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Thursday, February 14, 2013

More Next-Gen Worries: Always-On Kinect! No Downwards Compatibility!

The XBox 720 and Playstation 4 keep looking worse and worse.

EA is reporting that it's highly unlikely that the next Microsoft and Sony consoles will be downwards compatible. This goes along with another report that the 720 will require Kinect to be on all the time and games to be installed to the hard drive.

Here's why all three are Bad Ideas.

1) Downwards compatibility is sometimes viewed as an unecessary expense. After all, getting the original XBox games working on the 360 cost a lot of money, and for what? How many people played XBox games on the 360? Downwards compatibility was eventually dropped from the PS3 (along, of course, with a host of other features) too. So why should we care?

Downwards compatibility has become the norm on consoles since Sony started doing it back in 2001 with the PS2. It works as a quick selling point for people reluctant to part with their old consoles, especially at the beginning of a generation.

"Don't want to ditch your old console yet? New games coming out you still want to play?" says downwards compatibility. "Here, buy the new console. Then you're still getting the best new hardware while still being able to play new games coming out for the current one. It's a win-win!"

So, Grand Theft Auto V was announced a few months ago. It appears to be on its way for the PS3 and 360. So, if you want to play GTA5, you have a choice: Buy new hardware that cannot play GTA5 yet, or keep your old hardware that can.

That's the problem when you take out downwards compatibility. You've just cut new purchasers off at the knees.

2) One of the ideas behind having Kinect on all the time is a good one: If everyone has Kinect on, then there's no fragmentation of the market. You can integrate Kinect controls into every game without fear that someone won't have Kinect.

However, Kinect works best in larger rooms. Does everyone have their consoles in large rooms? Some do, some don't.

If I'm using a game without Kinect controls, why does Kinect have to be on? Doesn't that use processing power and memory that could be better spent on other processes?

Finally, is Kinect sending any information about the people in the room to anyone else? This sounds like a stupid thing to ask, but think about it: The 720 will need an always-on internet connection. The Kinect must always be on as well.

Still don't get what the problem is? All right, let's say that I offer to hook up a camera to your brand-new TV. Whenever the TV is on, the camera must be on. I promise that I won't record anything or watch what you're doing. Would you feel comfortable with that? I wouldn't, and I doubt you would be either.

It's not that you would expect me to be peeping in on your house, necessarily. It's just the idea that there's something that could potentially be watching you that's disconcerting. Good luck explaining that to the average user without sounding creepy, Microsoft.

3) The 720 might ship with a hard drive in the neighborhood of 500 GB or higher. That sounds like a big jump. The PS3 launched with a 60 GB HDD, and they're now offering sizes in the 320 GB range. 500 should be more than enough, right?

Not so fast. From all accounts, the new 720/PS4 systems are going to have graphics significantly better than the current generation. With better graphics come more art assets, more in-depth programming, and more space needed.

So, let's say that right now a current game takes up 10 GB. That seems like we're lowballing it, but that number is slightly bigger than a DVD right now. If you have a 320 GB hard drive, you can hold about 32 games. Seems fair.

So, if all games are on higher-capacity Blu-Ray discs with more art assets, how much bigger will the discs be? Let's estimate that they'll start out at 20 GB. That's 25 games on a 500 GB hard drive. As time goes by, those games will get larger. Now your 500 GB hard drive is completely full. That's going to turn into a quick headache.

How do you get a bigger hard drive, then? Why, buy a new system, of course! You could crack open the system yourself and install a new hard drive, but that voids your warranty, don't you know. You could hook up an external hard drive, too, I suppose, but now you have an extra piece of equipment hanging around.

One might say, "Well, expanding game sizes were a thing in the last generation as well. The original 360 launched with a 20GB hard drive, for crying out loud." Yes, that's true. However, those games ran off the disc with small installs to the hard drive. They did not require that all the necessary content needed to be installed to the hard drive.

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So, combined with the whole "no more used games" thing, how will this next generation of consoles fare? Unless Sony and Microsoft have something that's really going to knock consumers out, I can't see it doing well.