Microsoft stops holding Netflix, Hulu hostage behind Xbox Live Gold paywall

UPDATE (08:51AM Pacific): Well, looks like Microsoft couldn’t wait until E3. They’ve gone and gotten rid of the Xbox Live Gold requirement and announced a Kinect-free Xbox One.


Talk about funny timing: Just last week our very own Mark Hachman was complaining that Microsoft still holds services like Netflix and Hulu Plus hostage behind its Xbox Live Gold paywall, essentially charging gamers a fee to use streaming video services that already charge monthly fees. This week, Ars Technica reports that Microsoft is going to stop charging you to access these services, citing “multiple sources within Microsoft.”

The change will apply to both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, according to the report. Users of both consoles will be able to access Netflix and Hulu, among “other streaming media apps,” without purchasing a Live subscription (which starts at $60 per year). This would bring the Xbox in line with Nintendo and Sony’s consoles for streaming media access—Microsoft’s long been the only console manufacturer to charge for access to any of these services.

Microsoft’s hand has undoubtedly been forced by the increasing prevalence of alternative streaming methods: Since the Xbox 360’s introduction, video streaming has exploded and is now built into a wide variety of devices—from consoles to Blu-ray players to Google’s Chromecast to TVs themselves—for free. Since Microsoft wants its Xbox One to be your entertainment center, this change seemed almost inevitable.

The report comes as Microsoft gears up to launch its own original Xbox programming on June 13. Charging users to use rival streaming services while offering your own videos sans paywall would just be, well, wrong.

But wait! Before you get too excited, Ars Technica also reports that “Xbox Live Gold may put other services behind the paywall to make up for this shift.” No word yet on what those services might be.

This type of change would be big news, and thus probably held for Microsoft’s press conference early next month at E3. PCWorld and TechHive will be at the show to let you know about any major news as it happens.

via Microsoft stops holding Netflix, Hulu hostage behind Xbox Live Gold paywall | PCWorld.

Microsoft ships 3.9 million Xbox Ones, Surface revenue doubles

In the second quarter of Microsoft’s fiscal 2014 (the fourth calendar year of 2013), the company exceeded expectations to post a significant rise in revenue and profits over the same period last year. On $24.52 billion in revenue, Microsoft achieved $6.56 billion in net income, both of which are a rise on last year\’s $6.38 billion net income from $21.46 billion in revenue.

In the earnings report, Microsoft revealed that they managed to ship 3.9 million Xbox One consoles in the quarter, which is slightly less than the 4.2 million PlayStation 4s Sony shipped in 2013. The Xbox One was the top selling console in the United States in December, which could be due to low PlayStation 4 stock at many retail locations, but nevertheless the next-gen console battle remains quite close.

Revenue from Microsoft’s tablet line, Surface, more than doubled in the quarter, rising from $400 million last quarter to $893 million. Sales were likely boosted by the release of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, which featured similar designs to their predecessors, but packed more powerful internals and other refinements including Windows 8.1 out-of-the-box.

Bing income increased thanks to more users using the search engine over market-leader Google, and although Office and Windows revenues fell, Microsoft was glad to report 3.5 million Office 365 Home Premium subscribers. The “soft” PC market is having an effect on the Redmond company, but the diverse product range of Microsoft seems to be carrying it quite well.

via Microsoft ships 3.9 million Xbox Ones, Surface revenue doubles – TechSpot.

Report: Xbox One and PS4 use up to three times more power than Xbox 360 and PS3

Many folks will be getting an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4 console for Christmas this week (a few people might be getting one of each product). However, a recent report claims that both consoles will use up to three times more energy than the older Xbox 360 and PS3, even though Microsoft and Sony have put in features that are designed to make the Xbox One and PS4 more efficient.

The non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council claims to have \”completed rigorous measurements of the power use\” of both consoles. On the plus side, the group praises Microsoft and Sony for putting in features such as charging accessories while the consoles are in a lower powered \”sleep mode\” and reducing power when left on for 10 minutes.

However, the same report claims that because the Xbox One and PS4 use more power overall to play games and watch movies, the energy efficiencies that the companies have put into the console are overridden. It states, “For example, the Xbox One uses approximately 40 percent more power to play a game than the Xbox 360, and the PS4 consumes almost twice as much as the PS3.”

In a head-to-head study, the PS4 uses a lot more power than the Xbox One when playing games, streaming movies like Netflix and navigating through its interface. By the same token, the Xbox One uses more power when it is in Connected Standby mode than the PS4, as well as when both consoles are turned “off” but still connected to a power socket.

Because the Xbox One uses more power in Connected Standby mode, where it is waiting for its owner to say \”Xbox One” via its Kinect sensor, this report claims that it will consume more electricity annually than the PS4. It estimates that Microsoft\’s console will use 253 kilowatt hours per year, which will cost about $150 a year in energy bills. The PS4 is estimated to use 184 kilowatt hours per year.

The NRDC claims that both companies can make efforts to improve the energy efficiency for their new consoles via software updates, such as reducing the amount of power needed to stream video. The report also says Microsoft should try to cut down the Connected Standby power mode on the Xbox One.

via Report: Xbox One and PS4 use up to three times more power than Xbox 360 and PS3 – Neowin.

Xbox One owners reporting audio sync issues with Blu-ray movies at 24Hz

As we mentioned in our review of the Xbox One, the console requires that users download a Blu-ray player app before it is able to play a movie. Now it seems a number of owners of Microsoft’s newest console are reporting issues when playing DVD or Blu-ray movies.

The Xbox support forums has a rather lengthy post on the matter. Specifically, the problems are tied into the audio not syncing to the video when the 24Hz refresh rate is turned on. Turning this option off apparently fixes the problem but there are many users who would prefer to play Blu-ray discs with the 24Hz refresh rate.

Some users have reported that turning the Xbox One off and then turning it back on seems to solve the issue for them, but this solution did not work for other forum members. One Xbox One owner wrote he wanted Microsoft to fix this problem ASAP. He stated:

If this is not done soon I will be forced sell up and buy a certain competitors device. The ability to be able to play a simple blu rays (sic) properly – which works fine on basic PC’s and another slightly older console (!) – is a need for me.

The only post from a Microsoft Support team member on this thread was made on December 10th, when he suggested that users uninstall and reinstall the Blu-ray app. He added, “We will continue to look into this issue and bring to light what we can dig up.” Other forum members claim they have talked with Microsoft support personnel who have told them they are aware of the problem and that they are “… looking forward to fixing this issue (at) the soonest possible time.”

via Xbox One owners reporting audio sync issues with Blu-ray movies at 24Hz – Neowin.

PlayStation 4 was the best selling next-gen console in November according to NPD

While we have already heard from both Sony and Microsoft when it comes to sales numbers of the two new gaming consoles, now official sales tracking firm NPD is ready to sound off on November’s numbers.

As we previously expected, PlayStation 4 was the highest selling console for the month of November. Xbox One, which came in second, was November’s “fastest selling” console according to NPD, with units flying of the shelves at a rate of 101K per day. We know that Sony has sold about 2.1 million new PS4s so far and Microsoft is closer to 2 million even, but NPD notes that when “looking at sales on an average per-week basis, Xbox One actually led PS4.” Even with the one week head start and a much broader number of regions where PS4 is available, Xbox One looks to be keeping things interesting.

NPD reports that last month was the best November for gaming hardware sales in the US due to the launch of the new consoles. Hardware sales generated $1.3 billion, a steady rise of 58% from the $839.1 million brought in this time last year.

NPD also dropped last month’s hottest selling titles saying that software sales in general were down 24% to $1.085 billion from $1.434 billion last year. The month’s top selling games across all platforms in order are as follows: Call Of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Madden NFL 25, and Grand Theft Auto V. The list accounts for collector, GOTY and bundle editions, but not those bundled with hardware.

“This is the fourth consecutive month for an increase in combined physical sales across hardware, software and accessories,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said. \”Unlike the past three months where growth was driven by software, positive trends for both hardware and accessory sales drove on overall increase of 7%.”

via PlayStation 4 was the best selling next-gen console in November according to NPD – TechSpot.

DailyTech – Deathmatch: PS4s See “Blue Light of Death”, Xbox Ones Chew up Discs

Sony is the first OEM to respond, claims only 1 percent of consoles experience defects

The earlier bird certainly didn’t seem to get the worm in the eighth generation of console wars. Nintendo Comp., Ltd.’s (TYO:7974) tablet-equipped Wii U console hit the market first debuting last year and seeing decent sales during the Holiday 2012 season. But sales have since plunged amidst a lack of compelling titles and disappointment in Nintendo’s new controller.

I. PS4 — Blue Light Special

But so far Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) look to be off to an even rockier start, despite seeing strong initial sales.

The $399 USD PS4 launched last Friday and almost instantly reports of broken consoles started popping up. Sony, to its credit, responded relatively quickly, saying that some consoles had shipped broken and it would be working with customers to replace these models.

Chinese language nternet posters claiming to be employees of Hon Hai Precision Industry Comp. Ltd. (TPE:2317) subsidiary Foxconn — the Chinese firm responsible for assembling the PS4 — posted in forums that they were disgruntled with working conditions and had purposefully sabotaged PS4s.

[WARNING: This video contains potentially NSFW language]

Whether or not those claims are true, what is clear is that many broken PS4s shipped. The most common symptom appears to be an eerie “blue light of death” (BLoD, for short).

Sony says this may be due to more than one issue. Sony Spokesman Dan Race states to Forbes, “There have been several issues reported, which leads us to believe there isn’t a singular problem that could impact a broader percentage of PS4 units. We understand the frustration of consumers that have had a problem and are working with them and our retail partners to help troubleshoot issues and ensure affected units are exchanged.”

A second Tokyo-based spokesman, Satoshi Nakajima, claims poor shipping may be to blame. He tells Bloomberg, “There have been several issues reported, which leads us to believe there isn’t a singular problem that could impact a broader percentage of PS4 units. We also understand that some units were reportedly damaged during shipping.”

Sony estimates 1 percent of consoles, roughly, are defective in some way. If true this would indicate about 10,000-20,000 total defective units (given that the PS4 sold 1 million units in its first day (last Friday). That wouldn’t be so bad — if accurate — as new console often have a small number of non-working unit. Even the WiiU — a relatively reliable console had a few failure reports in its, Inc. (AMZN) reviews.

That said, the numbers on some sites seem to be a bit higher than 1 percent. On Amazon there were 800+ one star reviews (~23 percent) — mostly due to defective consoles, versus 2,300+ five star reviews (~66 percent). Of course such statistics always need to be taken with a grain of salt as people with defective products are more likely to bother to leave a review.

II. Microsoft — Fresh Ground Discs

But lest you think Microsoft was going to storm in and capture the day, its $499 USD Xbox One console launched today (priced at $100 USD more than the PS4) and already reports of problems are pouring in. Of 619 reviews on Amazon 206 of them (~33 percent) are 1 stars, while 340 of them (~55 percent) are 5 stars. In other words, so far a higher percent of users are claiming to have defective Xbox One consoles than defective PlayStation 4s — on Amazon, at least.

The leading problem appears to be the “The Disc Grinding Noise of Death”, which is reportedly ruining/chewing up game discs. The noise certainly sounds rather epically bad.

There\’s also growing reports of “green screens of death” — a tendency for the Xbox One to freeze on its green boot-up screen. Or on a subsequent screen showing the controller.

Microsoft actually reportedly started pushing an emergency update. But that update to customers, an update which apparently was not ready for prime time. This \”fix\” messed things up even worse, with it flagging some users consoles as \”banned units\”, which has now been flashed into those consoles\’ memory.

In the past Microsoft’s bans — typically reserved for cheaters and extreme trolls — were permanent and could not be easily undone. So Microsoft might have to replace these consoles. It was widely reported that one user who got their console early was “banned” for posting videos. It’s possible they instead ran into this bug.

Other users apparently experienced infinitely updating loops — a so called “E100” error.

Last, but not least, some Xbox One consoles appear to be experience odd artifacting issues for some reason:

Some Xbox One games are also lagging/freezing.

Could more sabotage be afoot here? Amazingly it seems like Microsoft’s issues may be even worse, as at least Sony’s consoles haven’t experienced in-game issues for those whose consoles survived that far.

It looks like Microsoft and Sony’s consoles are having a deathmatch — a literal one. And somewhere Nintendo must be laughing — sure its consoles aren’t selling like its rivals’. But at least they’re not breaking as often.

via DailyTech – Deathmatch: PS4s See “Blue Light of Death”, Xbox Ones Chew up Discs.

Xbox One review round-up: Be wary of these downloadables

Like a doting parent on Christmas morning, we can’t help but make sure the two newest game systems receive equal treatment. Just as we wrote at length about the launch of PlayStation 4 hardware and software, so have we babbled about Xbox One: the system, the zombie game, and the racing game. Then we did a side-by-side comparison of the two consoles.

Of course, no next-gen launch is complete without a rundown of exclusive downloadable fare—who goes to stores anymore, anyway?—which brings us to the biggest Xbox Live-only games at launch. Xbox One has ushered in the $20 starting point for downloadable games (with one kinda-free-to-play exception), but from the look of these three games, that $5 hike might have come a little too soon.

Killer Instinct

The original Killer Instinct managed to somehow stand out from the slew of also-ran Western fighting games that rose and quickly fell during the mid-’90s. Amidst cartoony, violent, and weird experiments like Primal Rage, Clayfighter, Eternal Champions, and Mace: The Dark Age, Killer Instinct was a rare glimmer of so-called maturity from Nintendo, complete with fancy-for-the-time pre-rendered 3D characters.

It was the combos: so many 15-hit explosions dropped arcadegoers’ jaws to the ground while an amped-up announcer growled about “cah-cah-cah-combo breakers.” But that flash also hurt the game’s balance: the original arcade edition had glitches that, among other issues, allowed TJ Combo to easily win by way of infinite combo.

After a decade of corporate mergers, Killer Instinct is now a nostalgic ball of dynamite for Microsoft to dust off in the hopes of attracting old fans to a new console. If they do come flocking, they’ll delight in the old KI guard remaining mostly firm—what little of it there is on offer, anyway.

In this download-only game, only five KI veterans return, along with a single newcomer, and two more fighters have been promised in the future. In a cost-to-content sense, that might suffice; $20 is the starting price for the eight-fighter pack, compared to about two-dozen fighters in a standard $60 game, right? (There’s also a $40 version with more costumes and an emulated version of the 1995 arcade classic.)

The trouble is, KI doesn’t offer six particularly distinctive fighters at the moment. New character Sadira drives that point home. She comes equipped with hand-mounted blades and sticky spiderman webs, and she brings a few new aerial attacks to the series; hop in the air, then pull yourself towards your target with some sticky blades to slice and open combos. In practice, though, she’s more useful as an on-the-ground hybrid of Thunder’s brutal, spinning attacks and Orchid’s super-quick kicks.

But Thunder and Orchid don’t differ from each other, either, in terms of speed, power, and how they link “quick” and “fierce” moves to combo-smack the heck out of opponents. Most of the other characters (including low-floor sweeper Sabrewulf) also lack such fight-changing distinctions, and the omission of sluggers like Fulgore or TJ Combo is deeply felt. The only real distinct fighters are Jago—the series’ Ken/Ryu clone who can create space by way of fireball attacks—and ice-alien Glacius, who owns the entire screen with Dhalsim-like extendo-kicks and other warping moves.

New developers Double Helix certainly can’t be faulted for their efforts. The small roster is at least tuned for high-octane fighting at all times, which feels decidedly KI-like. The online battles have thus far been lag-free (at least in the pre-release period), and the fights are full of sharp character designs and screen-filling particle effects at a consistent 60 frames-per-second.

To their credit, the developers also worked out some longtime kinks in the series. You’ll be more likely to break combos this time around, reducing the number of buttons required to stop a seasoned expert. Also, a new “instinct” meter fills when you pull off things like combo breakers. Trigger it, and you get 15 seconds to regenerate health and reset your combo meter, which can make for a nice turnaround for newbies.

While I can’t speak for expert-level play (I don’t own an arcade stick and I rarely worry about things like special-move animation resets) I will say I felt comfortable with the special move systems and figuring out how to pull off combos, especially thanks to a robust “dojo” training mode, which also comes in the game’s free version.

But don’t let that free version (which allows for free access to a rotating, single combatant), trick you into expecting a tourney-worthy brawler. This is a fun bit of sexy, nostalgic bombast at a reasonable price, but Double Helix has largely failed to create the balanced, rounded-out roster needed to sustain a good fighting game (though upcoming combatants Spinal and Fulgore may help on this score).

Verdict: Definitely enjoy the free trial access to a single fighter, but wait to spend cash if the nostalgia strings don’t tug.

Crimson Dragon

Riding a dragon through giant fantasy worlds while shooting fireballs, lightning bolts, and other elemental attacks at giant, airborne creatures. How can anybody screw up such an obviously winning concept, especially when the design team in question is famous for delivering that exact formula in the classic ’90s series Panzer Dragoon?

Leave it to Crimson Dragon to answer that question. Between slippery controls, sloppy looks, meager content, and a forgettable plot made worse by its delivery, this Xbox One launch exclusive does everything it can to drag the next generation of consoles backwards by at least a decade.

The game sees you trying to colonize alien planets while wiping out creatures who’ve caught a virus known as Crimsonscale—an obvious allegory for Christopher Columbus and co. wreaking smallpox on Native Americans, but replace the Santa Maria with a dragon. The plot, which at least had some hope of elevating Crimson Dragon beyond its lousy gameplay, is delivered in walls of uninspired, confusing text, spoken aloud by characters who have neither animation nor anything resembling personalities.

What remains, then, is an arcade shooter, broken into a series of brief, on-rails flying missions, in which you pilot your dragon with one joystick and your weapon’s aim with the other. Both parts move sluggishly and ineffectually, and both have further issues. You dragon is confined to only a small portion of the screen, for instance, and dodging enemy attacks is as simple as tapping a bumper.

You don’t really need to pilot your dragon, up until the moment a mission has a “dodge random structures” passage, and your pre-defined flight path makes it hard to gauge where you need to fly. Aiming, meanwhile, requires dealing with your pre-defined camera swooping around for no good reason, not to mention your giant on-screen dragon often blocking your view at the worst times.

You receive a “wingman” helper pretty quickly in the game, and it’s a bad sign that Crimson Dragon has to dole out this auto-locking helper to compensate for its aiming awkwardness. The game also includes some RPG-styled progression, including dragon upgrades and per-mission perks, but they’re mostly a lure to keep players grinding through older missions for higher scores (grind being the operative word here).

The beasts you blast, and the worlds you fly over, won’t seduce anybody with next-gen shimmer. Low-poly, blurry-texture, uninspired, buggy creatures fly over ugly worlds that explode in color, at least, but not in legitimate next-gen geometry. There’s a JRPG-worthy soundtrack behind all of this gunk, but Crimson Dragoon doesn’t even have the courtesy to isolate that quality tuneage with a sound test mode.

In an early mission, as a lifeless soldier pleads for your help, she implores you by saying, “Look, I know you didn’t choose this life; none of us did.” Luckily, Xbox One buyers have a little more free will at their disposal than Crimson Dragoon‘s lowly protagonist.

Verdict: Avoid like the Crimsonscale plague.


For the past few years, Twisted Pixel Games has edged closer and closer to fulfilling its dream goal: becoming a film production company. You can see the studio’s passion for cinema in more recent titles like Comic Jumper and The Gunstringer, as those games are peppered with wacky, live-action scenes and clever writing that reflect a gonzo filmmaking sensibility, often resembling the work of fellow Austin, TX resident Robert Rodriguez.

Those two games prove Twisted Pixel’s priority shift in another, more unfortunate way, by being flat-out terrible to play: Comic Jumper‘s dismal repetition and Gunstringer‘s inability to redeem the original Kinect should’ve been the one-two punch to put this once-promising game studio out to pasture. Instead, Microsoft kept signing the studio’s checks, and their latest dismal release, Xbox One exclusive Lococycle, should be the third strike to Twisted Pixel’s proverbial at-bat. What a giant fall from grace for a studio behind the wonder of games like The Maw and ‘Splosion Man.

For starters, who thought turning the clock back to 1993 made sense for showing off Xbox One’s next-gen powers? Lococycle‘s obsession with dialogue and full-motion video borders on Sega CD-worthy, and it gives the devs more than enough time to wear out the wacky premise of a futuristic motorcycle turned rogue, driving across the country while dragging a Spanish-speaking mechanic on its chassis. That mechanic, incidentally, becomes the bike’s melee weapon against other villainous robotic vehicles. Occasionally, the game’s long stretches of goofiness reflect an Alamo Drafthouse-worthy level of camp and self-aware fun, but more often, they rely on worn-out action-movie references and the tiresome gag of the motorcycle not understanding Pablo’s cries in Spanish.

Yet all of that video and dialogue content seems intentional padding in light of Lococycle‘s ultra-thin gameplay, seemingly designed with Kinect in mind before being repurposed for Xbox One. As players drive along endless, on-rails highways, control is incredibly limited: tap left and right to dodge oncoming traffic; hold one button down to shoot machine guns at occasional foes; hold another button down to “turbo” past others. Two other buttons handle melee attacks against other vehicles, but combat comes down to slapping a single button over and over with an occasional reflexive block move tossed in for good measure.

Top that off with occasional quick-time event prompts, along with a few super-simple types of enemy encounters that loop over and over a la Comic Jumper, and you have an abomination that could one day prove infamous for how hilariously bad it turned out. You won’t have another chance to find another launch-window game this bad for years, and let’s hope future console producers keep it that way.

Verdict: Gaming anthropologists should buy it out of car-wreck curiosity. Everyone else should look elsewhere.

via: ArsTechnica

Microsoft matches Sony, sells over a million Xbox One consoles in the first 24 hours

Microsoft has managed to sell more than a million Xbox One consoles within the first 24 hours, much like Sony did with the PlayStation 4 a week ago. Redmond launched their next generation console in 13 markets on November 22 with 22 games (10 exclusive titles) which is now sold out at most retailers according to a post on the official Xbox website.

Sales surpassed day one Xbox 360 sales exactly eight years ago which makes it the biggest launch in Xbox history. Microsoft said they are working as quickly as possible to replenish stock to meet customer demand.

Sales figures aside, Microsoft also provided some pretty neat statistics on some of their launch titles. For example, over 60 million zombies have been killed in Dead Rising 3, more than 3.6 million miles driven in Forza Motorsport 5, over 7.1 million combos have been pulled off in Killer Instinct and more than 8.5 million enemies have been defeated in Ryse: Son of Rome.

That doesn’t mean everyone is just sitting on the couch playing games, however. According to Microsoft, more than 43.3 million Fit Points have been earned in Xbox Fitness thus far.

Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Xbox said they are humbled and grateful for the excitement of Xbox fans around the globe. It was truly exciting to see fans lined up to get their Xbox One, Mehdi said, and they look forward to fulfilling holiday gift wishes this season.

via Microsoft matches Sony, sells over a million Xbox One consoles in the first 24 hours – TechSpot.

The PlayStation 4 is officially here, some systems experiencing HDMI issues

The wait is finally over, Sony fans, the Playstation 4 is officially out. Many cities across the United States saw individuals flood midnight releases at a variety of retail locations to get their hands on the newest console. Pair that with all of the gamers picking up their secured pre-orders and you can imagine just how many people were burning the midnight oil in order to enter the next generation of gaming.

It has been quite the wait for those who lived in the current generation of Sony gaming for approximately seven years with the PS3. This is the longest that Sony fans have had to wait for a next-gen system, with prior releases coming only six years apart — 1994, 2000 and 2006. The next few months will be important in judging whether or not the wait was worth it, and hopefully there won\’t be a slew of bugs plaguing the console.

Sony is already well aware of one issue, however, which was spotted in a group of early release Playstation 4s. According to IGN, some players who received early access to the console are complaining of broken displays and unresponsive HDMI outputs. The systems are reported to turn on, accompanied by a pulsing, glowing blue light, but no display is available. Sony is sending out replacement units to these individuals, but it could take some time, which promptly negated the “play the PS4 before anyone else” prize that some of these gamers were promised with their pre-orders. This shouldn’t be a widespread issue though, and a Sony representative told IGN that the affected systems will equal only 0.4 percent of all the consoles shipped.

It\’s going to be interesting to see how the gaming community adopts the PS4 in the next couple months, and with the impending release of its rival, the Xbox One, things are going to get very heated, very quickly. If any of you TechSpot readers out there got your hands on a PS4, we\’d love to hear about your early experiences!

via The PlayStation 4 is officially here, some systems experiencing HDMI issues – TechSpot.

The Xbox One and PS4 share similar specs, but the devil’s in the details

In the past, it’s been difficult to do truly apples-to-apples performance comparisons between game consoles because of the vastly different architectures of the various systems. You can get some raw numbers—clock speeds, memory bandwidth, FLOPS—and compare them that way, but how games looked and ran often had just as much to do with console-specific optimizations and tweaks from the developers as it did with the theoretical capabilities of the hardware.

With the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, things have changed. In lieu of expensive custom-designed chips, both Microsoft and Sony have opted to commission semi-custom CPU/GPU hybrids from AMD based on the same basic architecture that AMD is already selling in PCs. There are still variables to account for, but these new consoles are more alike on the inside than any others in recent memory. In advance of the new consoles’ imminent launches, we’ll take a quick comparative look at how the consoles’ CPU, GPU, and memory configurations stack up. Hopefully, this will give you a better understanding of what the hardware differences mean for the first wave of launch games soon crashing down upon us.

The CPU: within a stone’s throw

Enlarge / The Xbox One’s main chip up close.

Both the PS4 and the Xbox One’s CPUs use the exact same number of computing cores and the exact same AMD “Jaguar” architecture. In terms of raw performance, the only real point of differentiation between them is clock speed.

We know that the Xbox One’s CPU clock was recently raised to 1.75GHz from the 1.6GHz of the original devkits, a respectable 9.37 percent boost. Sony hasn’t stated an official figure for the PS4’s CPU speed, though rumors point to it being the same 1.6GHz as the pre-boost Xbox One. Depending on the CPU speed, this means that for CPU-heavy games the Xbox One may have a slight edge over the PlayStation 4. This different won’t be very noticeable, though, unless the game is coded to be absolutely desperate for every drop of performance it can squeeze out of the CPU.

In any case, Jaguar isn’t AMD’s fastest CPU architecture—it was actually designed first and foremost for low-power systems like tablets and low-end to mid-range laptops. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry did an in-depth interview with Microsoft’s Andrew Goossen and Nick Baker, two members of the Xbox hardware design team, to get a sense of why Microsoft chose the components and made these design decisions (it’s a very long interview, but it’s worth reading in its entirety for the insight it provides into both consoles’ hardware design). Baker summarized why a company designing a new console would choose to go with more, slower Jaguar CPU cores rather than a chip with fewer, faster cores based on AMD’s speedier Piledriver architecture.

“The extra power and area associated with getting that additional [instructions per clock] boost going from Jaguar to Piledriver… It’s not the right decision to make for a console,” Baker said. “Being able to hit the sweet spot of power/performance per area and make it a more parallel problem. That’s what it’s all about. How we’re partitioning cores between the title and the operating system works out as well in that respect.”

Enlarge / Using many CPU cores and a few dedicated blocks for audio and video processing lets you do many small tasks at once. Having some resources to dedicate to the system UI helps keep things smooth and prevents interruption of gameplay.

In other words, given the size of the chip and the box and given that these consoles will often be called upon to do many small tasks at once, it made sense for both console makers to go with more cores rather than faster ones. It’s also worth noting that, at least for some tasks, the consoles will be able to offload processing duties to the GPU and to other onboard coprocessors to lighten the CPU load, especially when it comes to non-gaming and multitasking functions. Both consoles include, for example, dedicated blocks for encoding and decoding video, as well as audio processors that can take some sound-related pressure off of the CPU. PS4 lead architect Mark Cerny brought chips like these up in an interview with Gamasutra in April.

“The reason we use dedicated units is it means the overhead as far as games are concerned is very low,” said Cerny. “It also establishes a baseline that we can use in our user experience. For example, by having the hardware dedicated unit for audio, that means we can support audio chat without the games needing to dedicate any significant resources to them. The same thing for compression and decompression of video.”

The GPU: Microsoft has more MHz, but Sony has more hardware

Enlarge / Inside the Xbox One. The large chip near the center surrounded by the RAM chips is the main processor, which combines the CPU and GPU among other things.

The two consoles diverge more sharply when it comes to their GPUs. They again share the same underlying architecture (AMD’s Sea Islands, which has come to market in some of its Radeon 7000 and 8000-series GPUs), which makes comparisons between the two simple. The Xbox One’s GPU runs at 853MHz (another late-in-the-game clock speed boost) while the PS4 GPU runs at 800MHz. However, the PS4 GPU has much more hardware behind it—18 of AMD’s compute units (CUs), rather than the 12 CUs in the Xbox One.

These two GPUs support all of the same APIs and hardware features. The Xbox One can render a 3D image that looks exactly the same as one rendered by the PS4, it just can’t do it quite as quickly. It’s the reason why a Radeon HD 7790 clocked at 1GHz delivers worse performance in PC games than a Radeon HD 7850 clocked at 860MHz. There’s just more silicon there to do the heavy lifting.

In their Digital Foundry interview, Microsoft’s Goossen and Baker argue that, for the Xbox One’s launch titles, the clock speed boost to the GPU was more effective than adding extra CUs would have been. For some games, that may be the case, but what we’ve seen in the PC market for years and years is that GPUs with more CUs (assuming an otherwise similar architecture) are going to perform better. This will potentially give PS4 developers additional headroom to make their games more detailed, make them run more smoothly, or make them render at a higher resolution than on the Xbox One. There’s also more silicon there to help out with any GPU-assisted compute tasks that need to be run.

Especially on the GPU side, software and API optimizations will play some part in how quick the two consoles will be, but from what both Microsoft and Sony are saying, the companies’ strategies won’t differ much here. Both of them are trying to get typical PC APIs out of the way where possible, increasing performance by reducing the number of layers between game code and the hardware. Back in March, Ars gaming editor Kyle Orland wrote about some of Sony’s statements to this effect.

Sony is building its CPU on what it’s calling an extended DirectX 11.1+ feature set, including extra debugging support that is not available on PC platforms. This system will also give developers more direct access to the shader pipeline than they had on the PS3 or through DirectX itself. “This is access you’re not used to getting on the PC, and as a result you can do a lot more cool things and have a lot more access to the power of the system,” [Sony Senior Staff Engineer Chris] Norden said. A low-level API will let coders talk directly with the hardware in a way that’s “much lower-level than DirectX and OpenGL,” but still not quite at the driver level.

In the Digital Foundry interview, Goossen said much the same thing of Microsoft’s software implementation.

“To a large extent we inherited a lot of DX11 design,” he said. “When we went with AMD, that was a baseline requirement… We’ve been doing a lot of work to remove a lot of the overhead in terms of the implementation and for a console we can go and make it so that when you call a D3D API it writes directly to the command buffer to update the GPU registers right there in that API function without making any other function calls. There’s not layers and layers of software. We did a lot of work in that respect.”

You’ve also got to account for the fraction of GPU resources the system may reserve during gaming for non-3D-rendering purposes. Goossen noted that about 10 percent of the Xbox One’s GPU would be reserved for Kinect and other system-level processes. As of this writing, Sony hasn’t gone into detail about just how much of its GPU would be reserved for system use.

via: ArsTechnica