Republished on Friday, 18th March 2016: We're bringing this feature back from the archives in light of the rumours that Sony may be considering releasing a supercharged PS4, after all. We've left the original article – written prior to today's reports – intact, as many of the original talking points remain. However, if you'd like to know about the latest rumours, you can find out all about those through here.
Originally published on Wednesday, 2nd March 2016: Microsoft's making some interesting comments at the moment. Following the launch of the Xbox One, the company really seems to be pivoting under the leadership of new CEO Satya Nadella. From an external perspective, the biggest change that we're seeing is the release of its first-party titles on the PC – or, to be more specific, the Windows 10 Store. But speaking this week, brand chief Phil Spencer suggested that the company may be done with the traditional console cycle, potentially opting to refresh hardware with more regularity like a smartphone or tablet. But is that an idea that you're open to?
We don't want to get too caught up in Spencer's ambiguous outlook, as it's unclear whether he's talking about wholesale hardware upgrades – like an iPhone revision – or a PC-esque future, where parts can be swapped and replaced over time. Either way, the core principle is an interesting one: a hardware platform that, as opposed to remaining static for several years, instead evolves over time, providing better experiences for those willing to move with it – without isolating those that don't.
It's something that's never truly been tried before, though there are some hazy examples of it throughout history. The SEGA Mega Drive (or Genesis for our North American readers) is a good example – it tried to bridge the gap between generations with the release of all sorts of ill-fated add-ons like the 32X and Mega CD, much to the market's misery. More recently, Nintendo released the New 3DS, a souped-up version of its flagship handheld capable of running existing games more efficiently – and the odd exclusive.
"Console players may now have to deal with patches and firmware updates, but drivers, graphics cards, and motherboards are not a concern"
Those perhaps aren't the best examples of what Spencer's referring to, but it shows that the precedent is at least somewhat there. Why, then, has Sony never experimented with the idea? It strikes us that consoles, despite their increasing complexities, are considered the "plug and play" option for most consumers. A PC is capable of playing 90 per cent of the PlayStation 4's library, but still the system continues to shatter sales records. Why? Because it's more affordable, yes – but also because it's easy.
Those with membership cards to the Master Race may argue that so-called "console peasants" are missing out on a superior experience, but many of us choose to play on the PS4 because it's simple; as long as a game's been certified for the system, there's no danger that it won't run. Console players may now have to deal with patches and firmware updates, but drivers, graphics cards, and motherboards are not a concern – everything just works.
And that would presumably remain the case with Spencer's hardware revision idea, but there's no doubt that it could create confusion. He seems to be suggesting a future in which one model may run a game at 30 frames-per-second, while another could have the horse-power to push that number to 60 frames-per-second. Little things, like textures or lighting, could also be improved with the upgraded hardware – without necessarily compromising the weaker format.
But while it's not a particularly complicated concept to grasp, we can't help but wonder whether such an idea would play in practice. For one, it would presumably complicate development, forcing publishers to ensure an adequate experience across two different specifications – even if the architectures remained the same. But even if developers were to go along with it, would consumers really be willing to upgrade?
This kind of model works in the smartphone world where hardware is subsidised, but tablet sales have started to slip as owners are less eager to upgrade. Could the same thing be true of consoles? A PS4 Slim will no doubt launch in the near future, but its objective will be very different to what Spencer's suggesting. If Sony follows previous generations, then it will shrink its console's exiting components to reduce the manufacturing costs, thus improving its bottom line and (hopefully) passing some savings onto gamers.
But what if it were to boost the specs instead? What if it were to re-release the PS4 with added RAM and faster processing speeds? What if that system was still compatible with all existing games, but promised performance enhancements for those set to release in the future? Is that something that you'd consider? Would you need to know the extent of the improvements before upgrading? And could a concept like this ever actually work in practice? We're honestly not sure, but it's an interesting topic.
Would you buy an enhanced PS4? Are you open to the idea of incremental console upgrades? Do you prefer to buy systems safe in the knowledge that they'll last you at least five years? Plug some better parts into the comments section below.
Would you upgrade to an enhanced PS4? (304 votes)
Yes, I always want the best possible performance
Maybe, but it would depend what it improved
No, I prefer consoles to last an entire generation
I haven’t even bought the current model yet
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