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Microsoft: Xbox Scorpio's power advantage over PS4 Pro 'will be obvious'

Not worried about Sony's one-year head start

A glimpse of the innards of Microsoft's Project Scorpio.
A glimpse of the innards of Microsoft's Project Scorpio.

Albert Penello seems sanguine about Sony's long-awaited unveiling of the PlayStation 4 Pro (formerly known by its in-development codename, "Neo").

"I feel pretty good about the decisions we've made," said Penello, who serves as senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, in a phone interview with Polygon today. In this, Penello is referring to Microsoft's announcement in June of its own "mid-generation" console upgrade, currently referred to as "Project Scorpio," but he's also referencing both Microsoft's and Sony's more entry-level options. "I feel good about what we've done with the Xbox One S," Penello said. "Both we and Sony are investing in 4K as the future of the console space, and we have a history of adding features to our hardware."

Penello pointed out that the Xbox One S is a more feature-complete system in some ways than even the just-announced PlayStation 4 Pro, to say nothing of the PlayStation 4 Slim that Sony also officially announced today. Other prominent Xbox employees expressed similar opinions on Twitter, including Aaron Greenberg, head of games marketing.

"I feel pretty good about the decisions we've made"

Xbox representatives were quick to point out the absence of a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray drive in the PlayStation 4 Pro. When pressed about the inclusion of a UHD Blu-ray drive in Scorpio, Penello said the console would have one, though a Microsoft spokesperson clarified that it is the company's "intention to deliver it."

One of the bigger surprises at today's Sony presser was the company's assertion that it would release a firmware update adding "HDR compatibility" to all existing PS4 consoles, going back to the platform's launch in November 2013. When asked if Microsoft would be able to offer a similar patch to customers who own an Xbox One but not an Xbox One S — which Microsoft introduced in part because of its addition of both 4K and HDR support — Penello was non-committal, saying, "Until I know more about how they're doing it, I can't speak to whether or not we can offer something similar."

Current UHD 4k industry standards require an HDMI 2.0a connection with HDCP 2.2 enabled to support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the competing HDR standards in North America. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched in 2013 with HDMI 1.4 support, which offers some support for expanded color gamuts, one component of the current HDR standards. HDMI 2.0a requires specific hardware to support HDR requirements, and while some devices can be upgraded from HDMI 2.0 to 2.0a, it's unclear if this is the case with the PS4's HDMI 1.4 output.

With Sony's announcement of a Nov. 10 release this fall and a price tag of $399, eyes are now on Microsoft to announce more about Scorpio. Penello wouldn't speak to price, explaining in part that these things are still being determined. "We know it's important to deliver an experience that demonstrates the power gap between [the PS4 Pro and Scorpio] at a price that makes sense to console gamers," he said.

Penello was confident that Microsoft's upcoming console will convincingly eclipse Sony's upgraded hardware. While Sony did not discuss hardware specifications on stage during their press conference, a press release from the company confirmed earlier reports putting the PS4 Pro's GPU at 4.2 teraflops of computing power.

"The performance delta will be obvious"

This means Scorpio — which Microsoft has said will feature a GPU clocked at 6 teraflops — will be approximately 43 percent more powerful on paper than Sony's system. "The performance delta will be obvious," said Penello. Other information about Scorpio remains unknown; Microsoft has touted the system's increased memory bandwidth, for example, but hasn't yet clarified whether the system will have more RAM than the existing Xbox One and Xbox One S.

Because of that power gap, Penello said Microsoft isn't especially worried about the one-year head start that the PS4 Pro will have on Scorpio. When asked about a more concrete release date, Penello reiterated the holiday 2017 timetable that Xbox head Phil Spencer announced at E3 2016.

"We announced this year to give developers more time to familiarize themselves with the hardware," Penello said. When asked if the work developers are doing on the PS4 Pro now will benefit Scorpio when it launches next year, Penello responded that he hoped so. "It's interesting that we've arrived in a similar place," Penello said, referring to Microsoft and Sony. "The PlayStation 4 Pro gives developers a road map for 4K gaming."

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