Have you got a PlayStation 4 and/or an Xbox One? How are you liking them?
One thing that's abundantly clear when it comes to both systems is that they're both primarily built for an American audience. This is sound business sense, of course, particularly when a significant number of today's big publishers do a hefty proportion of their business in the United States, but there's a point where it becomes less desirable, and that's when gamers in other countries are getting an inferior experience.
We've reached that point already with both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 -- and the latter isn't even out in some territories just yet. There's a world of gamers outside America, next-gen; please don't forget about them.
Xbox One and the Mysterious Case of 50Hz Judder
The Xbox One has resurrected a TV-related issue that most people had thought was long-dead: the difference in TV standards between the United States and Europe.
If you grew up with pre-HD consoles you may well be familiar with this issue already, particularly if you ever tried to import games from Europe: standard definition American TVs effectively run at 480i resolution at a refresh rate of 60Hz; European standard definition TVs, meanwhile, run at 576i at a refresh rate of 50Hz. European console games right up through the PS2 era often got a raw deal, with many games running more slowly and/or with significant black borders at the top and bottom of the screen where the extra pixels of the 576i resolution simply weren't being used. Some developers were better than others at porting to 50Hz territories; others provided a 60Hz option for those with more modern televisions that supported the 60Hz/480i standard. And sometimes no effort was made whatsoever, which is why if you play Final Fantasy X in Europe, Tidus looks like he's running through treacle, and if you play the original Street Fighter II on Super NES, it looks like it's being presented in widescreen.
The rise of the HD age standardized resolutions and refresh rates, however, allowing consoles across the world to achieve performance parity for the first time. It also took some of the strain off localization teams, who no longer had to worry about re-rendering artwork, adjusting performance or stretching the game's display to cater for a display with a different resolution. The problem was, it seems, solved.
Unfortunately, the Xbox One's HDMI input has revealed that the problem hadn't really gone away at all; it had just been lurking, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge.
Here's the issue: the Xbox One runs at 60Hz through the HDMI input. However, European TV signals still come in at 50Hz. Most European TVs can now switch between 60 and 50Hz at will according to whatever is flowing into them, but what happens when the 50Hz signal from a European TV set-top box gets funnelled in to the 60Hz Xbox One?
Short answer: judder. Long answer: the disparity in refresh rates means that one out of every six frames from the 50Hz signal is duplicated when fed into the Xbox One, leading to noticeable judder on screen that is particularly obvious when watching scrolling text or footage that pans around quickly, such as sports coverage.
Digital Foundry's Richard Leadbetter pondered Microsoft's possible solutions for the issue over at our sister site Eurogamer -- the choices essentially boil down to either frame-rate upscaling on the 50Hz signal, which would lead to a compromise in image quality, or allowing the Xbox One to dynamically switch between 50Hz and 60Hz modes depending on what is being fed into it. Unfortunately, most TVs take several seconds of black screen to switch between modes, so this would spoil the "seamless" experience Microsoft is really going for.
Microsoft hasn't yet responded to requests for comment on the issue.
PlayStation 4 and the Curious Case of the Inflated Prices
The digital era is here, supposedly. Physical media is on the way out, and it's all about downloadable titles.
Except it's not quite that simple; with most big-name games on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 weighing in at between 30 and 50GB, their respective 500GB drives aren't going to last very long before they fill up.
Prospective PlayStation 4 owners in the UK have been hit with an additional consideration: grossly inflated prices on Sony's PlayStation Store for PlayStation 4 games, particularly those from EA.
A new game on the US PlayStation Store is typically about $60, which is what we've come to expect from new games these days. However, in the UK, a new game for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 typically costs between £40 and £50 ($65-80), which is already more than gamers in the States are paying. PlayStation 4 is another matter, however, with games costing even more -- Assassin's Creed 4 will set UK gamers back £58 ($93), for example, while EA's games were initially jacked up in price even further to £63 ($102) but have since been dropped to £60 ($97). (It's worth noting that publishers, not Sony, set the prices for games on the PlayStation Store.)
What's particularly dumb about this is that physical copies of these games cost no more that £50 ($80) when purchased from retailers such as popular UK chain Game, and typically even less when purchased from Amazon. If Sony and third-party publishers want to make digitally downloadable versions of games a viable and practical option, they absolutely cannot cost more than copies on a disc -- at the very least, there should be pricing parity, and digital copies should preferably cost less than physical versions due to reduced costs. There should also preferably be pricing parity between equivalent platforms; right now, digital games on Xbox One are, for the most part, around £3-5 cheaper than their PS4 counterparts.
PlayStation 4 is yet to be released in the UK at the time of writing, so it's possible that these prices will change once the console comes out. If they don't, though, I'll be sticking to my guns and remaining a collector of physical media for some time yet, I feel!
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