With rumored specs of the Xbox 720 and PS4 being spread throughout the inter-webs, many voices within the video game industry are speculating what type of technical achievements could be accomplished with the use of the supposed hardware that will be provided in these systems. In a recent blog post by the talented developer Timothy Lottes, who created FXAA with NVIDIA, a few details were exposed regarding the potential of the PS4 and Xbox 720.
He explains that the focus should not be solely on the hardware that is provided with these systems. The true potential within these consoles come from the OS and system libraries that are provided with these systems. With this in mind, consoles have the ability to harness more processing power from components within the system that cannot be accomplished through the PC platform.
The real reason to get excited about a PS4 is what Sony as a company does with the OS and system libraries as a platform, and what this enables 1st party studios to do, when they make PS4-only games. If PS4 has a real-time OS, with a libGCM style low level access to the GPU, then the PS4 1st party games will be years ahead of the PC simply because it opens up what is possible on the GPU. Note this won't happen right away on launch, but once developers tool up for the platform, this will be the case. As a PC guy who knows hardware to the metal, I spend most of my days in frustration knowing damn well what I could do with the hardware, but what I cannot do because Microsoft and IHVs wont provide low-level GPU access in PC APIs. One simple example, drawcalls on PC have easily 10x to 100x the overhead of a console with a libGCM style API....
I could continue here, but I'm not, by now you get the picture, launch titles will likely be DX11 ports, so perhaps not much better than what could be done on PC. However if Sony provides the real-time OS with libGCM v2 for GCN, one or two years out, 1st party devs and Sony's internal teams like the ICE team, will have had long enough to build up tech to really leverage the platform.
Working here assuming the Eurogamer Article is close to correct. On this platform I'd be concerned with memory bandwidth. Only DDR3 for system/GPU memory pared with 32MB of "ESRAM" sounds troubling....If this GPU is pre-GCN with a serious performance gap to PS4, then this next Xbox will act like a boat anchor, dragging down the min-spec target for cross-platform next-generation games.
My guess is that the real reason for 8GB of memory is because this box is a DVR which actually runs "Windows" (which requires a GB or two or three of "overhead"), but like Windows RT (Windows on ARM) only exposes a non-desktop UI to the user. There are a bunch of reasons they might ditch the real-time console OS, one being that if they don't provide low level access to developers, that it might enable a faster refresh on backwards compatible hardware. In theory the developer just targets the box like it was a special DX11 "PC" with a few extra changes like hints for surfaces which should go in ESRAM, then on the next refresh hardware, all prior games just get better FPS or resolution or AA. Of course if they do that, then it is just another PC, just lower performance, with all the latency baggage, and lack of low level magic which makes 1st party games stand out and sell the platform.
Many gamers have voiced their opinions on next generation hardware, stating that the systems will be released with components that are already outdated. Fans should keep in mind what has been stated above, that the potential of these systems are not placed solely on the hardware provided.
For those interested, you can view a few concept photos of the Xbox 720 and PS4 in the slide-show above this article.