Forget your teraFLOPS and your real-time ray tracing – here are the features we really need from the next generation of video game consoles.
Editor’s note, June 12, 2020:
This feature was originally published on October 9, 2019. Following the reveals of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we thought it was a good time to see how many of these needs have been addressed.
(We’ve also updated references to “Xbox Project Scarlett” to read “Xbox Series X” since we now know what it’s called; we didn’t when this piece was originally published, so we referred to it by codename.)
Anyway, based on the wishlist below, we’re going to call it a partial success, thus far.
Standby and resume should be resolved by the PS5’s monster custom SSD, while Xbox Series X also goes all-solid-state and hopes to address install times with its Smart Delivery feature. Xbox Series X is also way ahead of the curve on backwards compatibility, for instance.
But what about the most important thing? The bane of every reviewer’s life? Hopefully, Sony or Microsoft will confirm the death of the dreaded screenshot UI – and an easier way to get at screenshots – in their future presentations.
The consoles will be powerful and the games will look great, but screenshot workflow is (almost) all we really care about, at this stage.
Original article, published October 9, 2019:
Everything we hear is designed to sound impressive, but be non-committal. All the numbers go up, but we don’t really know what they mean. It’s an arms race, taking place behind a veiled curtain.
Let’s all just take it as read that games on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will be bigger and better than the current generation. They will definitely be prettier, thanks to higher resolutions and features like real-time ray tracing. They will definitely load faster, thanks to SSDs in place of mechanical drives.
But what about the stuff that really matters? Here are the improvements we need for the next generation of consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
Did you ever take a screenshot, then immediately after, take another screenshot? Then you will know the pain of visible screenshot UI, friend.
It’s particularly irritating when you’re trying capture screens for a review, hitting the shutter button like a rapid-fire paparazzo, only to find two-thirds of your screenshots contain the “YOU JUST TOOK A SCREENSHOT” UI in the frame. (Automatic screenshots when trophies are awarded is nearly as annoying, but can at least be turned off.)
There has to be a better way of doing it. Surely the PS5 and Xbox Series X can be clever enough to not capture this UI layer in subsequent screenshots?
While we’re on the subject of screenshots, why are they so bloody difficult to get at?
We understand the logic behind it. Sony and Microsoft want you to use their built-in sharing function, so they can control how it’s used. When you post that PlayStation 4 gameplay video on your Twitter account, for instance, it includes their hashtag (#PS4share) and also a link to buy the game on the PlayStation store. It’s obvious who that benefits and it’s not the player.
Again, this might be more of a reviewer concern specifically, but trying to retrieve screenshots off a console in bulk shouldn’t be this difficult. If you feel the need to have a private Twitter account, just so you can share your screenshots with yourself? Something’s broken.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X just need a simple network browser. Visit the IP address of your console in Windows Explorer or Mac’s Finder, then just copy the screenshots out that way. It’s that simple. Please make out the cheque for our consultancy service to…
Do you know what’s really annoying? The fact that you can’t easily buy a headset that works with both your PS4 and your Xbox One. Being able to use it with your PC and mobile is a bonus, but let’s just focus on the problem at hand.
Some headsets are compatible with one console or the other and PC. Some just specify a single console, while others offer the option of being able to convert between one console and the other using an adapter or dongle.
Just put a simple, universal jack connection on both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X controllers. It’s not hard. Don’t try and be clever. Don’t try and make anything proprietary. Just do the bare minimum and we will all thank you for it.
While we’re on the subject of controllers, have you ever tried to charge a PS4 or Xbox One controller from the USB port on a PC or Mac? We don’t recommend it, because it will unpair your controller from your console to make it work with the computer, instead.
Re-pairing an Xbox One controller is fairly straightforward – just bang a USB cable in the front of the console – but the DualShock 4 is trickier. If you’ve got a second controller that’s working you can always unpair the controller, then reconnect it via a USB cable in the same way. If all your controllers are borked, however, you’re going to need to use a paperclip to reset it.
Again, standardise. Don’t do anything clever, or weird, or proprietary. Make them all use USB-C for charging, and make connecting a controller to your PS5 or Project Scarlett with said USB cable instantly reset and pair it. It’s not hard.
(It would also be nice if their batteries lasted longer than five minutes, or if the Xbox controller didn’t still need two AA batteries, and the DualShock 4’s light bar is too reflective on your TV, while we’re complaining about controllers.)
Decent standby and resume
There are few things more frustrating with the current generation of consoles than the power nagging. “You didn’t perform the proper shutdown ritual,” complains the PS4, before spending three hours checking itself for errors.
The thing is, we’ve all gotten so used to the instant resume on our PCs and Macs that they rarely get shut down at the end of the day like they used to. Instead, they suspend and resume at the drop of a hat, and we reboot for updates and patches as required. Hell, even the Nintendo Switch has near-instantaneous resume and it makes the PS4 and Xbox One look naff in comparison.
Part of this will come down to the disk technology. Computers didn’t start boasting this sort of instantaneous startup until the advent of the SSD (and the Nintendo Switch has all-flash storage, too) so here’s hoping the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will do the same. Sony has indicated as much with its push for less environmentally-destructive standby states, so we’re hopeful on this one.
It might not be the primary reason for the switch to solid-state drives from mechanical ones – that’s all down to reducing install and loading times – but it’ll be an added bonus.
Both the PS4 and Xbox One’s dashboards are horrible. They both need setting fire to and starting again for the next generation.
No excuses, no half measures. Just a big old fire and a blank sheet of paper, please.
You might have noticed that the original PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are noisy little buggers. It’s not always that bad, but if you chuck a particularly intensive game at them – like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Control – then the hardware will strain and the fans will kick into high gear as a result.
With the mid-generation refreshes, the PS4 Slim and Xbox One S, the noise has been reduced. Several years passed between these iterations, which allowed both Sony and Microsoft to make some hardware improvements based on new technology, including a significant form factor shrink, the removal of external power bricks and a reduction in fan noise (thanks to improved operating temperatures).
Thinking forward to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, playing games entirely from SSD storage and not relying on a whirring optical drive will also help. Likewise, SSDs produce less heat and noise than mechanical disks, but that’s only a small component compared to cooling the CPU and GPU.
We hope the new consoles are quieter out of the gate than their older siblings.
There’s no reason we can’t all cross-play together on any game, right?
It’s taken us a long time to get here. It’s been a painful and frustrating experience. You’re all finally singing off the same hymn sheet.
Don’t let it slip on the PlayStation 5 and next-gen Xbox. We’re watching.
To be fair to Microsoft, we already know that backwards compatibility – which has been a major feature of the Xbox One – will also be a priority on Project Scarlett. Expect to see this (and previous) generation’s titles receive a detail and performance bump as they make the seamless trip to the next-gen Xbox console, just like the mid-generation improvement of the Xbox One X.
PlayStation’s stance on this one is less clear.
The argument that it’s difficult to port games from previous-generation consoles – which run on some funky, proprietary architecture – and onto the PC-alike PS4 would seem reasonable… if the Xbox One wasn’t already doing it with such regularity and success.
At this point, it’s hard to shake the notion that PlayStation just wants to make you buy its games all over again on a new generation, like The Last of Us Remastered releasing just six months after the PlayStation 4 launched. If backwards compatibility isn’t made a priority, expect to be re-buying Uncharted 4, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and The Last of Us Part II in the PlayStation 5’s early months.
There will be lots of talk about the difference in specs and of course, in the as-yet-unannounced launch titles, but the real differentiator between PS5 and next-gen Xbox might well be backwards compatibility.
That, and of course Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, which – with its access to new titles on their release date – is streets ahead of PlayStation Now’s back catalogue-only approach.