It's surprisingly hard to keep up with the next generation of video games. You've probably heard a lot about game streaming, 8K support and ray tracing, but what's really going on? What is the big picture of next-gen games?
Game streaming becomes king …
Streaming is perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of Next -gen gaming. You probably already heard everything about Stadia, so we keep it short and sweet. With a game streaming service like Stadia you can theoretically play any game in 4K at any time. And as the games are streamed to your screen, you can play technically-advanced AAA games on any device-including your Chromebook, your phone, and your crappy tablet.
Even if you are not interested in games streaming you have to admit that it opens a world of opportunities for gamers. Streaming games does not require an expensive console or gaming PC. You only need a decent internet connection. In addition, Microsoft's xCloud and Sony's PlayStation Now are a good sign that traditional gaming can be paralyzed by the convenience of game streaming. It's going to be a slow process. For one, the technology is relatively new and has already made a rocky start. The real hurdle, however, are Internet data upper limits.
Most Americans have Internet speeds of 35 Mbps, which are required for services such as Stadia, and the advent of 5G will certainly boost domestic Internet speeds worldwide. But most internet plans have data restrictions. Currently, game streaming services can flood 1 TB of data in less than 24 hours.
This is not for everyone (services like Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS have no limitations), but this is a serious caveat for players who are stuck with Comcast or can not afford an unlimited data plan. Over time, some of these ISPs will override their data restrictions (or risk losing customers). But by then, services like Stadia will hide behind an ISP garden wall.
Better hardware, better everything
Game streaming will bring resource-intensive games for low-tech computers like cheap desktop computers and Chromebooks. But console games still exist, and the next generation of game consoles will have some crazy features.
The new Xbox (Project Scarlett) is said to run on an AMD Zen 2 processor (19459014) with AMD Navi (19459015) GPU for high-resolution graphics and raytracing (more on that). Microsoft claims that the next Xbox will use a super-fast SSD as virtual RAM in addition to GDDR6 RAM, which should extend the load times drastically.
For the next PlayStation, you can expect a kind of AMD Ryzen 8-Core CPU, a GPU that supports high-resolution graphics and raytracing capabilities, and a super-fast SSD. Sony has not yet released the console's technical data sheet, but you can see a comparison of the charging time between the PS4 Pro and the next generation PlayStation posted by Takashi Mochizuki on Twitter .
You will have 4K HDR games with 120 FPS (and maybe 8K?)?
Current consoles (namely the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro) are capable of outputting 4K videos. However, most of these console games are not available for 4K. And if the games actually support 4K, of course, this is at the expense of the frame rate.
Fortunately, Sony and Microsoft have expressed their commitment to 4K HDR with 120 FPS, making these new consoles even the best of gaming machines. But what about 8K?
Microsoft and Sony have made some bold (though vague and possibly unfounded) claims about 8K gaming support. The thing is, these consoles need some very expensive GPUs to keep up with the demand of an 8K 120 FPS game. They may only support 8K for multimedia purposes (watching movies).
As far as game streaming is concerned, Stadia has already set standards with 4K games at 60 FPS, and other game streaming platforms are sure to follow. However, it is unlikely that 8K games will be streaming shortly due to speed limits.
Get Ready for Ray Tracing
As always, gamers will spend the next generation of consoles arguing about frame rates, video resolution, lag time, and a handful of other familiar talk points. However, it is expected that the mix will have a new catchphrase: ray tracing.
Ray Tracing is an automated simulation of the physics of light. In other words, a computer simulates every tiny ray of light emitted by a light source. It tracks how each ray of objects is reflected and even how it enters a virtual camera (your POV).
Ray tracing is a resource-intensive process, especially when executed in real time (in a game). For this reason, raytracing is traditionally reserved for pre-rendered graphics such as animated films or 3D art (a good example is Toy Story 4, where the lighting looks amazing).
Recent Video Games Use very simple light sources. They rely heavily on game models that are "painted" for different lighting conditions. They look great, but they do not look real. (Some PC games, such as Battlefield V and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, offer a rudimentary ray tracing option.)
However, some AAA console games may expect raytracing over the next few years. NVIDIA predicts that the first pure raytracing game will be released in 2023, and the next generation consoles will include GPUs that can handle raytracing. Of course, game streaming services can be the best raytracing platform because the games can run on supercomputers that are far more powerful than any home console.
Expect drives and backward compatibility
Do you remember when the Xbox One 2013 was unveiled? Kotaku called the announcement a disaster, but in retrospect, some of Microsoft's early ideas about Xbox One were pretty forward-looking.
We're not talking about enforced Kinect usage or bizarre DRM policies – these ideas are really ridiculous. We talk about Microsoft's focus on digital downloads, a kind of precursor to the revolution in streaming games that is imminent.
But far-sighted thinking does not necessarily mean well as Microsoft and Sony have come to find out. Most players prefer physical disks to digital downloads. The lack of backward compatibility support of Day 1 on the Xbox One and PS4 has been a common complaint of gamers for nearly a decade.
Most gamers will be pleased to see that the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles should work in both drives and backwards compatibility. However, keep in mind that this may be the last generation of consoles with drives – Microsoft has already shown interest in non-disc consoles with the Xbox One S.
VR and AR will continue to grow
VR and AR still have a long way to go, but technology is getting better every day. This is mainly due to new hardware, such as high-performance GPUs, ToF cameras and high-resolution OLED displays (which are already shaking up the VR world).
Hardware is getting better, so the real hurdle for VR and AR is software development. To capitalize on VR and AR immersion, game developers need to figure out how to build huge "real" environments in a short amount of time. Automatic raytracing and 3D environment mapping should help (you can scan a real space and place it in a virtual environment), but VR and AR developers still need to figure out a lot.
There's a lot at stake, so keep your expectations in check
In the future, the next generation of games feels very brave and unpredictable. It's hard to shake the feeling that a big change is about to happen, be it the death of the console game or the true realization of the VR.
And at the same time, it's hard to avoid a sense of skepticism. Do game streaming services actually work or is it just an empty promise? Will the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles support 8K games, or will Sony and Microsoft just try to avoid Stadia's attention?
Gaming companies think there's a lot at stake and may say something to grab your attention (to be fair), empty promises are nothing new). So keep an eye on your expectations, or you'll be disappointed at least once.
Sources: Microsoft, Wired