Xbox One & PS4 Hardware Compared

This is a guest post by William Judd

Xbox One Console, Sensor and ControllerLast week Microsoft unveiled the next generation Xbox console: The Xbox One. Like the PlayStation 4, which was announced earlier this year but hasn’t yet been shown in the flesh, the new console will be released in time for Christmas this year. That will bring an end to almost eight years without a new console generation, a much longer period than generations past.

As you’d expect, both of these next-generation systems are much more powerful than their predecessors. What you might not expect is how similar the two systems are to one another! In this article, we’ll have a look at how these two next-generation consoles compare.

Processors
Both systems move from a custom PowerPC architecture to a 64-bit semi-custom system-on-chip, like a gaming PC. Both the PS4 and X1 use an AMD Jaguar APU, which should be clocked in the region of 1.6 GHz (as estimated by Anandtech). Both systems feature two four-core processors, making for eight cores (and eight threads) in total. So far, so similar.

Memory
Where things begin to diverge is in system memory. Both have 8 GB of RAM, but the PlayStation 4 has an edge here, as it’s using much faster GDDR5 RAM versus the DDR3 of the Xbox One. Datarates and peak memory bandwidth are considerably in Sony’s favour here as a result. Expect 5.5 GHz datarate delivery peak memory bandwidth of 176 GB/s for the PS4, and only 2.133 GHz good for 68.3 GB/s for the X1. The Microsoft console partially makes up for this with 32 MB of embedded memory on die, which should reduce the amount of peak memory bandwidth required. Overall, it looks pretty close – Sony have gone with a higher cost but simpler option, but Microsoft’s approach is by no means foolish.

Graphics
In graphics land, things are more simply in Sony’s favour. Both consoles use an AMD GCN-based GPU, but Sony included an 18 Compute Unit configuration (good for 1152 ALUs) where Microsoft went for 12 CUs (delivering 768 ALUs). Both GPUs are clocked at the same speed (800 MHz), so here the PS4 has a clear advantage over the X1 in terms of horsepower – about 50%.

Power / Heat
The downside of having more powerful hardware is that you’d expect to also see more power used and more heat created. By that measure, the PS4 should be hotter and use more power than the X1, but both should also be hotter and use more power than the previous generation of consoles.

In truth, only the first comparison is likely to be true. While the new components used in the PS4 and X1 are more powerful, they’re also much more power efficient. Even when running at full tilt, we should expect to see only marginally higher power consumption than the previous generation.

Both of the new consoles also support power gating, allowing unused CPU and GPU cores to be kept in a low-power state until they’re needed. The new systems can also vary their frequencies and voltages as needed, allowing for a much wider range of heat and power usage than the previous generation. This should make them more economical and cooler to run outside of games.

In terms of PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One, we’d expect the PS4 will run a bit hotter and use a bit more power, thanks to the PS4’s additional GPU performance. Both systems look like they’ll use larger grilles, so heat shouldn’t be an issue.

Conclusion
All in all, it looks like the PlayStation 4 holds the performance crown, but the Xbox 360 may be a bit cheaper than the Sony console. That strategy hasn’t worked well for Microsoft with its Surface tablets or Windows Phones, but may be a good initial strategy for the company.

Of course, Microsoft are also investing a lot of time and money into the Kinect and the X1’s media capbilities, so perhaps we’ll see the same price point. Either way, it’s shaping up into an interesting battle!

I hope you found this comparison useful. For more in-depth information on the hardware differences between the PS4 and the X1, be sure to check out the Anandtech article linked above, which goes into much more detail for enthusiasts.

Microsoft reveals the Xbox One

Xbox OneAlmost 8 years ago, a new family member joined our household. Yes, we got a cat around that time, but I’m really thinking about the Xbox 360. 8 years is a long time in the tech world though and, although the 360 is no slouch, Microsoft have unveiled the next generation  in their Xbox story.

Enter the Xbox One. Microsoft say their new mission for the Xbox is to have a system that unifies games, television, music and movies. One console to rule them all, if you will. This won’t just be a gaming machine – Microsoft want to place themselves at the heart of the living room. That’s not to say we’ll all be huddled around a box, begging it for entertainment; apparently the technology will ‘step behind the curtain’, and allow you and your entertainment to take centre stage.

So, what can the Xbox One do? Well, quite a lot. It can show live TV for a start which, at the moment, requires you to change the input on your television. Voice control on the One was demonstrated, with a simple “Xbox, watch TV” bringing up a live TV feed. It wasn’t clear to me whether this was being streamed over the Internet, or whether you’ll need to plug a receiver into the back of the console (your Sky Box, for instance) but it was very impressive. Further voice commands allowed for instant switching to a game, movie, music, back to TV, Internet Explorer… it was all very snappy and seemed to live up to Microsoft’s vision of putting all your entertainment at your fingertips.

Snap Mode is an interesting addition to the Xbox One, where you can ‘snap’ an application to the side of the screen while doing something else. If, for example, you’re watching a movie and want to find out the name of a particular actor, you could snap Internet Explorer to the side of the screen and look up IMDB… all while the movie is still playing. At the minute, I look up that sort of thing on my phone, but the One will let you do it all on the one screen.

Skype, recently bought by Microsoft, is also integrated into the One, enabling you to have video chats with friends and families from your television. Great for getting in touch with the grandparents!

At this point my thought turned to the fact that it was pretty much a Smart TV… except that all the smart elements are held in the Xbox rather than the television set.

What’s under the skin?

If you’re anything like me you’ll be wondering what the technology under the Xbox One’s skin is, and we were given a rundown during the unveiling:

  • 8GB RAM – compared to 512 MB RAM in the 360
  • 5 billion transistors
  • A BluRay drive! (Yes, I’m excited about that one)
  • USB 3.0 connectivity
  • ‘Practically silent’ operation

The Operating system is a merger of three – bringing together the Xbox OS, Windows Kernel, and a sort of connector OS that allows instant program switching, multitasking and control.

The control systems have had an overhaul too, with a new Kinect controller. It is touted as being much faster at recognising voices than the current Kinect, and to have the ability to recognise different people. It is also more accurate at scanning the environment, and features a 1080p camera. It is capable of recognising more joints in a user’s body and, apparently, even able to read your heartbeat. I’m not sure if that last feature is cool or creepy!

The Xbox controller looks broadly similar to the current one (which is good, I’ve always found it comfortable) but actually has over 40 design updates.

Will there be any games?

Of course there will be games! Forza Motorsport 5, for example, will be exclusive to the One and will be available at launch. EA Sports are developing four games for the One and, Infinity Ward are producing a One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts that looks very, very impressive.

Let’s talk about that for a minute, actually, because I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by the graphics of the One. I think the 360 does pretty well for graphics (yes, I know some PC gamers will want to slap me for saying that) but a side-by-side comparison of graphics from Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Ghosts just blew me away. The texture detail and the environment complexity made possible by the One’s power was genuinely amazing. It remains to be seen how games move beyond fancier graphics to make use of the One’s social and connected features, but pretty pictures are a good start :)

What didn’t we hear about?

There are a couple of things I was interested in learning about, but didn’t make an appearance in the unveiling:

  • Price – there was no indication of where this will be pitched.
  • Backwards compatibility – I remember when the 360 came out and only certain Xbox titles worked on it. It would have been nice to know whether my current games catalogue is about to become obsolete.
  • Always-on DRM – rumours abounded about whether the One would require an Internet connection to play games. If it does, it sort of precludes any possibility of taking it away on holiday with you, or of playing when your Internet connection goes down. It would have been nice to hear some sort of official position on this.

Having said that, the overall impression I got of the One is very positive. It looks like it’s going to be a clever piece of kit, and certainly something on my wish list. The next big unveiling will be at E3, where we can expect to hear more about the games coming to this new platform.

Thoughts?

Did you watch the Xbox Reveal event? What did you think of what you saw? Are you looking forward to the ‘next generation’ of consoles, or are you quite happy with the current one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Xbox 720 Rumour Roundup [link]

Xbox Announcement NoticeFollowing on from the news that Microsoft are gearing up to announce the new Xbox, our friends at IT Turning Point have rounded up some of the rumours as to what we can expect.

We won’t re-list them here (apart from anything else, Google hates that sort of thing!), so head on over to IT Tech Point, the IT Turning Point blog, and have a look for yourself. Don’t forget to leave a comment :)

Xbox 720 Rumours at IT Tech Point.

Microsoft and Apple gear up for new announcements

Xbox Announcement NoticeHonestly, news is like waiting for a bus sometimes. There’s nothing for ages, and then two come along at once. Two emails dropped into my inbox this morning about some upcoming announcements… both of which have me quite excited.

Firstly, Microsoft are preparing to unveil “a new generation” on the 21st of May. Since the email is branded Xbox, I assume this must be the revealing of the fabled Xbox 720 (name not confirmed!). There have been so many rumours and stories about this platform, it’ll be interesting to see what the real story is. My concern is whether it must always be online to play games, as there are times when I play without an Internet connection (on holiday, for instance), and I think the second-hand and rental games markets are an important part of the gaming ecosystem.

We’ll let you know what happens with the new Xbox, just as soon as we know it!

Secondly, Apple have announced the date of their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) as 10th to 14th June. The WWDC is traditionally the time when Apple unveil new hardware and software, having seen events like the launch of the iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Air in the past. It’s an obvious time to do it – you want your developers to see the stuff they’re going to be developing for. It’s not just developers who will be interested though; the Internet will most likely be buzzing with speculation about a new iPhone, and anything else the rumour mill can dream up.

Are you looking forward to the announcements? What do you think we’ll see from Microsoft and Apple? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Is Apple working on an iOS watch?

This is a guest post by Will Judd.

While most of the internet has light up over additional details over Apple’s purported smart watch, there was also some fairly compelling news this week about one of the future’s best-selling phones: the successor to the iPhone 5.

According to rumours published by PocketNow and 9to5Mac, the iPhone 5S will indeed follow the iPhone 5. Like the iPhone 4S to the 4, the 5S will be an iterative upgrade that keeps the same external design and appearance as the iPhone 5, but will include upgraded internal components to keep the phone feeling up to date. Hopefully Apple will avoid the situation with the iPhone 4S and 4, where some models have minutely different button layouts that necessitated whole new iPhone 4S cases to be made.

The iPhone 5S will include a number of hardware improvements, but one of the most important will be the processor. The iPhone 5S will include the same A6X processor as in the iPad 4, offering a much stronger performing smartphone that should destroy most benchmarks.

The iPhone 5S is also expected to come with an improved camera. After many years at 8 megapixels, might it finally be time for Apple to make the leap to 13 megapixels? We are seeing 13 megapixel models from pretty much all Android manufacturers (except for HTC, who have daringly gone with a four megapixel sensor utilising massive pixels on the HTC One), but then again Apple has never been one to follow trends. Apple has also been rumoured to shift from an f/2.4 camera to an f/2.0 one, but that’s also unconfirmed.

One rather left-field observation that’s making a comeback is the idea that the iPhone 5S will include a fingerprint scanner under the home button. This will reportedly improve security and usability, although specific use-cases (beyond the obvious touch to unlock) aren’t specified in the rumours (published, fittingly, by MacRumors).

I guess we won’t know anything for sure about the iPhone 5S until it is announced (or not) at Apple’s next big event. With a release date of August seeming likely, we’ve definitely got many more months of rumours and leaks ahead of us.

Samsung Galaxy S4 on the way?

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Samsung Galaxy S4 announcementWe last heard about it last week, and now we know it’s the truth: Samsung have confirmed that they will be unveiling the next version of their highly vaunted flagship smartphone series in just over two weeks, on March 14th.

Samsung mobile chief JK Shin spoke about the event to reporters at the Mobile World Congress, where Samsung is launching the Galaxy Note 8.0 phablet and other small products and charging Galaxy S3 covers. The timing is no accident either – Samsung will be wanting to take up as much of the coverage as possible during MWC, taking time away from competing products and companies.

Samsung also released a teaser on their official @SamsungMobile Twitter feed, posting an image that read “READY 4 THE SHOW” as well as the relevant details. That suggests that we will be seeing the Galaxy S IV, rather than a more different name.

The event will be taking place in New York, making for the first American launch of a Galaxy S smartphone since the original Galaxy S in 2010. The event is slated to begin at 19:00 Eastern Standard Time. As well as the numerous live blogs from our favourite tech blogs, you’ll be able to watch a live video feed of the event on Samsung’s own YouTube channel – a big improvement over Apple events, which tend to not be broadcasted conveniently (or at all).

So what do we know about the Samsung Galaxy S IV? Well, not much seems certain but we can make a good guess that we’ll see a 5-inch 1080p smartphone powered by one of Samsung’s Exynos mobile chipsets. The CPU will probably be quad-core, and could even conceivably be an eight-core design using ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture that pairs a quad-core A15 for heavy tasks with a quad-core A7 for lighter tasks. We’ll probably see a Samsung Galaxy S IV case with a built-in wireless charger, or we’ll see similar functionality inside the phone itself.

Beyond that, not much is certain – I guess we’ll just have to find out!

Are you excited for the launch? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and have a good one!

In space, can anyone hear you scream?

When I was a teenager, I remember seeing a television-edit version of Aliens. When I think of it now, all that meant was that they’d edited out some of the “worst” swear words and replaced them with ones from further down the sliding scale of rudeness. I was fascinated, though… probably by the combination of these dangerous alien organisms and the marines running round with big guns. I’ve kind of been reliving this at the moment, as I’ve been playing the new Aliens: Colonial Marines game on my Xbox.

Anyway, it was a while after seeing Aliens that I got to see the original Alien movie… the one that started it all off… the one with the tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream”.

STRaND-1 smartphone satelliteFunnily enough, a team from the University of Surrey are testing that with the launch of their new smartphone satellite, STRaND-1.

What’s a smartphone satellite? Well, if you imagine a “normal” satellite – it’s got all manner of complex systems including, most likely, a custom-built computer. The thing is, smartphones are also little computers, and are actually powerful enough to be used in place of the custom-built components. The benefit is that they’re cheaper and more readily available than getting someone to build a satellite from scratch. Additionally, smartphones are designed to allow developers to write apps for them, so it’s not a mammoth task to create the required software for the task at hand. Finally, smartphones are brimming with sensors… cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, microphones… all of which can be put to use in the name of science.

So this particular smartphone will be running an app that plays screams through the phone’s speaker, and then checks whether those screams can be heard by the phone’s microphone. In reality, any sound could have been used, but the satellite’s builders have obviously been influenced by Alien… and that’s no bad thing!

There’s more to this satellite than just testing a movie myth though – it will also test how durable consumer electronics are in space (if this goes well, we could see more smartphone satellites), and will test two new propulsion methods; the WARP drive, which uses a jet of water and alcohol to provide thrust, and a pulsed plasma drive which uses electricity to heat and evaporate a material to produce a jet of ionised gas.

It’s all very clever, and there’s some great science being done here. What I want to know, though, is whether those screams can be heard or not!

You can keep up with the latest about the satellite, STRaND-1, on the official Twitter account at http://twitter.com/SurreyNanosats.

[Source: BBC News]

Valve unveils their Steam Box

Valve Steam BoxThis is a guest post by William Judd.

This Consumer Electronics Show has been an unusually good one for PC gamers. Not only has Nvidia announced Project Shield, a hand-held Android games console that uses their new Tegra 4 processor to stream videogames from your PC, but Valve has finally officially announced their Steam Box.

The idea of the Steam Box is that it is a Valve-endorsed gaming computer designed to be hooked up to an HDTV in the living room. The Box hooks up to Valve’s Steam online store and gaming community, allowing you to play PC games with the ease of a console. Steam recently released their “Big Picture Mode” update, which added a console-style UI suitable for using with a controller on an HDTV. The Steam Box should have a small physical footprint and should offer a fairly good price to performance ratio, allowing it to play the majority of games at HD settings.

Speaking to The Verge in an extensive interview, Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell described three levels of hardware: “Good”, which would cost around $100 and would come down in price from there, “Better” which would cost approximately $300 and “Best” which could cost as much as any top-of-the-line gaming PC.

Valve would look to build its own Steam Box running Linux, but would also work with other hardware partners to create an entire new class of computers running along similar goals. While the Valve-built Steam Box would have tightly controlled hardware standards like a traditional games console, other Steam Boxes could have a range of specifications and features decided on by their manufacturer.

The Steam Box created by Valve won’t just be useful in the living room, however. The Box would also work as a server, with next-generation versions of the box running post-Kepler Nvidia architecture being capable of running as many as 8 disparate displays and controllers.

Valve are also investigating innovative new game controller. Newell stated that Wii Sports, the launch title for the Wii, remains the pinnacle of motion-based input, so Valve have moved onto other options. Biometrics look like they’ll provide a potentially new avenue for exploration, as instead of replacing mouse and keyboard or controller based input, they would instead add new inputs that would allow the game to respond to your heart rate and other subconscious clues. Gaze tracking was also mentioned by Newell as an area of interest.

Overall, the Steam Box definitely seems to be an interesting new development for PC gaming. For too long, the attention has been on fairly inconsequential mobile gaming developments like tablets and iPhone accessories – with the Steam Box, we may see something much more exciting. Valve revolutionised the industry with their Steam gaming service and marketplace, and it looks like they could have a similar evolutionary leap on their hands with the Steam Box.

Microsoft rumoured to be working on Xbox Surface Tablet

According to a report posted on The Verge, Microsoft is building its own 7 inch tablet for gaming. Called the Xbox Surface, the tablet will run a stripped down version of Windows with a custom kernel. While basic tasks like messaging will be included, the focus will be on providing an ultimately portable Xbox gaming experience that can still be connected to TVs and sound systems for a more traditional console experience.

The hardware, which was originally leaked in June, is quite impressive. The spec calls for a 7″ display running at 1280 x 720p, two IBM Power7 SCMs (for a total of 12 CPU cores) running at 3.1 GHz, 5 GB of DDR3 memory, and a custom 28 nanometer GPU from AMD. There’s also slated to be a 250 GB 10,000 RPM mechanical hard drive, and support for a number of peripherals including USB storage via 4 USB 3.0 ports, wireless game controllers, headsets, component video / HDMI, and Optical Audio. The system should support up to 1440p output – something that makes me incredibly happy, considering I’ve just picked up a 27″ 2560 x 1440 display.

The Verge are reporting that the hardware for the device hasn’t yet been nailed down, but could include a custom ARM processor or an unannounced Intel system-on-chip. The hardware production process is said to be ‘secret’ and not with the partners that traditionally have made the Xbox console. The Xbox Surface should debut ahead of the company’s suspected future Xbox console.

I’ve got to admit – I’m massively excited about this. We’ve seen attempts at a gaming tablet before – with Razer’s Project Fiona and the Wikipad – but if there is anyone in the world who can do it well, it will be Microsoft.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, who recently opened a US store that is stocking a wide range of Samsung Galaxy Note 2 cases.

Chrono Trigger comes to Android

This is a guest post by Will Judd. If you’re waiting for the interview with Robert Llewellyn, don’t worry – it’ll be online later in the day.

chronotrigger The Super Nintendo was an brilliant gaming console, producing some of the best RPGs that have ever been made. While Final Fantasy VI, 7th Saga and Breath of Fire are excellent titles, the one that sticks out in most people’s minds is Chrono Trigger.

If you haven’t played the game before, suffice it to say it is a unique RPG with a wide and memorable cast of characters, a good progression and battle system, and an awesome setting. If you have, you’ll understand my excitement.

Chrono Trigger has been released for Android. While you could quasi-legally play the game on an emulator before now, without a controller connected it wasn’t an ideal experience, and with a controller it was a bit of a bulky conveyance.

The new release works much better on touch screens and still supports controllers, allowing the best of both worlds. Better yet, the Android version is a port of the 2010 Nintendo DS re-release, which includes extra areas, items and cutscenes.

If you’re looking for a long and epic RPG to devour your time on the go, then this is an excellent choice. While the price is relatively high for an Android app, it’s much cheaper than finding an original SNES cartridge or even the Nintendo DS re-release.

While the app works on both phones and tablets, I reckon that probably the 10″ tablet will be the best way to play this title. This game could be an essential Google Nexus 10 accessory – I know I’ll be playing it once mine arrives!

Chrono Trigger is truly worth it – if you haven’t played it before, you’re in for a treat. If you have, prepare for a trip down memory lane. Now all we need is an Android version of Chrono Cross, and we’ll be set.