Microsoft and Sony are both pursuing the end of traditional, generational console cycles in favour of iterative hardware releases. Whichever company had the idea first, both have reached the same conclusion but are to approach the market in different ways.
In June 2016, Microsoft announced Project Scorpio, while on Wednesday evening (7 September 2016) Sony announced PS4 Pro. Both support 4K visuals, high dynamic range (HDR) and virtual reality gaming, but of course there are differences: not least the fact they're releasing a year apart, with PS4 Pro arriving this November.
PS4 Pro vs Xbox One Project Scorpio: Power
PS4 Pro releases first, but Scorpio will be more powerful. Microsoft are already proudly saying that the difference in power "will be obvious". Indeed, with an additional year of development, it should be.
Microsoft is pushing hard that Scorpio will be "the most powerful console ever" but hasn't revealed its full specs. At the time of announcement may not have been final, which is the likely reason why. What they have said is that it will have six teraflops of computing power.
Contrasting that with the PS4 Pro's 4.20 teraflops of power is about the only fair comparison that can be made at this stage, but there's a world of difference between a console being more powerful and it using that power effectively.
PS4 Pro vs Xbox One Project Scorpio: Virtual reality
Both systems will support virtual reality: PS4 Pro with the PlayStation VR, and Scorpio with an unknown device or devices. Microsoft could get one over on Sony here if it allows for a greater level of VR performance than is possible with PSVR at the this point in time. That will depend of course, on whether virtual reality proves popular. If it does, it'll be thanks to Sony's headset.
PS4 Pro vs Xbox One Project Scorpio: 4K content
PS4 Pro supports 4K media streaming – updated Netflix and YouTube apps are coming to support this – and upscales a game's visuals to 4K quality. Native 4K won' be prevalent for some time due to the greater burden on developers.. For some this is a problem, as is the lack of support for 4K Blu Ray disc support. The decision to not include this was made to keep costs down, and achieve the surprisingly low £349 price point.
Eurogamer tech bods Digital Foundry were impressed with the results even without native 4K. "While the PlayStation 4 Pro GPU lacks the horsepower to render out challenging content at native 4K, the presentation we've seen on a number of titles clearly shows a worthwhile, highly desirable increase in fidelity over 1080p – one that does put a 4K screen to good use," they wrote. "Switching between full HD and checkerboard 4K, the increase in detail is simply stunning."
This is a good indication that the lack of native 4K won't impact what PS4 Pro has to offer in a major way. For Scorpio the questions are whether it does support native, how that impacts price and whether the differences will worthwhile to the average consumer.
PS4 Pro vs Xbox One Project Scorpio: Price
Microsoft is caught in a difficult position. Scorpio must be more powerful and offer more than PS4 Pro by simple virtue of the timing of its release, but it also must remain competitive in terms of price. The Pro is launching at £349, and it's entirely feasible that in a year's time it could be on offer at some retailers for £299. If Microsoft went to the extreme of a super-powerful console priced far higher than the Pro, that would future proof it, for a few years at least, but would only impact sales negatively.
PS4 Pro vs Xbox One Project Scorpio: Which console should you buy?
A problem for MS could be whether any differences compared to Pro will be stark enough to account for any potential difference in price. To the trained eye maybe, but those able to differentiate easily between brilliant picture quality and superb won't account for most of those Sony and Microsoft are targeting with these machines.
Both consoles will require 4K, HDR-supported television sets to get the most out of. Consumers are only getting their heads around HD, so it might take a few years before people are prepared to make the jump to 4K, by which time Scorpio will be a timely release.
Being first counts for a lot though, and with the PS4 Pro Sony may have struck the right balance between keeping a console affordable but providing a good enough reason to upgrade. The dilemma for Microsoft is deciding how much more powerful than the Pro Scorpio could be and should be, while also remaining competitive.