Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) has had a hard time coming to the realization that its vision for the living room, largely driven by the Kinect motion sensing peripheral, wasn't as successful as it had hoped. This past Tuesday, Microsoft lowered the price of the Xbox One from $499 to $399 by offering a Kinect-less version, allowing for the console to match the price of Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) PlayStation 4.
While it's up for debate as to how this move will affect Xbox One sales, one positive that has gone overlooked is that now with the console is freed of the Kinect, precious processing power that was once reserved for the sensor will now potentially be in the hands of the developers.
The Xbox One is about to become more powerful
As of now, the Xbox One has a conservative 10% reservation for handling system-level Kinect functions. These functions include the ability to listen for voice commands, recognize gestures whether you're playing a game or not, using applications, and browsing through the dashboard. Even if a game never utilizes any of the functions of the Kinect – and the majority of titles don't – that processing power is still fenced off from developers.
After the price drop, Polygon got in contact with Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi who confirmed that Microsoft is now in talks with publishers regarding increasing graphical performance for Xbox One games running on Kinect-less consoles.
Microsoft had been planning to open this space for developers at some point in the future, most likely through finding more efficient ways of utilizing how the GPU processes Kinect featured functions. With what will most likely become the standard Xbox One SKU, however, there is no need for that portion to be fenced off any longer.
Why Microsoft needs to squeeze all the juice it can out of the Xbox One
Much of the momentum the PlayStation 4 has managed to keep since launch is due to two key things: being significantly more powerful and significantly cheaper. In other words, it's just a much better value. This is highlighted through the console receiving the definitive versions of multiplatform releases.
On the other hand, the Xbox One version of multiplatform titles fail to hit the same resolution or framerates of the PlayStation 4. A recent example of this was Konami's Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, where the PlayStation 4 version is running at a full native 1080p presentation and a solid smooth 60fps. Meanwhile, the Xbox One version runs at 720p and even with the game running at 66% of the resolution of its counterpart, it struggles to keep a solid 60fps.
The extra 10% might not significantly close the gap, but had those portions of the GPU not have been barred from developers then the lack of parity between multiplatform titles would've been less pronounced. In some cases, it could have lead to perfect parity. Had Electronic Arts' Dice had the additional power, Battlefield 4 on the Xbox One (which runs at 720p) might have potentially had its resolution bumped to the PlayStation 4 version's 900p.
The Foolish bottom line
Microsoft was intent on having the Kinect be the core of the Xbox One, but that plan had backfired. A Kinect-less Xbox One, on top of removing the paywall for apps like Netflix and ESPN, is a move that Microsoft should have made well before launch. As a result, the PlayStation 4 has sold 7 million consoles since launch while Microsoft has managed to only sell just 5 million Xbox One consoles.
The price drop will help slow down the ever-growing gap between the two, but I don't feel as if it will be enough. Even at $399, the PlayStation 4 is a much better value. This move at least puts Microsoft in a position to aggressively engage in a price war with Sony down the line.
Perhaps Microsoft didn't replace cable, but your cable company is still scared
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