Microsoft’s messaging on Xbox Scorpio is blessedly simple: This is the most powerful console hardware on the planet, all your existing games will work and look better, and cross-platform games will look and run the best on our hardware. This is a premium system, and it’s going to be fast as hell.
The Xbox One suffered from sloppy, meandering sales pitches that emphasized a doomed digital strategy and Kinect hardware that’s now been dead for years. Microsoft was left with a system that was slower and more expensive than the PlayStation 4, which focused on games and power.
The good news is that Microsoft has learned, and the new statement — Scorpio is massively powerful and nothing will match its performance for a long time — feels much better. It feels simple, in a good way.
The PlayStation 4 Pro has the Boost Mode, sure, but it affects different games in different ways and may even break certain games. Microsoft is promising games will just work on the Scorpio, and Kevin Gammill, group product director of the Xbox, said that “any 900p or better title [on Xbox One] would be able to easily run at frame-rate at 4K on Scorpio.”
If you have a 4K display, just put in your games and enjoy. They will work, and will look measurably better. Microsoft is also promising a variety of ways in which games will perform better on 1080p TVs.
“We’re going to be the ones that ensure that your games run as fast as they can [and] the best that they possibly can,” Microsoft’s Andrew Goossen said. "There will be some cases where we have to dial down some of those attributes... in some games we potentially have to dial down the number of [compute units], for example, to maintain compatibility with that title. But again these are all things that Microsoft does, we’ve always done, that’s true of all 360 titles on Xbox One. We just make sure it runs the best it possibly can on Scorpio and we’re very excited that Scorpio really will be the best place to run all your Xbox content.”
The Xbox One already allows Xbox 360 games to run better, and seeing such a big jump on all your existing content is going to be a huge advantage in the market ... at least for players who are willing to spend the money to get the best performance possible in a console. PlayStation VR is already exceeding expectations as well, and Scorpio is poised to provide even better performance with VR if Microsoft goes through with its plans to bring VR to the Xbox family of consoles.
The lack of 4K Blu-ray support on the PlayStation 4 Pro is baffling, and feels a bit like a gotcha move. Scorpio comes with a 4K Blu-ray drive and, in fact, may be one of the best physical media players available when it launches. Again, this is simple: The system seems ready to do all the things you expect it to do. You buy it, connect it to your display, and games and media will look better.
Microsoft has responded to the current console war by throwing power at Sony, and that’s a bit of a crude strategy, but who cares? On paper, Scorpio isn’t just a little more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro; Microsoft has a massive power and memory advantage that — on paper at least — should let the company say that every multiplatform game will look the best on Scorpio. That’s what Microsoft needs to hammer for the mainstream once the press is done with the technical details being released now: You don’t have to understand why, but your games will look best on our platform.
And that’s why Microsoft’s message is so good for this console. You can get into the weeds about memory bandwidth or 4K standards or explaining what exactly FreeSync is, but that level of granularity isn’t necessary to sell the system. Microsoft only has to repeat, over and over, that your existing games and future purchases are going to look significantly better on this system — and there’s nothing the PlayStation 4 Pro can do to compete.
It’s a simple message, one that will hopefully be easy to convey visually once we begin seeing more games. And being the best at something is a very good weapon to have in your arsenal.