While the world is battling coronavirus, gamers received a little excitement last week when both Sony and Microsoft released more detailed specs for their video game console systems.  In this battle of the engineers, the Xbox Series X specs arguably came out on top.  However, long-term DFC still believes the PlayStation 5 will be the best-selling system.

For the hardware announcements, marketing and PR departments were notably absent.  For both systems, the hardware was revealed in highly verbose tech speak that introduced new concepts like Xbox Velocity Architecture and Smart Delivery.

Consumers without an engineering degree were forced to rely on tech websites and analysts to give an interpretation.  On a numbers level, the Xbox Series X seemed to beat the PlayStation 5.  Much of this focus was on the Xbox Series X GPU having 12.15 TFLOPS versus 10.29 TFLOPS for the PlayStation 5.

Sony also stumbled with its discussion of backward compatibility.  Lead PS5 architect Mark Cerny stated that they had tested compatibility on the top 100 PlayStation 4 titles and expected almost all of them to be playable on launch of the PlayStation 5.  Many observers assumed this meant that only 100 PS4 titles would be backward compatible.  This led to an official update from Sony’s Senior VP of Platform Planning and Management Hideaki Nishino stating that “the overwhelming majority of 4,000+ PS4 titles will be playable on PS5.”

The reality is that backward compatibility is a fairly minor issue.  In terms of hardware specifications, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X look almost identical.  Both systems have a major focus on speed.  The major issue for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One was that they were slow.  In today’s market speed is key and both systems appear4 to solve that issue.

The bigger issue is when will these systems start appealing to a mass market.  Both Sony and Microsoft have the luxury of knowing that initial demand for their systems will outstrip supply.  DFC is currently forecasting that due to coronavirus both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will ship in very limited quantities in 2020.  There is the possibility they could be delayed into 2021.

Nevertheless, the initial launch is key to determining the long-term reputation for a hardware system.  The Xbox One had a strong launch due to its core base, but even on launch date the PlayStation 4 was widely perceived as the better product.

Right now, Sony and Microsoft are being abundantly cautious.  Microsoft has had limited success marketing to a wider audience, so they are determined to focus on the core tech base and some key brands.

Sony’s mass market penetration and perception is far less than it was in the heyday of the PlayStation 2.  However, they have a key advantage in software, consumer recognition and global distribution.  For the next few years, this advantage will probably be insurmountable for Microsoft and Xbox Series X.

Several months before the launch of the PlayStation 3, DFC Intelligence wrote an article entitled “Could Sony Go from 1st to Worst?”  This was a highly controversial position given the success of the PlayStation 2.  However, the analysis proved accurate.

Right now, DFC does not anticipate “First to Worst Part 2.”  However, we do think Microsoft will start to chip into the PlayStation 4 market share.  However, much of this will depend on the strength of the offerings from Microsoft’s newly acquired studios.

The big winner from the console battle could be PC games.  In today’s society a PC is an essential device while a video game console is a luxury.  On a global basis, people staying home because of coronavirus, are likely to realize how much a powerful PC can offer in comparison with a smartphone.

Both Microsoft and Sony are making their services more open to PC users.  Long-term a big question is likely to be whether either company can compete with Steam and other PC providers on a larger scale.  However, this is an issue for future discussion, right now the focus is on winning the tech wonks.

You can see the official release from Microsoft here (there is also a glossary to explain all the tech terms).  The Sony information and presentation can be found here.

The full DFC Intelligence forecasts are available now and include regular updates through August.

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