I want to talk a bit about one of the challenges that Microsoft and Sony face now that their 4K resolution display-designed consoles have been unveiled, and that’s the burden of teaching consumers what this next format evolution is, and what it means for their purchasing and gaming decisions and experiences going forward. Because it isn’t just that 4K TV ownership in the public is still low – it’s that strong knowledge of 4K TVs is low, too. And even though 4K isn’t a new term in gaming, I think it’s one most people could afford to not pay much attention to up until now. Why go through all the effort to learn about something expensive you don’t seem to need anyway?
The reveals of Microsoft’s Xbox One S and Scorpio at E3 and, this week, Sony’s PS4 Pro change that. Suddenly, “Do I need 4K?” isn’t such a simple question to dismiss. But nor is it any easier a question to answer, especially if price is a concern. And this is the landscape in which both Microsoft and Sony will operate – one in which teaching the public about 4K technology is as critical as promoting it.
Notably, it’s a burden that is now Sony’s first and foremost to shoulder after quietly letting Microsoft do the heavy lifting since the early reveal of Scorpio at E3. It will do so with the hurdle that, like 3D TV before it, 4K is a feature that really doesn’t translate through screenshots or video – you kind of just have to see it for yourself. And it will do so while having to manage the same air space in which the the PS4 Slim, PSVR, and all the games coming out for them that make them worth owning.
Many of the gameplay trailers at Sony’s event this week came noted with caveats about just what kind of systems are needed to produce those visuals, trying to hype multiple products to multiple audiences without accidentally promising anyone anything they shouldn’t expect with their current devices at home. That’s an inelegant (but still necessary) solution to a challenge that will heighten as 4K gaming consoles begin promotions in other, less-controlled mediums. How will quick game commercials during TV broadcasts manage those messaging nuances? What about box covers? In-store marketing displays? There aren’t easy answers to these questions – they’ll require that both companies (and the third-party developers that follow) maintain a level of forthright honesty with consumers about the real value of this technology, as well as the considerations we should all make before buying into gaming’s next wave.