their engines with modern PC tech? Console manufacturers don't release hardware specs to 3rd parties until they are ready to announce publicly, because the employees of those 3rd parties are not trustworthy, and too likely to leak info.

And from your tech pages regarding the PowerVR6:
"Further reports in English, it is a rumor and not confirmed by Sony: "The PlayStation 4 shall use a high end variant of the 6 Series line.
Performance, specifications and features are at this time unknown. The
Series 6 shall receive an official announcement from IMGTEC sometime
in 2010, with initial models targeting the smartphone and netbook

The smartphone and notebook sector, eh? So there will be a smartphone PS4 before the real thing shows? Sounds like some journalist made some mighty big assumptions that such a device (a mobile GPU, like I said) might make it into the PS4. Journalists make mistakes. Huge ones, pretty frequently.

Again, back to branding, which you should understand if you have a MBA, the PowerVR series has been a mobile chipset for eons, and always will be a mobile chipset. The company that develops it specializes in low-power mobile GPUs. A desktop GPU would receive a new name.

Without any knowledgable backing for your claims, you may as well just make some stuff up by yourself, and quote yourself. That'd be just as valid as this rumor was.

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