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It’s that time of year. Long lines outside electronics stores, rabid shoppers, and a mad scramble for products…oh, I’m not talking about the holidays. I’m talking about the launch of two new consoles.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are launching in North America and will have launched in most countries throughout the world by summer of next year. Gamers are understandably excited; excluding the Wii U, which hasn’t found much of a following, a new console hasn’t arrived in eight years. That’s a long time to wait, but should you spend your money now? Or should you wait a bit longer?
Consoles are standardized platforms, so their core hardware, miniaturization aside, generally remains unchanged throughout the console’s life. That doesn’t mean other changes aren’t made, however; since its original release both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 have seen several significant revisions.
The changes usually impact size, cooling and reliability. The original Xbox 360, despite a loud fan, suffered from a heat-related failure known as the “red ring of death” because of the console’s ring of blinking red lights that indicate when something go wrong. Sony’s PlayStation 3 proved more reliable, but it was extremely large and loud at launch, problems that have since been curtailed.
While the new consoles are built to be a bit less obtrusive than their predecessors, these same concerns remain. The PlayStation 4, for example, registers 42 decibels of noise from one meter away; not absurd, but certainly noticeable. The PS4 also creates about as much heat and draws more power than the latest version of the PS3. The Xbox One was not tested at time of this publishing, but we do know it’s a beefy piece of kit that’s both wider and longer than the original 360.
In short, you’ll receive better hardware if you wait for each console’s first revision. You’ll also reduce the risk of running across any early production run glitches. Neither issue is likely to deter hardcore gamers, but casual players will likely prefer smaller, quieter second-run versions of the PS4 and Xbox One.
New software has bugs. That’s a fact of life that PC gamers have long grown accustomed to that console fans are just now starting to learn. Two generation ago, when consoles had almost no user-facing interface, bugs weren’t such a concern. But today’s more powerful and functional systems run a sizable operating system, which creates the opportunity for bugs to creep in.
While the Xbox One wasn’t launched at the time of this writing, the PlayStation 4 was, and users have already started to report issues like freezing, stuttering and random reboots. And while some like the PS4’s new operating system, others have had issues with the functionality of core feature design.
While software design certainly offers room for a difference of opinion, it’s likely that the launch version of each next-gen console operating system will be the worst, least functional version of the operating system that retail units will ever run. Just look at the Xbox 360 and PS3; the software on both has changed radically since launch.
This is another trait that hardcore gamers are unlikely to care about. They’ll be playing games, after all. Those who rely on their console as a media center, however, may want to hold off until the updates are released.
This is where the hardcore gamers run into a problem.
The launch title line-up for both consoles did not look bad at their respective announcements in early 2013. Since then, however, some titles have been moved back, while others have had content cut, or show signs of being unfinished. My personal favorite, Forza 5 for the Xbox One, is coming to market with half the cars and tracks of Forza 4, released two years ago on the Xbox 360. The PS4’s launch lineup, meanwhile, has been torn apart by critics.
Disappointing though it may be, this is a predictable result. The Xbox 360’s launch line-up included gems like Perfect Dark Zero, while the PS3’s only respectable exclusive was Resistance: Fall Of Man. Even the wildly successful PlayStation 2 lacked a stand-out game during its United States launch.
The problem with any console launch is that game development rarely sticks to schedule, but the release of each console puts a serious deadline on when the title needs to be done. While delays do occur, most developers that sign up for launch make the release, even if it means cutting back content or features.
This makes it hard to recommend buying either the PS4 or the Xbox One for the games. And since backwards compatibility has been cut from both, you won’t have much reason to turn either on after you finish the few meager titles available.
You don’t have to be a psychic to predict where this conclusion is heading. While buying a console at launch can be hugely exciting for any gamer, it also leaves you with the worst version of the console, for which you’ve paid the highest price. And, as if that weren’t enough, there are hardly any games to play on it!
The smart money is on waiting until big-name franchises like Halo and Uncharted make their arrival. Besides offering gameplay that is already known and loved, big-studio releases that come out a six months to a year after launch are more likely to make proper use of each console’s hardware.
That’s not to say you’d be a fool to buy now, though. If you have the money, and the desire, there’s no shame in getting wrapped up in the hype of new hardware. Gamers on a budget, however, should keep their wallets shut.