I’ve always enjoyed the fanboy hype that swirls around a new console generation. Which system will be most powerful? Which will have the best controller? Who’s got the best games and online features?
But since the last generation (PS3, 360, Wii), the consoles that are fastest out of the blocks haven’t always maintained their superiority.
That’s because our new online-capable, HDD-sporting consoles can evolve. And evolve they do.
Who can forget the “New Xbox Experience,” which brought user avatars and a brilliant new interface to the Xbox 360 – all with the download of a new firmware, for free?
Or how about the introduction of motion and voice controllers for PS3 (PS Move, PS Eye) and 360 (Kinect), which seemed to promise so much?
Hey, not every evolution works out for the best.
But console evolutions do change which system is best for each player. And if you’re still relying on the info you got at launch, you’re out of date!
So in this post, let’s catch up on the changes Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have made to their current home consoles – so you can make a better decision about which to buy.
Talkin’ ’bout this generation
In the course of the last gen’s eight-or-nine-year cycle, all three major consoles transformed significantly. Even the Wii was enhanced with SD card support and the WiiWare digital games service.
So how about this generation?
We’re already at least two years in. And all the bluster surrounding the launch of PS4, Xbox One and Wii U seems a long time ago.
At launch, Xbox One was all about Kinect and worries about always-online requirements.
PS4 was declared the world’s most powerful console at launch. But it didn’t have as many features then as it does now.
And launch Wii U systems shipped without its unique Miiverse social network, forcing new owners to download a ridiculously slow 1GB update before they could use their console properly.
How have things changed?
Compare PS4 now and at launch, and you’ll realise just how much better Sony’s powerhouse console has become.
Firmware v3.0 piles on the goodness
Just last month, the company released PS4 Firmware v3.0, which added all this stuff:
- YouTube and Twitter streaming – PS4 players can now stream game sessions to YouTube as well as Twitch. You can also share 10-second videos to Twitter.
- Communities – Players can create their own online communities within PSN, built around specific games, friend groups and more. Communities include a message board, shared screenshots and the ability to invite other members to games.
- Bigger PS Plus cloud storage – It’s now 10GB, instead of 1GB
- Events – A new hub tells players about the latest events for the games they play, like official broadcasts and tournaments.
Suspend/resume gets suspended
Suspend/resume was a feature that Sony promised for PS4 before the system was even released.
The feature allows players to save time jumping in and out of games: “Simply put your PS4 in Rest Mode and when you power up the next time, you’ll start your game where you left off.”
The feature finally showed up two years after launch, in Firmware v2.50 which arrived March 2015.
Better late than never!
Playing catch-up with PS3 on media streaming
PlayStation 3 had some pretty cool media streaming features. It could play video and music from a media server or its own hard disk, including a decent variety of file formats.
So when PS4 arrived, it was a surprise to find the new console’s media features so lacking.
Fortunately, Sony fixed that in June this year with the launch of PS4 Media Player. PlayStationers can watch MKV, H.264 and loads of other common formats.
Themes arrived a little late too
Another way PS4 lagged behind its predecessor at launch was through its lack of custom UI themes.
PS3 had a massive choice of downloadable themes, with which you could customise the look of the main console menus. On PS4? That stuff didn’t arrive until Firmware v2.0, which finally landed in January 2014.
They’re available now though. It’s just one of loads of PS4 improvements made through software updates – and more are to come, for sure.
Perhaps the biggest change to Xbox One came before it was actually released. Following massive fan backlash, Microsoft dropped plans for the system to require a 24/7 Internet connection and a ban on used games.
But the system’s had lots of post-launch improvements too. Here are some of the best.
Backwards compatibility takes XBO forward
It was one of the most pleasant surprises of E3 2015. Microsoft announced that, via emulation and a system update, Xbox One would soon be able to play many of the best Xbox 360 games.
Suddenly, the Xbox One’s game library had swelled – and it looked like much better value for money than at launch.
After a long beta test, it’s launching for everyone in November with 100+ games. Xbox One players can now look forward to classics like Shadow Complex and Bayonetta.
Controllers get fancier and fancier
Xbox One already had arguably the snazziest controller, with its independently-rumbling triggers and a design process that supposedly cost $500,000.
Then came a series of firmware updates for Xbox One controllers, which added new features like button re-mapping.
And on 27 October, an Elite Controller that costs around £120 will launch for Xbox One. It has swappable parts, a carry case and loads more excessive features.
If you want evolving controllers, as well as an evolving console, Xbox One is probably the console for you.
Another New Xbox Experience is coming…
I have very fond memories of the 360’s New Xbox Experience. It made everything look nicer and work more easily.
Now, the New Xbox One Experience (NXOE) is on its way. In fact, it’s already being beta tested by some users.
NXOE will add the Cortana voice assistant, game streaming to Windows 10 PCs, a better interface and online communities.
It’s apparently coming before Christmas – so Xbox One gamers can look forward to lots of new stuff very soon.
Nintendo Wii U
To be fair to Wii U, some of the newer XBO and PS4 features like communities and screenshot sharing were there in Nintendo’s Miiverse long ago.
That said, Wii U definitely hasn’t taken big leaps forward like its rivals. Most of its updates have been about stability, or shortening load times. But we have had a few nice new bits.
Quick Start menu really is quick
A big concern about Wii U at launch was how sloooow it was to boot up and load certain things. The system settings are still really slow.
Thankfully, in summer 2014, something rather good came along.
The Wii U Quick Start menu allows you to pick up the GamePad and instantly start any of your eight most-recently-used games or apps. There’s no need to wait for the console to start up, or even to switch on the telly!
It’s a nifty evolution that’s unique to Wii U.
Wii U gets organised with folders
The Wii U GamePad menu works a lot like a smartphone home screen, with touch controls and tiles representing each item. And once you’ve downloaded a whole bunch of games and apps, it gets hard to organise things without using folders.
Smartphones have folders, usually. Wii U launched without them. But they finally arrived a couple of years later, in October 2014.
Now you can organise all your Wii U titles, apps, eShop games and Virtual Console games in their own little sections. Finally!
TVii go bye-bye
Since launch, European Wii U systems had a “TVii” icon on the main menu, which did nothing. The service worked in America and Japan – but in the UK, tapping it gave a message that TVii was coming soon.
Then in August this year, a firmware update removed the TVii button. It’s not coming.
So for anyone who was looking forward to Nintendo TVii… sorry.
You’re now up to speed!
That’s it. That was my round-up of the most notable new features added to the current crop of consoles since launch. They’ve changed quite a bit, eh?
Hopefully you’re now better informed than ever about which console is right for you. Whichever you pick, enjoy it!
What’s your favourite console feature that arrived after launch? And which feature are you still hoping will show up on current consoles? Let us know in the comments.