Headline Sep 10, 2014


On May 21st, -2013,   -on a stage flooded green light,  Microsoft unveiled its third video-games console, the confusingly named Xbox One. 

This followed Sony's announcement of the PlayStation 4 in February.

Together with  Nintendo's  Wil U, launched in November,  2012. And these machines make up the  eighth generation of games consoles.They have been a long time  coming. 

Their predecessors were launched in 2005 and 2006,  aeons ago by the standards of the computer industry, and were beginning to show their age 

Both the  Xbox One and PlayStation 4 went on sale around Christmas, with Microsoft and Sony competing vigorously to convince potential buyers of the merits of their respective machines.

But veterans of such battle will notice a curious absence. At previous console launches, executives have boasted about their boxes'  whizzy technological innards. Sony in particular was a dab hand at this sort of a thing:

Coming up with names like  ''Emotion Engine''  and  ''Reality Synthesiser''  for the chips that powered the previous consoles. But this time neither Microsoft nor Sony seemed very keen to talk up the technical prowess of their new boxes. 

To be sure, compared with the current generation of machines, graphics will take a leap. But the truth is that the new consoles will be merely catching up with current state of the art rather than defining it.

Both consoles have about as much computing power as a reasonable fast desktop PC and are, for all intents and purposes, ordinary Pcs in fancy boxes.

Indeed, their technological guts are strikingly similar. That is because of the way the gaming industry is changing.

The chips that power both the  Xbox One  and  the Play Station 4 are modified, beefed-up versions of a chip produced by  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] , which has long been Intel's only competitor when it comes to the processors that power desktop PCs.

For Microsoft, this marks something of a return to its roots.

The original Xbox, released in  2001,  was based on a standard Intel Pentium chip. But all of  Sony's  previous consoles have featured custom chips built  for gaming.

Going with a general purpose PC chip will limit the new machines performance. But there are good reasons to make that trade off.

One is simply that the cost of designing chips has risen dramatically as they have become more complicated., says Jordan Selburn of IHS iSuppli, a market research firm that specialises in computer hardware.

At the same time, the benefits of  customisation  have shrunk. These days, most of the innovation in graphics processing is confined to two big companies, AMD and Nvidia. It makes sense to leave the job to these specialists.

The business reason for switching to more standardised components are compelling, too.

The traditional business model for a games console is to sell the machines themselves at a loss   -at least in the years before their launch, before technological advances bring manufacturing costs down- :

And to make up for it by  taking a cut   from the sale of each game.   

The Honour and Serving of the knowledge continues. Thank you for reading and see ya on the next one.

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