The Latest Image Problem for Microsoft's Xbox One

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One and Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation 4 are slated to hit American retailers in less than a month, and launch details are still shifting. While pre-order stocks are mostly accounted for and both systems are likely to sell out of their launch production, a highly competitive industry dictates that early success is more important than ever. Although it's been known for a while that the PlayStation 4 has better hardware than the Xbox One, recent news that Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) 's Call of Duty: Ghosts will offer better resolution on Sony's platform has the potential for a major impact. What does this development suggest for the future of the Xbox One?

Generational differences
The Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 ushered in the age of high-definition console development. While this pitch was used to distinguish the systems and their offerings from the preceding generation of consoles and software, many PS3 and 360 titles came in under the 720p resolution that is used as the barometer for whether or not display output is HD. Many of Activision's Call of Duty titles are sub-HD on both systems, though sales records inate that this deficiency had little market effect. Why should a lack of 1080p resolution games hurt the Xbox One this time around?

To a large extent, the next-gen systems represent evolutions of current-gen features and design philosophy rather revolutions or paradigm-shifting advances. Each system is offering improved online functionality and hardware that should remove many of the roadblocks encountered on current-gen consoles. That the Xbox One cannot run Call of Duty: Ghosts at 1080p is a worrying indication for the system's hardware performance and value proposition. If multiplatform games are available in 1080p on Sony's cheaper device while only 720p on the Xbox One, consumers will have less reason to buy Microsoft's system this time around.

Let's be clear
The first major rumblings that the Xbox One would have trouble hitting 1080p for graphically intense titles came with the news that Ryse: Son of Rome would output at a max 900p. The game is being published by Microsoft and was developed by Crytek, the company behind the CryEngine development suite. That Crytek, a company renowned for its graphical prowess, couldn't reach one of the next-gen milestones was worrying, but not damning, for the Xbox One. Launch software is typically a terrible indication of what is a system is really capable of. Now that the situation is getting clearer, Microsoft might have a real problem on its hands.

As a multi-platform, cross-gen game, Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts was created with current-gen hardware specifications in mind. Regardless of platform, the game will feature assets, lighting, and physics models that are largely unchanged. This means that the game should not be particularly taxing for Sony and Microsoft's new consoles.

Getting outgunned
The Call of Duty series is one that has come to be associated with the Xbox platform. Entries have historically sold their highest numbers on the Xbox 360, and Microsoft was keen in its recognition of the franchise's importance early in the generation. The company partnered with Activision to ensure that its console was the premier platform for COD. The games ran best on the 360 and were advertised in conjunction with the system. Call of Duty: Ghosts marks the first time that a game in the series will take its promotional footage from a Sony platform.

While pre-order numbers for the latest COD are trending below those for the previous entry in the series, Ghosts will still be one of the holiday's biggest sellers. It will also help to drive adoption of online services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus. The performance advantage on PlayStation 4 could push early adopters to Sony's camp. Call of Duty is key to the online gaming landscape, and having a significant graphical advantage is likely to work in Sony's favor.

A sign of things to come
The average consumer may not notice a substantial difference between 720p and 1080p images. That said, if the Xbox One has a dearth of 1080p games, the deficiency will make its way to the consumer conscience. In the mindshare battle with the PlayStation 4, this type of development could be very damaging to the more-expensive Xbox One.

The PlayStation 4's hardware advantages are becoming evident much earlier than many had anticipated. Microsoft officials had claimed that the Xbox One's "balancing" would allow it to make up for areas in which it may have seemed weak on paper. Now, it's looking like the system's hardware, particularly its ESRAM, is going to be an ongoing source of headaches for developers. For a company with such immense resources, Microsoft's Xbox One's performance leaves a lot to be desired.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 10:54 AM, IgnorantFool77 wrote:

    900p on a 32" - 50" screen will look pretty sharp. Remember when 720p was a standard HD resolution? It looked nice.

    That being said, if you're starting the generation out at 900p what is going to happen 2 years from now when the games for these consoles hit their peak? It's dumbfounding how poorly MSFT has played this hand. I'm mostly a PC guy myself, but when the time comes that I get a console for those particular titles I prefer on that type of system I'm probably going PS4.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 11:13 AM, FollishFool wrote:

    Sounds like the manufacturers playing console war and "Blast Processing" again and leaking it into the business space, Mr. Fool.

    Development is all about sacrifices and choices, not just hardware. You can build to 1080P on lesser hardware with the right decisign decisions and building the game. See Nintendo's rather impressive looking slate of Wii-U titles scheduled to arrive at 1080P 60FPS like Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Smash Bros and Mario Kart 8 despite drastically weaker hardware and use of EDRAM similar to XBox Ones ESRAM.

    For example 2K Games announced it's NBA 2K14 will feature at 1080P 60FPS native on XBox One. As will EA's versions of Madden 25 and FIFA 14. And footage of the PS4 version of COD Ghosts featured on IGN has been massively underwhelming with very barren graphics, lack of effects, Anti-Aliasing, bad frame rate drops and accusations from other tech sites that it may be running at 900P upscaled (Some especially damning comments on IGN compared it to a Wii-U version). Possibly sacrifices are being made for each format due to the relative newness of the hardware, especially on multi-platform games.

    Or what is more likely is that could be looking at a very poor and rushed installment of a major franchise on both platforms that was hyped to the death by both manufacturers that's going to bite them like the infamous Dog featured. Technical issues may be the least of Microsoft and Sony's worries.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 11:26 AM, raider wrote:

    Who cares I want to play Titanfall so games is what I chose Xbox one it is.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 11:56 AM, doawithlife wrote:

    You need at 50 inch TV for a 20-20 human eye to even see the extra clarity of 1080p. Even then it is only viewable from distances of less then 8 feet and only barely.

    For 95% of people who can't tell the difference (like me), title selection and price will be the final determination.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 12:04 PM, mac2j wrote:

    Why do people keep saying this "The average consumer may not notice a substantial difference between 720p and 1080p images." When over a dozen studies have now shown that nearly 3/4ths of people DO clearly discern the difference between 720p and 1080p and most of those also notice a "distinct" difference between 1080p and 4K. Anyway Microsoft definitely under-equipped the Xbox One and its going to hurt them - the lifecycle of these consoles will be much shorter than the last generation.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 12:08 PM, mac2j wrote:

    It's also worth noting the PS4 has a planned upgrade path to 4K (rumor is the HDMI port in the 1st release might be firmware upgradeable to 2.0), while the Xbox One will never be able to run 4K. 2-3 years from now 4K will be standard for gaming PCs (you can run it now at full 60hz if you have $2K) - its going to be a real lifecycle issue for the Xbox One.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 1:30 PM, Ibmblue1 wrote:

    Can't imagine why Microsoft would create an under powered machine at their high asking price per unit. Looks like there's going be an Xbox Two soon.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 2:38 PM, Sven wrote:

    Sorry, but stick to financial and not your interpretation of technical matters. Crytek's boss stated that the decision to use 900p was a conscious decision so they could use that extra saved power elsewhere. It will be upscaled to 1080p anyway and the user will not be able to see a perceptible difference. No where did they state the XboxOne was not capable of running it at 1080p.

    http://www.vg247.com/2013/09/30/ryse-son-of-romes-900p-resol...

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 2:41 PM, Sven wrote:

    And the current PS3 is graphically more powerful than the Xbox360. And yet there was still many games that looked and performed better on the Xbox 360 than the PS3.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 3:28 PM, khart0126 wrote:

    Nothing like jumping on the anti-Xbox bandwagon it seems. As Sven said, the PS3 is probably just as much superior to the 360 as the PS4 is to the Xbox One. The best game graphic wise I have ever played, was on the 360.

    Get out of Sony's pocket with these articles, you lose credibility. GAMES make consoles, NOT graphics. If that were the case, we would never see any gaming consoles because everyone would be on PC. Idiots.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 3:34 PM, Stodds13 wrote:

    Well said Raider!! I cannot wait for Titanfall!!! CBox One it is for me!!

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 3:35 PM, AznFlip wrote:

    Another misleading title for a fictional story yet again made up by the Fool. We know, you don't like Microsoft, it's so obvious. We got it already! Get over it. Why don't you guys please just stick to what you know best. Oh I forget that's about absolutely nothing. Any serious gamer who keeps up with the technology know that your story is total bologna. And anyone who believes this crap that the Fool puts out is an idiot. Stop already with your garbage stories!

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 4:45 PM, Keegs79 wrote:

    Everyone says the 360 had better versions of multiplaform games should realize that its because it was optimized from the 360. It was easier to develop for the 360 so it was the lead platform for a long time. That made it have better and or equal version of titles. It was that and the system had more RAM to run big games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 to keep the frame rate up. This time around the PS4 is more powerful, has equal and better RAM, and it extremely easy to develop for. All issues with the PS3 has been fixed.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 5:09 PM, vertigo800 wrote:

    I do not think the xbox one is under powered at all. if you compare desktop cpus like a quad core intel and a quad core amd the intel will always out perform the amd because of the architecture that it is built on, smaller transistors, tighter pathways, etc. this is why amd is so much cheaper. so with this in mind I think we should wait to see how developers will be able to utilize the xbox one hardware instead of listening to PS4 bias fools. on the second point and most important note. the games make the system. and with games like forza 5, Ryse, and titan fall set for launch titles i'm leaning towards xbox one, sorry to sony fans but I don't see any PS4 launch titles to get excited about.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 5:49 PM, hotmodel wrote:

    LOL what an odd article when both systems are made by AMD with essentially the same chipsets. They're almost twins with the PS4 with 1.8T calculations and XBOX1 at 1.23T calculations. Everything else is pretty much the same.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 5:50 PM, URALLFOOLS wrote:

    Does Sony pay you guys directly or is there some sort of back channel? You are either grossly misinformed or grotesquely biased.... either way you should stick to financial reports....

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 8:17 PM, Mango wrote:

    I am laughing at the Xbots in the denial.

    The PS4 is got the better hardware AND THE BETTER ARCHITECHTURE. GDDR5 is much easier (and more powerful) than DDR3+eSRAM.

    That unified ram that the PS4 has allows great benefits from hUMA and lots of other stuff that I wont explode the small xbots heads with.

    Also, let me just list the GPU differences.

    Xbone: 1.18 TF GPU (12 CUs) for games

    Xbone: 768 Shaders

    Xbone: 48 Texture units

    Xbone: 16 ROPS

    Xbone: 2 ACE/ 16 queues

    PS4: 1.84TF GPU ( 18 CUs) for games + 56%

    PS4: 1152 Shaders +50%

    PS4: 72 Texture units +50%

    PS4: 32 ROPS + 100%

    PS4: 8 ACE/64 queues +400%

    The PS4 clearly wins, the PS4 will have the best multiplatforms and CoD:Ghosts is just the beginning.

  • Report this Comment On October 27, 2013, at 4:31 AM, TelsaRowe wrote:

    Stupid. This same thing played out last launch and backfired with the 360 eventually having better graphics. Judging a system off launch titles is absolutely stupid. No mention of offloading system stress to the cloud which msft is offering which may render Xbox One games with more than double the resolution of Ps4 games in true 4K. Completely myopic article. I will be getting a Xbox One along with most people I know because 90% of console buyers are casual gamers and want more than arguments over that extra polygon here and there. Stupid.

  • Report this Comment On October 28, 2013, at 11:48 PM, Ibmblue1 wrote:

    $499 is a lot of cash to shell out for an entertainment device/game machine no matter how you cut it.

  • Report this Comment On November 02, 2013, at 6:06 AM, 123gammaray wrote:

    While a lot of people are slamming the xbone for its slightly lower resolution on some games and the ps4 crowds are praising everything Sony is doing , why did Sony only just release the ps4 cannot play mp3 / cd's or even stream any. Also just a little note to all the future ps4 owners , Sony are also trying to keep "the yellow line" very quiet.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2013, at 5:02 PM, TapsxOut wrote:

    honestly... tell me the truth do you nerds that know all this $hit to the point about two consoles that haven't even came out yet even notice a difference between all the $hit you fuks keep rambling on about because I sure don't, The only difference I see is when I plug my HDMI cable into my Xbox and PS3 that's it. I have both consoles and I notice nothing. Have HDMI with both cant see the difference so who fuking cares about the decimals its not like you notice them anyways.

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