A silver-foxed lining of staying at home in 2020 is that folks around the world are growing out their hair in pursuit of the “man bun.” While the idea of having a man bun is a fantasy for some, one man in the video game industry has been in leveling up his hair stat for over seven years: Neil Druckmann.
Amazon announces new cloud gaming service called Luna by Andrew Webster for The Verge
It’s not clear when Luna will launch widely, but it will initially be available on PC, Mac, Fire TV, and iPhone and iPad (via web apps), with an Android version planned for after launch. Amazon says that interested users in the US can request early access to the service starting today. There’s no word on international availability.
The service will be available for an “introductory price” of $5.99 a month during its early access phase, which gives subscribers the ability to play Luna Plus channel games across two devices simultaneously and offers 4K / 60fps resolution for “select titles.” Naturally, it will be powered by AWS, Amazon’s ubiquitous web platform.
I wonder which company will kill their game streaming service first; Google or Amazon?
Best Buy went ahead and listed the custom 1TB SSD memory card for the Xbox Series consoles for pre-order at $219.99. The hardcore gamers will have to pay nearly half the console’s price (or nearly the whole console if buying a Xbox Series S) to double their storage. It’s a steep price to pay to manage your solid state drive less often.
Expanding the PS5 SSD storage is a different story. Mark Cerny revealed that users could expand the storage themselves with NVMe SSDs. The catch was, they’d have to wait until consumer NVMe SSDs caught up with the speed of the PS5’s own SSD. Cerny said that Sony would provide a list of recommended drives when they become available.
It sounds like Samsung’s NVMe M.2 drive that uses PCIe 4.0 has the speed, according to The Verge back in September 2020, with read/write speeds of 7,000MB/s and 5,000MB/s. Those particular drives have 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB (the 2TB model is supposed to release later this year). Those are currently priced at $89.99, $149.99, $229.99, and the 2TB doesn’t have a price yet.
Leaving upgrades to the user definitely gives them more options, but can lead to confusion, especially if the installation is tricky. Swapping the PS4 or PS4 Pro hard drive was simple, but we have no idea how easy that will be on PS5. Xbox users can use traditional hard drives, if they are USB 3.1 or USB 3.2, but they will only run and play older games. Xbox Series console games and features require the custom SSD.
It reminds me of SD cards for cameras or the Nintendo Switch. I buy the size I want for the price I am willing to spend. 1TB SD cards run roughly $350~, but a 128GB micro SD card is roughly $20~ and is perfect for my Switch.
I could also see the cost of the NVMe drives going down sooner, since they serve a wider market. More competition to drive the prices down. The Xbox 1TB drive is currently made solely by Seagate and is a proprietary drive, which could lead to it keeping its current price for longer. Either way, upgrading the storage on these next-gen consoles is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the first year or two.
Inside Microsoft’s design of the new Xbox Series S and X by Mark Wilson for Fast Company
“We think about our console as part of the environment you live in as our customer,” says Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. “While there’s an opening of the box and you want that to be fantastic, once you put that console wherever you put it, we hope you never have to touch it again, hope you never have to hear from it again, and it just plays great games. . . . It’s not the center of attention.”
As if to prove this point, Spencer conducted an interview in July, from his home office, before the Xbox Series S design was made public. Look into the background, and you can see the S peeking out between a stack of books. And no one noticed until Microsoft revealed the ruse last week.
I love interviews exploring hardware design and Mark Wilson delivers for the two new Xbox consoles. It’s easy to look at the new Xbox systems and forget their look, which is precisely what Xbox wants. They clearly went function over form, while still sprinkling in some flourishes. My favorite touch is on the Xbox Series X with its green plastic beneath the upper ventilation holes. Gives just the right amount of that iconic Xbox shade of green. Reminds me of the Xbox goo that was apart of the origianl Xbox console’s OS.
On the flipside with the PS5, Sony definitely put more flare out there. It’s unclear the form vs function ratio going on with the PS5, but it certainly does not fade from memory. It is very Sony in its design, which is a positive point to me.
I do enjoy the PS5’s look more than the Xbox Series consoles. I am also excited that we got such widely different looks to pair with the different approach the consoles all seem to be taking technically. Makes for a far more exciting launch and generation than similar specs inside similar boxes.
Will the Xbox Series S hold back next-gen gaming? by Tom Warren for The Verge
Ever since the official announcement of the Xbox Series S, I have been trying to comprehend how it will limit developers and consumers going forward into the next console generation. Tom Warren of The Verge seemed to have the same thoughts.
Microsoft revealed its Xbox Series S console last week, aiming to offer more budget-friendly next-gen gaming for $299. The console is specifically targeted at 1440p resolution rather than 4K, leading to some lingering questions and confusion around just how well it will play next-gen games. There are concerns around the GPU performance, memory, and whether the Series S could hold back next-gen gaming. I got a chance to speak with Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, to dig into what’s really going on with the Xbox Series S.
Billy Khan, a lead engine programmer at id Software, shared Gneiting’s concerns. “The memory situation is a big issue on the S,” said Khan in another deleted tweet. “The much lower amount of memory and the split memory banks with drastically slower speeds will be a major issue. Aggressively lowering the render resolutions will marginally help but will not completely counteract the deficiencies.”
Sasan Sepehr, a senior technical producer at Remedy Entertainment, also shared a brief concern. “As a consumer, I love this,” said Sepher on Twitter. “As a Technical Producer, I see trouble.”
It is ironic that some of the quotes from this article were from id Software developers, which were just purchased by Microsoft this week. These concerns don’t seem to phase Microsoft though, at least on the surface.
“We did a lot of analysis of what it would really mean to run a game at 4K with 60fps and then to scale that down to 1440p at 60fps,” says Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, in an interview with The Verge. “The reality is you don’t need as much memory bandwidth because you’re not loading the highest level MIP levels into memory. You don’t need the same amount of memory as well.”
While thinking about all the differences between the two new Xbox consoles, I kept switching tabs and sources to figure it all out. So to spare you the same fate, I whipped up a table below with all the specs for both the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X officially from their product pages on Xbox’s website. I also threw in the PlayStation 5 specs to put it all in one place.
|Xbox Series S||Xbox Series X||PlayStation 5|
|Processor – CPU||8X Cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU||8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU||x86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 2|
8 Cores / 16 Threads
Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
|Processor – GPU||4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs @1.565 GHz||12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU||10.3 TFLOPS,|
Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
|System on a Chip (SOC) Size||197.05 mm||360.45 mm|
|Memory (RAM)||10GB GDDR6 128 bit-wide bus||16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit-wide bus||16GB GDDR6 w/256 bit¹|
|Memory Bandwidth||8GB @ 224 GB/s, 2GB @ 56 GB/s||10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s||448GB/s Bandwidth|
|Internal Storage||512GB Custom NVME SSD||1TB Custom NVME SSD||825GB Custom SSD|
|I/O Throughput||2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)||2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)||5.5GB/s (Raw), Typical 8-9GB/s (Compressed)²|
|Video Resolution||1440p||2160p (4K)||2160p (4K)|
|Framerate||Up to 120fps||Up to 120fps||Up to 120fps|
I won’t pretend to know how each one of these differences measures up in game development. I’ll leave that to the people that actually make games. As someone with their ear to the ground regarding this industry though, I have a hard time hearing and believing the idea that native 4K gaming is a difference of 8 TFLOPS, 6 GB of RAM at significantly lower bandwidth. Xbox One X, which is both more and less powerful than the Xbox Series S, was capable of 4K gaming, a point Xbox used regularly in their marketing. Numbers don’t paint the whole picture, but I feel like they present a clear outline.
The Xbox Series S is the lowest common denominator for third party titles now. Not only do Xbox Game Studios have two SKUs to worry about, but third party developers like Activision and Ubisoft have to reign in their games for Xbox Series X and PS5 to make sure that the games run well on Xbox Series S. Maybe developers will build for the Xbox Series X and PS5, then figure out how to scale down to Xbox Series S, but that jeopardizes that lower-end version’s performance; both technically and possibly commercially.
We won’t really know how hamstrung design and development will be until we actually see the fruits of labor. Even then, it won’t necessarily be this year, especially with third party developers make cross-generational games, thus making the Xbox Series S actually a higher tier version of whatever game. We may get a taste of the restrictions, but probably won’t get a full, juicy comparison until a year or two into the generation. We are only 50 odd days out from the launch of the next-gen consoles, but I can’t help but feel like Xbox is already putting an arrow in the knee of next-gen development.