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Your Xbox One, PlayStation 4 May Get Upgrades

Annual Gaming Industry Conference E3 Takes Place In Los AngelesAnnual Gaming Industry Conference E3 Takes Place In Los Angeles
Game enthusiasts and industry personnel walk between the Microsoft XBox and the Sony PlayStation exhibits at the Annual Gaming Industry Conference E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.Photograph by Christian Petersen — Getty Images

PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One may be getting upgrades. The trouble is, you’ll have to pay for them, even if you already own the consoles.

Let’s start with Sony (SNE). Over the last several weeks, rumors have been swirling that Sony would introduce a new console, known either as the PlayStation 4.5 or PlayStation 4K. While details have been scant, gaming site Giant Bomb reported on Monday, citing unidentified sources, that the console is indeed coming and is currently codenamed Neo.

According to Giant Bomb, the PlayStation Neo will have a faster processor and graphics chip. In addition, Sony plans to upgrade its memory to make the console speedier. Unlike the PlayStation 4, which supports resolution up to 1080p, the PlayStation Neo will support 4K resolution. Neither the documents obtained by Giant Bomb nor its sources say what the device might look like or how much it’ll cost. Previous reports have pegged its price at $399, about the same amount as some PlayStation 4 bundles.

Meanwhile, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, Phil Spencer, told GameInformer earlier this month that he doesn’t like the idea of building an “Xbox One and a half.” The comment threw water on the idea that an upgraded Xbox would be coming soon.

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But on Tuesday, The Verge pointed to a post on gaming forums site NeoGAF, which linked to a Microsoft filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that mentions a new chip that’s not available in the current Xbox One. In addition, The Verge cited its own sources who said that Microsoft has been testing several console prototypes, including some that come with upgraded components.

One more tidbit: Microsoft has apparently had the FCC sign a non-disclosure agreement requesting the agency not reveal any details about products it would need to approve to launch a new console. The agreement expires less than two weeks after Microsoft is expected to make a presentation at the gaming show E3 in June.

While none of the reports so far is a smoking gun, the very idea that Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony are thinking about upgrades rather than a major release is notable.

Historically, game companies debut new consoles every several years. While they may decide to add new designs or secretly update some components, console makers haven’t traditionally launched meaningful upgrades in the middle of a console’s lifecycle. Instead, they save the big updates for the next generation of hardware.

It’s unclear why this console generation may be different. For one, 4K televisions are expected to rise in popularity in the coming years, and consoles not supporting 4K could be a deal-breaker for some gamers. Sony, which sells 4K televisions, could also use the upgraded PlayStation Neo to promote its televisions.

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Meanwhile, PC gamers have long snickered at console gamers. Each year, PCs and their components are upgraded, typically allowing for better visual quality on computers. Meanwhile, several years into a console’s lifecycle, users are often playing with outdated hardware. Many PC gamers upgrade components more quickly than companies launch new consoles, providing them all the benefits of new hardware sooner than their console-based counterparts. It’s possible that Sony and Microsoft, which has committed to creating similar gaming experiences across Windows and Xbox One, want to close that gap.

Regardless, what’s clear is that current Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners might be out of luck with the new updates. Since the Neo and rumored Xbox One upgrades are new hardware, those hoping to get a better gaming experience would ostensibly have to buy the newer option. That might not go over so well with gamers who have spent hundreds of dollars on their existing consoles.

According to Giant Bomb, Sony is thinking about the possible ramifications of angering customers, and has called on all developers creating games for Neo to ensure they deliver the same features and characters to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Neo owners. Still, PlayStation 4 owners who play the same game as PlayStation Neo owners likely won’t get the same experience due to the new consoles’ improved components. Indeed, Neo would offer superior gameplay and graphical experiences, even if the games’ stories and characters are identical.

Neither Sony nor Microsoft responded to a request for comment. But expect to hear much more about both the PlayStation Neo and whatever Microsoft has planned as we get closer to the E3 gaming show next month.