Xbox chief Phil Spencer is expecting a truly generational leap in games will occur later this year, likened to the jump from 2D to 3D.

We know from the specs that both the Xbox Series X and the PS5 are monsters that finally compete with even high-end PCs. However, there were some pretty photorealistic games available on the One X and PS4 Pro – so can we really expect that much of a jump? Spencer believes so.

Anyone who’s been around games for multiple generations knows that what looks realistic by today’s standard can look laughable mere years later. Once upon a time, I remember booting up Halo on the original Xbox and scoping into the grass exclaiming to my friend “graphics can’t get better than this!” … and that’s probably a story I should’ve kept to myself because, well, they very much have.

In terms of graphics, ray-tracing will be one of the most noticeable jumps. We’ve already seen what it can do in some PC games, but its support on consoles means we’ll see greater adoption along with improved tools for harnessing it.

While both of the new consoles will support ray-tracing to some degree, even former PlayStation developers believe that the Xbox camp will have the upper-hand here. “You start looking at the real-time ray-tracing capability … that’s where Sony has been caught off guard,” said industry veteran Chris Grannell recently, who spent years at PlayStation studios behind the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn and the WipEout series.

In terms of teraflops, although not a complete measure of power, the Xbox Series X has the PS5 beat 12.155 TFLOPS compared to 10.28 TFLOPS. For comparison, the PS4 had 1.84 TFLOPS of performance which means that the Xbox Series X has the advantage of just over a PS4’s worth of teraflops over the PS5.

In response to a question on Twitter asking what technologies will bring about the greatest advances this generation, Spencer said:

“[Ray-tracing] on console will be great. I’m very focused on the work we are doing around Dynamic Latency Input (DLI).

In my view, the feel of games this upcoming generation will change as dramatically as any since 2D to 3D given CPU upgrade, DLI, memory bandwidth and SSD.”

DLI was one of the Series X’s surprises. The Xbox controller will transmit input to the console “just before the game asks for it” which means controls are more precise and responsive because they’re synced immediately with what’s on screen. It already sounds like something that once experienced it’ll be difficult to go back. The downside, the Xbox team says, is you can no longer blame the controller “when you don’t get off that final hit in a fighting game.”

Both of the upcoming consoles have made some impressive jumps on the memory bandwidth and SSD fronts which will drastically improve gamers experiences. In practice, it should mean further draw distances and less texture popping for more immersive worlds, and less breaks in the action when doing things like “fast travelling” (something console gamers know is more like snail travelling currently…)

Sony’s upcoming console has the edge here with its 825GB SSD touting a blistering 5.5GB/s of performance. The Series X has a slightly higher capacity 1TB SSD but with less than half of the throughput at 2.4GB/s. Both are greatly improved over their predecessors, but you’d probably expect loading times to be either eliminated – or close to – in more cases on the PS5 while Series X gamers may need to practice a bit more patience.

While the Xbox Series X has DLI as one of its killer features, Sony is doing some interesting work in the often forgotten but vital area of audio.

The so-called “Tempest Engine” is a hardware chip in the PS5 that’s effectively a re-engineered AMD GPU compute unit and helps to offer truly 3D audio supporting “hundreds of sources” regardless of whether the gamer is using headphones, TV speakers, a surround system, or any other audio setup.

Based on work conducted for PlayStation VR, the 3D audio delivered by the Tempest Engine will require setting up optimal settings for each person based on their ear and head shape. Five profiles will be available at launch based on findings from 100 people but Sony envisions possibly one day asking people to upload photos of their ears for true personalisation.

Spencer praised the PS5’s audio technology on a recent IGN Unlocked podcast along with his other feelings on the rival console:

“Mark [Cerny, PlayStation system architect] and the team did some really good work on the audio processing that they talked about, their SSD technology is impressive, we like that.

We saw the work that they did but we took a holistic view on our platform from CPU, to GPU, to RAM, to throughput, velocity architecture, latency. It took us years to get to this point … but I will say, when we finally saw the public disclosure, I felt even better about the choices that we made on our platform.”

The next-generation of consoles will, coronavirus-permitting, launch in time to be under Christmas trees this year (hopefully, including mine.)

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