The last time Sony and Microsoft came out with new video-game consoles, there was no iPad, the iPhone was months away and “FarmVille” and “Angry Birds” had yet to be conjured up.
The PlayStation 4, which launches today, and the Xbox One, which goes on sale next week, face a much-changed gaming and entertainment landscape than their predecessors. As Sony and Microsoft spar this holiday season over who has the brawnier machine and more enticing online features, hardcore gamers are all but certain to fall for the shiny, powerful new consoles. But what’s less clear is how the gadgets will compete for the attention of people who now look to their tablets, smartphones and other devices for entertainment.
“It’s turning out that these consoles, in fighting each other for the love of the hardcore gamer, run the risk of failing to capture people in their homes,” says James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Both Microsoft and Sony position their gaming systems as entertainment devices meant to take over the living room. The Xbox 360 started streaming movies from Netflix in 2008 and the PlayStation 3, which already served as a Blu-ray player, soon followed, along with a bevy of other entertainment options. Experts wondered whether gaming systems would soon replace cable set-top boxes.
Not so fast, was the reply from a host of other gadget makers. Along came Google’s Chromecast, the Roku player, Apple TV and, of course, a slew of tablets. There are many ways to stream movies, TV and music into the home now. In that sense, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are no longer in a traditional, head-to-head battle.
“It’s really these consoles against everything else,” says Scott Stein, senior editor for the tech blog CNET.
That said, both gaming systems are expected to be in brisk demand around the holidays. Sony expects to sell 5 million units of the PlayStation 4 by the end of its fiscal year in March. The PlayStation 3, in comparison, sold 3.5 million units in that time period seven years ago. Microsoft declined to offer a sales outlook for the Xbox One through the holidays, but demand should be comparable, says Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. He expects 3 million Xbox Ones to be sold through December and 4.5 million through March.