I Dream In Pixels: The console as we know it is disappearing, and it’s a good thing.

Sony’s PlayStation 2 is now 16 years old. The upcoming release of the PlayStation 4 Pro and XBox One S show how far consoles have come. Photo by Nate Kiernan.
Sony’s PlayStation 2 is now 16 years old. The upcoming release of the PlayStation 4 Pro and XBox One S show how far consoles have come. Photo by Nate Kiernan.

Since their revival in 1983 with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), video game consoles have been the most accessible means by which most people play games.

Removed from the ever changing hardware requirements of PC games – which necessitates that players keep current on a laundry list of different parts as well as how they stack up against one another – consoles have the undeniable benefit of being easy to use and understand. You put the game in, and it runs—no fussing with graphical sliders or driver updates. It just works.

With the release of the Xbox One S (XBOS) and the imminent PlayStation 4 Pro (PS4P), all of this seems to be changing. Now consoles, too, are being divided by differences in hardware power and all the bells and whistles that go along with them. 4K, HDR, teraflops and Bluetooth controllers: these are terms and considerations with which large numbers of players are likely unfamiliar that now appear to be rendering their current console obsolete.

It would appear that the chief benefit of consoles – their ease of use and understandability – is quickly slipping away as Sony and Microsoft adopt an iterative approach to hardware releases (follow-ups to the PS4P and XBOS are already in the works). As disparaging as this change may appear, it is actually an enormous upgrade to how console cycles used to work.

Before, a console would exist as a static piece of hardware until it was replaced by a successor several years later. This cycle got rather out of control last generation, with the Xbox 360 lasting a record 11 years before being discontinued and the Playstation 3 in its 10th year of production. This far exceeded the usual four to five year console turnover and led to a great deal of stagnation as games grew beyond what these platforms could manage.

With the PS4P and XOS, Sony and Microsoft are not only ensuring that the previously elongated console cycle doesn’t repeat itself, but also, they are rendering traditional console launches obsolete.

Rather than starting from scratch, Sony and Microsoft are building upon the foundation already built by the original PS4 and XBO. All the games you already own will continue to work, and both Microsoft and Sony have stated that there will be no games exclusive to the new hardware.

Essentially, Microsoft and Sony are adopting the same model that phone manufacturers have been utilizing to tremendous effect for years: sell new hardware, not new platforms. When you buy an app on an iPhone 6, you know that app is going to transfer over to the iPhone 7, 8 and so on.

This is why the PS4P and XOS are so attractive. The hardware keeps getting better, and you don’t have to go through the painful process of rebuying all the games and accessories you already have.

It will take some time for retailers to figure out how to subsidize consoles like they do phones to make the upgrade less financially prohibitive, but, aside from that sticking point, video game consoles are more consumer-friendly than ever. The PS4P and XBOS are bold moves for Microsoft and Sony to be sure, but, despite how it may have first seemed, we are the ones who will benefit most in the long run.

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