In Depth

PS4 Neo vs Xbox One Scorpio: How do they compare?

Sony and Microsoft's powerful new games consoles are on the way, but what will they offer?

In a surprising and potentially game-changing move, both Sony and Microsoft plan to introduce brand new gaming consoles very soon – despite the current PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware being three years old. 

Rumours of Sony creating an overhauled, supercharged version of the PS4 called the "Neo" circulated for weeks before being quietly confirmed ahead of this year's E3 in Los Angeles. Not long after, Microsoft used the stage to announce its own new console, Project Scorpio. 

As both companies say the new tech doesn't represent new generations, their arrivals will mark a huge shift in the way the firms upgrade their hardware, releasing them in shorter intervals, with more overlaps and two hardware platforms complementing each other.

So what should we expect of these new consoles?

4K gaming and virtual reality

Both consoles will push two new features – 4K, High Dynamic Range gaming and high-end virtual reality experiences, provided you own a 4K television or compatible VR headset.

As Alphr points out, the new tech will be fairly pointless if you don't own a 4K TV to play games on. You'll probably see some small differences playing on a 1080p television set, "but it's not the real reason to buy either console".

As for VR capabilities, the standard PS4 will be compatible with Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR headset alongside the PS4 Neo, meaning that instead of buying a ticket to VR with the new console, you'll be buying an upgraded experience instead.

The Scorpio will feature virtual reality as one of its big selling points, but neither a headset nor a partner to make one has yet to be confirmed. Previous reports claim Oculus, which manufactures the PC-based Rift headset, is on board, though.

Powerful internal specs

Both the Neo and the Scorpio promise to be more powerful than Sony and Microsoft's current offerings. On paper, says Pocket Lint, and where it matters, Sony's offering is rumoured to be lighter in spec than its rival.

Scorpio will have six teraflops of computing power to render 4K graphics – power Pocket Lint says is "high end PC graphics card stuff". Meanwhile, while not confirmed, alleged leaked documents spelling out the Neo's spec suggest it will have a lower 4.14 teraflops of GPU power.

As Eurogamer explains in detail, this isn't always the be all and end all. Developers often cap the likes of framerates and rendering resolutions so you'll find the same experience across two different consoles. Nor is GPU power always the primary limiting factor – CPU performance, alongside a host of other intricacies, feed into the experience. As a whole, teraflops don't fully define a console's full graphical power and advantages don't always scale up in a linear fashion, meaning the advantage the Scorpio is rumoured to have on paper doesn't guarantee the graphics will be better.

From launch, adds Pocket Lint, you'll find it difficult to notice differences between the two onscreen, although the additional power of the Scorpio could be exploited further down the line. We just won't know if the rumoured specs spell out significantly different experiences until the consoles are out in public.

However, the site is in no doubt that they will both be "mega powerful", possibly with 8GB RAM and with processors boasting clock speeds beyond 2.1GHz.

Delving into a little more detail, What Hi-Fi? cites leaks revolving around the supercharged PS4, claiming it will boast an eight-core 64 bit AMD processor, as in the current PlayStation console, with an uprated 2.1GHz clock speed. The same 8GB GDDR5 RAM should be on board, but with 512MB DDR3 memory and more bandwidth. In comparison, the Scorpio could have 12GB DDR5 – screaming past the Neo.

Tech Insider also frames the upcoming new Xbox as much more powerful on paper but says that when it comes to features, there's not much to suggest it will enjoy an advantage from launch – after all, they are consoles set to be sold on the exact same 4K playback, virtual reality experience. Instead, those who go for the Xbox may find it paying off further down the line. The added power could make the console more future-proof as its glass performance ceiling is higher.

Meanwhile, Trusted Reviews raises the possibility that the new PlayStation, with its less powerful internals, won't actually be capable of native 4K gaming. "Be warned," it says, as the Neo may only offer this through streaming apps and DVDs and instead, gaming enhancements may come in the form of improved framerates, pushing most games up to a 60fps standard, alongside HDR and Ultra HD gaming. It's an interesting expectation and one to keep an eye on.

Upgraded versions of the same games

Both Microsoft and Sony are keen to stress that the games playable on standard versions of the consoles will be compatible with the new hardware and that, thanks to patches, both old and new titles will come with two modes – one playable on the upgraded consoles, another made to fit the standard outputs of what we have now.

"Think of it like a PC," says Pocket Lint. "Some people have the ability to play games at 4K, others in full HD, and others still are capped at lower resolutions depending on their graphics card. They can still all buy the same games though".

Inevitably, the consoles will get some exclusives, particularly when you consider the Xbox One currently has no VR gaming support, so the Scorpio will get its own batch of VR titles, while PS4 and PS4 Neo VR games should be largely compatible with each other.

Playing online shouldn't be a bother neither – Sony has written it into developer guidelines that there must be no segregation between Neo and standard players.

What if I don't have a 4K TV?

Eurogamer spells out potential advantages the systems could have over the older consoles when not actually making use of the 4K visuals, saying that the vast majority of Scorpio and Neo consoles could be sold to gamers with 1080p televisions.

Microsoft has previously said that Scorpio games will look different and run a little better, even on 1080p displays, but it's probably best to stick around with current gen consoles if you've no plans to invest in a new TV set.

However, the developer guidelines set out by Sony lay a marker for 1080p resolution as the minimum for Neo games. Eurogamer says that if the sole benefit in buying the new console is tied to the need for a 4K TV, Sony could hamper itself. By allowing developers to set 1080p resolutions on certified Neo games, they can create "enhancements that can actually appreciated by those with 1080p screens".

Paul Tassi, writing for Forbes, brings up the same problem about the need for a new television, but says there's still the possibility for huge gameplay improvements regardless.

He highlights "chroma subsampling", where "4K can look better on 1080p screens than 1080p does on 1080p screens.

"In short," he adds, "4K unlocks the potential of 'true' 1080p, which is why you can see a difference. 

In other words, even if players don't have a 4k TV, they should still see noticeable improvements in their games with the new consoles. 

Price and release

There are hints to suggest that the PS4 Neo could release this year, PC Advisor says, and we can probably expect an official announcement before the PlayStation VR headset goes on sale on 13 October.

However, Trusted Reviews is a little more cautious, adding that while Sony has confirmed the console's existence, there are no solid details to suggest a price and release yet. The site speculates that Sony could re-assert its dominance over this console generation by offering it at a competitive price, but expects it to be a "pricey upgrade".

Alphr says Sony is likely to draw first and release the Neo much sooner than Microsoft can get its Scorpio out of the door. The upgraded Xbox may not be on sale until Christmas 2017 and if rumours weigh up, that could give Sony has much as a year's head-start. The site expects them to cost around £100 more each compared to their current consoles, but adds that crucially, the Neo could be cheaper.

Not the only new consoles coming

The PS4 Neo and Xbox One Scorpio aren't the only new consoles Sony and Microsoft are set to release this generation.

Microsoft has already revealed the new Xbox One S – a 40 per cent smaller version of its original console, with a slightly tweaked, all-white design with 4K video playback and high dynamic range gaming. A launch edition with 2 terabytes of storage will arrive in August, priced from £349, while a £249, 500GB version will go on sale not long afterwards.

Rivals Sony, meanwhile, has only confirmed the upgraded Neo console so far, but reports of it also releasing a new version of its standard PS4 are beginning to hit the web.

PlayStation Universe reports a slim PS4 could appear this September, around the time of the Tokyo Games Show, meaning two new PlayStation consoles could be on sale by the end of the year.

What does it mean for the current consoles?

When these new consoles arrive, says TechRadar, the "chicken and egg dilemma" the industry and consumers face at the start of a new generation will be cleared automatically, as both will already have large libraries of existing games, alongside brand-new titles set to arrive with the special 4K modes.

However, those on the older versions could feel they're getting a second-rate experience. The shorter flagship lifespan of the PS4 and Xbox One thanks to the new 4K consoles could see some think twice about investing in the next generation if newer versions with more features could appear soon after. How Sony and Microsoft make the consoles appear to complement their existing models is crucial.

Should I upgrade?

The picture here remains unclear because there's still a lot we don't officially know about the products beyond the fact they exist and will be supercharged versions of the current generation. We'll be waiting a while before we are in a position to judge whether it's worth upgrading.

Gauging the interest of developers, opinion is split on the new hardware. As Eurogamer says, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, whose company is responsible for the Gears of War franchise, is thrilled by the changes as gamers will have easier access to more powerful experiences and no longer have to wait a full cycle. The demands it will place on game developers are "very reasonable", he adds.

However, the Daily Star reports Alexander Birke, of Out of Bound Games, fear the experiences won't be game-changing as developers will be forced to make games for both the standard and up-rated versions of the consoles. The extra power will probably be used on graphics and framerates over more advanced physics or artificial intelligence, so games will feel exactly the same, only with smoother and better resolutions, which may not be worth forking out for.

The prices of the consoles could be a sticking point, too, but Microsoft may offer an olive branch to soften the blow, reports SlashGear. It looks set to offer Xbox One trade-in packages to bring the cost of the new console down. It could tempt some to pull the trigger on the Xbox Scorpio.

What about Nintendo?

In addition to their own rivalry, Sony and Microsoft will also have competition from Nintendo.

Nintendo actually announced its intentions to release a new console before rumours of the Neo and Scorpio hit the web but beyond an expected March 2017 release, not much is known about it.

It's believed the Nintendo NX – as it is currently codenamed – will offer something quite different to the large graphical improvements of the Neo and Scorpio and its maker is promising "a new way of playing games".

There have been suggestions the company is about to introduce a hybrid home console and handheld gaming system. Nintendo has filed a patent outlining a piece of hardware that can "draw additional processing from other computing devices", suggesting a modular console. A handheld device that can marry up to the home system makes most sense.

This is backed up by a separate Nintendo patent for a new type of controller, featuring a large oval touchscreen which is can be used for elements of gameplay.

However, with a release next spring approaching, we should get some solid information about the NX soon.


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