Chandrakant Isi Nov 01, 2015 13:07 PM IST
Video games have come a long way. Graphics these days are inching towards photorealism. Things were completely different in the early days of gaming though. Visuals were mostly represented by the geometric shapes. The absurdly powerful PS4 and Xbox One's ancestors had a humble beginning. In fact, the world's first gaming console didn't even make it to the store shelves.
In 60s, TV set had become a household item in the US. Military had managed to modify televisions for specific use. This inspired the German born American, Ralph Henry Baer, to build an interface to enable gaming on the idiot box.
With some help from his employer Sanders electronics, Baer build the first gaming console dubbed as the Brown Box (because of its colour). The prototype was known for its Table Tennis game. Unfortunately, no company showed interest to mass produce it.
In 1971, Baer sealed a licensing deal with Magnavox. The company started retailing the gaming console as Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. Consumers responded positively, with close to a lakh units picked-up in the first year.
Television overlays were sold with the system to make up for the bare-bone graphics. Baer also developed light gun for this console. You can call this add-on a Kinect of the old times.
Inspired by Odyssey's success, Atari launched its Tele-Games machine with Pong game. It was a Table Tennis clone with a few enhancements including sound. It turned out to be a huge success.
The console has been credited for bringing gaming to the masses. With the launch of Atari 2600, the company dominated the console market.
In 1983, Japanese brand Nintendo released Famicom (Family Computer) at its home turf. The console was a major success.
Two years later, the console was released worldwide with a new design and name — NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). This 8-bit processing platform made the Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and Excitebike possible.
Launched in 1988, the Sega Genesis wasn't the first console to utilise the 16-bit processor. However, it was one of the most successful to do so. Due to its technological superiority, Sega proudly pushed its console with "Genesis does what Nintendon't" tagline.
The Sega Genesis dominated the gaming space till Nintendo could fight back with its 16-bit system. It sold approx 40 million units, worldwide.
After failed partnership with Nintendo, Sony entered the gaming market on its own. This fifth generation console was capable of rendering 3D graphics. Its CD ROM enabled developers to create more complex games.
Some of the insanely popular franchises for this console include Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Final Fantasy. With over 100 million units sold, it blew the American rival Atari out of the water. In its appreciation, even Microsoft's Bill Gates once said that "our game designer likes the Sony machine".
Sony PlayStation 2
Sony continued its successful run in the new century. Launched in 2000, the console sold like hot-cakes. The sixth-gen console offered backward compatibility — you could play the PlayStation One games on it.
The PS2 supported DVD movie playback, which prompted many consumers to pick-up this console over similarly priced stand-alone DVD players. In addition to its existing franchises, GTA (Grand Theft Auto) series turned out to be a big success for PS2. Shipping over 155 million units, it stands as the best-selling gaming console of all time.
A year after the launch of the PS2, Microsoft entered the gaming market. The idea was to build a console based on Microsoft's DirectX framework, which helped thrive gaming on Windows desktops for years. Little wonder then, it was called the Xbox.
Its unique offering at that time was Xbox Live service, which provided online gaming on consoles. Although the Halo franchise provided it the much needed sales boost, the Xbox was nowhere near the PS2 in terms of sales.
Microsoft Xbox 360
While Microsoft's first stab at the consoles market didn't hurt Sony, the Xbox 360 certainly did. Apart from a wireless gamepad, the console featured optional motion camera controller Kinect (with help from an Israeli company PrimeSense).
Apart from consolidating its online gaming service, Microsoft also offered third-party media streaming services and apps for the Xbox 360. In addition to the Halo series, Microsoft delivered another killer franchise, Gears of War, considered as one of the best TPS (Third Person Shooter). As of 2014, the Xbox 360 has sold over 84 million units.
Sony PlayStation 3
Late to the party, the PS3 didn't receive much love upon release. However, with the introduction of refined Slim model, the sales started picking-up over time. Blu-ray's eventual win over HD-DVD (backed by Microsoft) also attributed to rising sales.
To compete with the Kinect, Sony developed its own Move motion controller. To catch-up with Xbox live, Sony launched PlayStation Network. Going neck to neck with the Xbox 360, the PS3 has sold over 80 million units.
While Microsoft and Sony were trading blows, Nintendo's Wii won consumers with its unique controller and competitive pricing. Instead of traditional button only approach, the Wii remote lets you play using the motion of your hand (accelerometer plays a big part here).
Deemed ideal for sport games including Tennis and Golf, the console turned out to be a big hit among casual gamers. Despite its modest specifications, and 480p video rendering, the Wii sold over a 100 million units worldwide.
Since the Xbox 360's dashboard, online services, and Kinect sensor were well received, Microsoft worked hard to make it even better in its latest console. So much that, many felt that Microsoft is no more focused on gaming.
Rightly so, because many popular games including Batman: Arkham Knight run at 900p on Xbox as opposed to 1080p (Full HD) on PS4. Considering that the gaming consoles have a long life-cycle, it is too early to write off the Xbox One though. Once Microsoft enables backward compatibility with over 100 Xbox 360 titles, the console might finally take off.
Sony PlayStation 4
With clear focus on gaming, Sony's PS4 has become the weapon of choice for hardcore gamers. This console's UI (User Interface) and media capabilities are nowhere as good as Microsoft's offering, but the excellent performance makes up for it.
As of now, the Japanese brand sold over 25 million units. Microsoft hasn't shared the numbers, but is clearly lagging in terms of sales. At least at this point, it seems that the PS4 is going to win the eighth-gen console war.