Welcome to the next generation of gaming

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There’s never been a better time to buy a new game console or PC. While consoles have typically been held back by weaker CPUs, spinning hard drives, and average GPU performance, the next-generation PS5 and Xbox Series S / X are promising some big leaps in performance that will put them beyond even average gaming PCs. Nvidia, meanwhile, is claiming it will deliver the “biggest breakthrough in PC gaming since 1999” with its new RTX 3000 series of graphics cards.

The stage is set for a next generation of games that can take advantage of powerful CPUs, GPUs, and SSD storage across consoles and PCs.

We’re now starting to get a good idea of what this next generation will cost and when it will arrive. Microsoft is launching its Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles on November 10th, priced at $499 for the X and $299 for the S. Sony hasn’t provided a release date or pricing for the PS5 just yet, but it’s almost certainly arriving in November. And if you’re already interested in a PS5 or Sony’s first-party games, then you’re probably willing to pay whatever the final price is.

Sony’s PlayStation 5 consoles.
Image: Sony

While Microsoft, Sony, and Nvidia are promising big things for the next generation of gaming, they’re all delivering a big amount of choice.

Microsoft and Sony are each offering two options. Microsoft is releasing a $299 Xbox Series S console that’s less powerful than the larger Xbox Series X, as it’s designed for people with 1080p TVs or 1440p monitors. The Series X is promising 4K gaming at up to 120fps. Sony is also launching two next-gen consoles: the PS5 with its traditional disc drive and a disc-less digital edition. This will give PS5 buyers a cheaper option, with the same performance and specs for both consoles. Although they appear similar, Sony and Microsoft’s approaches to the next-gen are very different, especially around hardware choices.

Sony has opted for a blisteringly fast SSD, promising to radically change the future of game design and reduce or even eliminate load screens. The potential for this SSD tech has been demonstrated with the Unreal Engine 5 and even in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney thinks the PS5’s SSD technology will also push PC gaming forward, but this is likely many years away and how developers utilize it fully is still a big unknown.

Sony is also promising 10.28 teraflops of performance, which is nearly 15 percent less than the Xbox Series X. There are also some fundamental differences in cooling and architecture, allowing Sony to deliver variable GPU and CPU speeds, with Microsoft sticking to the more traditional fixed speeds. Which design will offer the best experience for playing games still remains to be seen, but it’s reasonable to assume both will be very close in 4K performance. Either way, all gaming fans are winning here as a result of this big hardware push.

Both consoles will significantly reduce load times, provide higher frame rates in games, and deliver better visuals. The CPU and SSD improvements alone are significant for game development, and if fully utilized, they could even push PC games to start requiring SSDs. It’s also encouraging to see both Sony and Microsoft prioritize up to 120fps, instead of trying to market these consoles as 8K capable.

Nvidia’s RTX 3080 graphics card.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

We’re also on the cusp of an era of gaming that includes real-time ray-tracing effects. Nvidia pushed this two years ago with its RTX 2000 line of graphics cards, but game developers weren’t ready, consoles definitely weren’t ready, and pricing was a big issue. All three next-gen consoles are promising ray-tracing support, and we’ve started to see more and more games support it. Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, and Minecraft are some of the big additions, and there’s bound to be a lot more throughout 2021.

While console gaming is getting the hardware boost it desperately needed, PC gaming is certainly not being left behind. Nvidia’s RTX 3080 promises twice the performance of the RTX 2080 for $699, all while delivering 29.7 teraflops of GPU performance. If Nvidia’s numbers deliver a big performance jump — which has been demonstrated in Doom Eternal so far — then 4K gaming could become more affordable in the PC world.

Nvidia is even trying to move beyond 4K, with its monster RTX 3090 graphics card promising 8K gaming for PCs. AMD is also preparing to launch its next Radeon line of cards, which will be based on the RDNA 2 architecture that includes hardware-accelerated ray tracing and variable-rate shading. This is the same architecture that powers the Xbox Series X / S and PS5. AMD could help push the price of 4K PC gaming down, but we won’t know until October.

All of this next-generation hardware is an exciting end to a challenging year for the gaming industry and the world at large. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how we all work and socialize. Games have provided an important way to stay connected to friends, family, and co-workers and are a useful escape from the stresses of an unusual year.

We’re just a few days away from the next generation of PC graphics cards and exactly two months until the Xbox Series X / S launch. It’s now up to Sony to price and date the PS5 and Nintendo to lead the Switch toward 4K. Welcome to the next generation of gaming.

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