A few weeks ago, news broke that Sony’s PlayStation 5 wouldn’t debut in the near-term future as has been previously rumored. Now, we’re hearing rumors that Microsoft’s next-generation console is also expected to tip up in the next three years — with 2020 again named as a likely date.
Because one assumption being made today, at a fundamental level, is that Sony and Microsoft will opt to retain backwards compatibility with previous consoles, even if we don’t know if that compatibility will roll out eventually or be present from day one. Historically, game consoles have maintained backwards compatibility either by implementing a complete previous-generation console in hardware (Sony took this route with the PlayStation 2 and early PlayStation 3) or by creating a software emulation layer suitable for running last-generation games on the modern platform. Microsoft, for example, has gone this route with the Xbox One and its backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360.
The video above showcases how backwards compatibility has improved Xbox 360-era games by sharply increasing resolution and in some cases, subtly improving original assets. The exact details vary from game to game, obviously.
But part of the reason why companies had to take these steps is because each new platform generation brought significant changes with it. The original PlayStation ran on a MIPS I R3000 CPU, while the PS2 packed a MIPS III chip and the PlayStation 3 used its own unique Cell Broadband Engine. Unless Sony and Microsoft make a sudden pivot to ARM, the PS5 and Xbox Next will both utilize an x86 CPU — and an x86 CPU that would run pre-existing game code extremely well at that. Some optimization work to ensure that older games run well under a new OS version and hardware may be required, but given that AMD’s mobile Jaguar core is at the heart of these consoles, stepping up to a faster, more powerful CPU should yield good results.
Similarly, if Sony and Microsoft stick with an AMD GPU, they should be able to look forward to relatively straightforward ports as well. Again, it can take some additional GPU optimization to take full advantage of a new architecture, but game developers looking forward to the next-generation Xbox should have the easiest time they’ve ever had taking advantage of the capabilities of new hardware without needing to worry too much about optimizing older titles for new consoles.
The talk of a family of Xbox devices implies we could still some gaming peripherals focused on VR or even something intended for mobile play. While we haven’t heard any rumors of a mobile Xbox product, ever, it’s simply impossible that Microsoft hasn’t noticed Nintendo’s handheld, which is busy setting sales records and skyrocketing up the charts. We might see Microsoft opt to address the possibility of mobile on-the-go gaming by continuing to lean on game streaming services — there’s been chatter of a game streaming capability debuting on Xbox One since the console was unveiled, including at E3 this year. Of course, with the company also working on numerous Surface tablets, Microsoft could even try offering these with game controllers and price points intended to position them as Xbox extenders, either within the existing Xbox One ecosystem, or as part of a future product.