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New Video Game Console Technologies and Features Boost Sales, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Game Console History: Sony’s PlayStation 2, released in the fall of 2001, was the first unit to play DVDs and audio CDs while offering top-of-the-line high-tech gaming.  By mid-2007, PlayStation 2 had sold 115 million units worldwide, and the company dropped its retail price from $179 to $129, thereby extending the sales life of the unit.
Microsoft was hoping to break Sony’s dominance in the market with its Xbox, which was released in November 2001 (with a $500 million marketing budget).  Xbox was a major step in the company’s attempt to revolutionize home entertainment in the same way that PCs revolutionized the office.  The unit is a combination of some of the functions of a high-end PC, complete with high-speed internet port and a powerful graphics chip.  Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming subscription service, was launched in November 2003 and had 52 million members by mid-2017.  It provides gamers anywhere in the world with the ability to play against each other using the internet, and it has evolved into a key component to the video gaming experience.
Sony’s PlayStation 3 (PS3) went on sale with great fanfare in November 2006.  Sony saw sales surge when prices were reduced in 2009 and again in late 2011.  PS3 includes a high-definition DVD player using the Sony standard called Blu-ray.  This was a bold move since, in 2006, the entertainment industry was still undecided as to which DVD technology would be embraced by the buying public.  Sony was actually taking a loss on the DVD player included in PS3 in order to market Blu-ray technology and soften the blow for movie watchers who would have to buy high-definition versions of their favorite DVDs.  The gamble paid off since Blu-ray became a high-definition format of choice.
The debut of Microsoft’s $4-billion enhanced game console, the Xbox 360, was a major milestone in video gaming.  Released for sale at midnight, November 22, 2005, Xbox 360 was a completely redesigned product.  The high-end model has a wireless controller, cables for TV connection, a DVD player, a removable hard drive and a complimentary pass to Xbox Live.  The console includes ports for attaching digital cameras or portable music players.  The Xbox 360, with its three-core 3.2-gigahertz custom chip from IBM, has been a big hit.  The software giant hopes that the popularity of its game systems will spur sales of its other consumer products.
Nintendo, the third key player in video game sets, has been a powerful competitor.  Its hand-held game player Nintendo DS (first released in 2004) was the best-selling game machine in the U.S. at the end of 2007.  By the end of 2009, total DS units sold worldwide had reached 125.1 million.  Meanwhile, in a vigorous attempt to hold on to its top spot and to compete with Sony's PSP, Nintendo launched a small player in 2005, the Game Boy Micro.  Modestly priced, it is barely four inches wide and two inches tall.  It had a leg up over other portable devices because it is compatible with more than 700 games designed for earlier Game Boy models.
Next, Nintendo released its revolutionary game system, Wii (pronounced “wee”), in 2006, which has been an immense success.  Equipped with a state-of-the-art wireless controller and moderately priced, the system provides gamers with sensory-enhanced playing.  The controller communicates with sensors (mounted near a television) that respond to the player’s body movements.  A fishing game, for example, causes the controller to “tug” on the player’s hand when a fish is hooked, and the player can then “jerk” on the controller like a fishing pole to reel the catch in.  While many new games have been developed for Wii, the new technology also works with long-time game favorites including Pokémon, Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
For 2010, the big news in electronic games was the November launch of Microsoft’s Kinect add-on for Xbox 360.  Kinect is a sensory-enhanced system that reacts to body gestures, designed to compete head-on with Wii.  Kinect also reacts to users’ voice commands.  It is revolutionary because, unlike Wii, it does not require the use of a handheld controller.  Instead, Kinect incorporates a motion-sensing camera.  This device definitely raises consumers’ expectations for future machines.  Through Kinect, Xbox Live users enjoy YouTube functionality, DVR and TV capability plus the ability to use voice controls.  Microsoft acquired Canesta, a manufacturer specializing in semiconductors used in 3-D technology, in late 2010 to further enhance Kinect’s three-dimensional experience.  Most of the world’s major game developers created new games for Kinect.  Microsoft sold 8 million units in Kinect’s first 60 days on the market, far exceeding its expectations.
Microsoft announced an upgrade to the Xbox 360 console in late 2011 that allows subscribers to watch a variety of mainstream TV programming from providers such as HBO, Verizon FiOS and Comcast Xfinity.  Perhaps more importantly, users with Kinect will have the ability to search for programming with voice commands and hand signals.  The technology is one step closer to freeing consumers from TV set-top boxes.  Microsoft reports that Xbox Live users spent more time watching videos or listening to music than playing games in 2012, and it has released dozens of apps or upgrades to Xbox specifically targeting non-gamers.
Microsoft launched the Xbox One, in November 2013.  Xbox One integrates gaming with cable or satellite television and Skype-based voice chatting.  (Microsoft owns Skype.)  It offers voice control in addition to a motion-sensing camera that works with the Kinect operating system to respond to user gestures.  The console is not backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games.  Microsoft, like all console makers, has made continuous improvements to the Xbox One’s software since the initial launch, including better chat and social functions, improved media player functionality and changes to its DVR features.  Another console, the Xbox One S debuted in early 2017, and is 40% smaller than the Xbox One.  Microsoft launched the Xbox One X in November 2017.  The unit offers 4K graphics and high-fidelity virtual reality, through eight CPU cores and six teraflops of GPU power.
Nintendo earned headlines with the launch of a 3-D version of its DS game player.  Unveiled at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, the device comes with two screens, one capable of 3-D viewing and the other a standard 2-D.  The Nintendo 3DS creates the illusion of depth by placing a parallax barrier in front of a liquid-crystal display which makes a 3-D effect possible without the game player having to wear special glasses.
Sony’s response to Nintendo’s new 3DS was the late 2011 release of a new hand-held unit called PlayStation Vita (formerly codenamed Next Generation Portable, or NGP).  The unit has a five-inch, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch-screen display, a rear touch panel and wireless network connectivity.  The buzz about Vita is its ability to offer gamers full-scale playing that’s portable, as well as mobile access to Sony’s full line of entertainment products (including movies, music and games).  In addition, Sony is offering PlayStation games on a variety of portable devices such as smartphones and tablet computers running Google’s Android operating system.
Meanwhile, Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) also launched in time for the Christmas season of 2013.  Its new features included the ability to play games streamed over the internet in a practice called “cloud streaming.”  Games (including games from PlayStation 3) can be played from the cloud, but also from optional discs.  In late 2016, Sony released the PlayStation 4 Pro console, with 4K display resolution and more processing power than PS4, just in time for the holiday season.  The console’s latest versions are the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro.
Nintendo released the first of the so-called “eighth generation consoles” in November 2012 with the Wii U.  The system builds on the Wii’s motion control innovations with high-definition graphics and a controller that features touch screen capabilities.  The controller also has the ability to play some games after the connected television has been turned off.  The Wii U is backwards-compatible with Wii games.
Later Game Console Releases:  The all-new $499 Microsoft Xbox Series X was released on November 10, 2020.  Capabilities include 8K resolution support, a solid-state drive (similar to that in Sony’s PlayStation 5) for faster load times and frame rates of up to 120 frames per second.  Games are streamed via Microsoft’s xCloud service rather than downloading full copies.  For optimum play, the new console requires a 4K TV that can run games at 120 Hz, which only the latest sets, such as the $1,400 LG CX, offer.  The smaller $299 Xbox Series S, also released in November 2020, plays games at 1440p at 60 frames per second.  Both units sold out quickly and as of early 2021, many gamers were still watching for restock notices from retailers.
In March 2017, Nintendo released Switch, which acts as both a mobile and home console game.  Switch, which retails for about $300, sold 2.74 million units in its first month on the market.  At the same time, the well-reviewed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game for Switch was released which sold more copies on retailer GameStop in early 2017 than units of the Switch player.  A stripped-down version of the Switch console was introduced in late 2019 at a lower price-point.  Nintendo announced that no new Switch unit would be released in 2020, but the company did launch the Nintendo Switch OLED in late 2021, with a seven-inch OLED screen and enhanced audio.
The newest Sony console, PlayStation 5 (PS5), launched in November 2020.  The unit features a solid-state drive, 8K television support, an 8-core AMD chipset, 3D audio and backward compatibility with PS4 games and PSVR hardware.  According to Sony, 4.5 million PS5 units were shipped worldwide in 2020.
Xbox Series X and PS5 offer ray tracing, a ground-breaking graphical technology that significantly improves the way light and shadows appear on gaming screens.  The same technology is used by video and film makers when combining real action with computer-generated (CG) content.  It uses an algorithm to trace the path of light and then simulates the process in which the light interacts with virtual objects, resulting in highly realistic effects.  Nvidia, Microsoft and AMD are all working on ray tracing technology.  The latest consoles all enable users to access cloud-based games, individually or via subscription.

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