The last major hardware release of the seventh console generation, the PS3, was waaaaay back in 2006. Six years on, and we're about to see the next generation of gaming begin, with the launch of the Wii-U before the end of the year. It's hardly surprising that the gaming community has been starting to anticipate major announcements from both Microsoft and Sony about their next wave of consoles, too. Here's what to expect:

Back around the launch of the PS3, Sony stated that it'd have a 10 year life cycle on store shelves. Microsoft similarly estimated that the release of Kinect would take the life of the Xbox 360 well into 2015. If those targets are to believed, then we'll be keeping hold of our precious consoles for another three or four years. To be honest, I'd rather not wait that long, but if had my way all the time, 3D would've been banned two years ago and Justin Bieber would be tried for crimes against music.

 

What Will These New Wunderkids Be Called?

Hopefully the new Xbox won't be called the Xbox 720, because frankly that's a stupid name. However, it works until we get the official announcement, because the rumoured code name of 'Durango' is equally as stupid. At least I think so anyway. Is that a hard "g" or not, Microsoft? And what does it even mean?

 




Meanwhile, Sony has a track record of adding a new number to their consoles with each new iteration, however if you look at the unique naming of the PSVita and a leak indicating that the new console is named 'Orbis,' there's a chance the Japanese company won't come out with the 'PS4.'

 

What Can We Expect From These Consoles Anyway?

Everyone's favourite area of speculation always concerns the hardware; with the only constant rumour concerning the presence of an AMD graphics card. I'm skeptical of many of the hardware rumours, especially since some people are reporting the Xbox 720's CPU could well contain a whopping 16 cores, proving that yes, rumours can be as extravagant as they are varied.

Whatever the new specs, we will be sure to see a massive increase in both graphics and processing power for both machines, especially when people like John Carmack (founder of the game studio iD, which created the Doom and Quake game-series) insist on creating textures that take up 1TB of space, like we saw with Rage.

Latest rumours suggest that the PS4 will include 4K resolution-support; far higher than the current 1080p available on most HDTVs. I think this is rather likely since it would help Sony sell its own 4K TVs, and would allow greater graphical potential -- though it will inevitably help bulk the price out somewhat.


An artist's mock-up of a PS4

One aspect of the hardware that we can be pretty confident about is the rumoured lack of a disc drive in the Xbox 720 to focus on direct downloads or, as some people seem to think, a reintroduction of game cartridges by using SSD drives. I'm dismissing both of these, simply because they would be ineffective and too costly to implement.

As you no doubt know, it's possible to download games directly through Xbox Live, but could that be the only way to obtain new Xbox games for this new console? Not in my opinion, simply because the right infrastructure doesn't exist yet, and broadband speeds are far too varied across the world. Last week It took me all day to download an 800Mb piece of DLC; imagine how long it would take me to download iD's 22GB colossus Rage?

Additionally, SSD cartridges would be far too expensive to implement worldwide. During a quick search on Amazon, I discovered that a 50GB SSD drive is around the £60 mark, whereas 10 blank Blu-rays are £10. Obviously the companies would be privy to better wholesale prices, but that does say a lot, doesn't it?

Yes, it is true that Sony does have high investments in Blu-ray, and Microsoft would be indirectly supporting its rivals if they included it. But if they want their console to be able to keep up with demand and the increasing size of games, inclusion of Blu-Ray drives are essential unless Microsoft made its own high-definition disc (and we all know how that worked out last time).

 

What Add-Ons Can We Expect?

Add-ons have been a very serious part of the current console generation with the rise of motion-control, sparked by the success of the Wii. While there are no specifics yet, the Xbox 720 is sure to include the successor to Kinect; word on the internet is that it could well be powerful enough to read lip movement. Throw in the rumoured augmented reality glasses from June's leak, and it would need some serious power. That rumoured 16 core CPU isn't looking so over-the-top now, is it?

Over on Sony's side, an updated PS Eye for Kinect-style controller-free gaming could serve as a nice replacement for the PS Move. Sony definitely needs to look at this area, considering the Kinect sold almost twice as many units as the PS Move.

Both of these rumours are incredibly likely I'd say, given motion controls have proved incredibly popular with the casual gamer demographic (just look at the success of the Wii) and both companies will likely want to reap the rewards motion controls have to offer.


Supposed patent image of the next-gen PS Eye
Games, and That Old "Backwards Compatibility" Chestnut

I'm sure the biggest question that will be on the lips of many gamer will be, "Does it have backwards compatibility?"

Well, that would depend on the console. The assumption over at Gamesradar is that the PS4 probably won't include backwards compatibility, and I'm inclined to agree. Any PS3 owner who bought one after 2007 will know that later models don't play PS2 or PS1 discs because the cost of implementing that feature was so high and Sony just couldn't see the benefits. I think it's pretty unlikely Sony will come out and include it as a feature for the PS4 for the same reason. If any old games are available, it will probably be as a direct download.

As for the Xbox 720, I think it's rather likely that there will at least be a selection of the back catalogue available, whether it be by disc or through Xbox Live. The most likely scenario is that almost none of the games from the original Xbox will be 720-compatible, with a few exceptions for the popular games. As for 360-to-720 compatibility, most of the games will likely be compatible. Especially since six of the eight games in Microsoft's cash-cow franchise Halo are Xbox 360 titles.


Concepts of possible 3D with Kinect 2.0 from June's leak

On a side note, June's Xbox leak gave an impression that 3D would be integrated as part of Kinect 2.0's AR glasses, which I find rather disappointing, mainly because I despise 3D and the only people I know who claim that they like it are purposely doing it to annoy me.

It's important to bear in mind that those leaked documents are over two years old and Microsoft has had plenty of chances to include 3D in its Xbox 360 games since then. In fact, only three Xbox exclusive games have included 3D; all of them developed by third parties. So I'll take that with a pinch of salt, especially since 3DTV sales have been incredibly slow so it wouldn't be a worthwhile investment, especially considering they have little to gain financially by implementing 3D.

Sony on the other hand claims to still be invested in 3D, despite it not being mentioned in relation to its gaming division for nearly 18 months, so expect to see new 3D stuff on the PS4 as it tries to push people to buy one of its 3DTVs.

 

When Can We Circle These Launches In Our FiloFaxes?

Given E3 is still the biggest date in the diary for gaming companies, both consoles are more than likely to make an appearance at next year's show, in June. It seems like the obvious choice I know, but it's still the best place for both companies to launch their stake in the next generation of consoles, especially given this year's conference was remarkably lacklustre, and Microsoft pulled back from January's CES show this year, so they're unlikely to unveil anything there.

A release date? Christmas 2013 would be nice, but I wouldn't put any money on it. I'd say Christmas 2014 as the most viable candidate at this time, especially since the later parts of the year have been the unofficial window for console releases.

There could well be a change in that trend, but with all the impulsive present-buying at Christmas, it's the best period for selling a new console. As anyone who tried to buy a Wii for Christmas 2006 can attest to...

In the end, the Xbox 360's early launch gave it the edge over the PS3 in terms of sales, and both companies will know that. Rather than playing the waiting game, I'm sure they both want to beat the competition to the market. But who will be first? Only time can tell, with that one.

 

What I Want To See

Despite various rumours flying around the internet, there are still a lot of unknowns, but here are a few things I would ideally like to see changed that haven't already been mentioned:

PS4

1/ Controller Redesign.
The Playstation controller design is now 18 years old, which is almost obsolete in technology standards and don't even get me started on the shape of the damn thing. Ergonomics especially didn't seem to be a thing in 1994, and for whatever reason, Sony didn't change the design with the launch of the PS3, instead choosing to just shove new components where it could.

My advice? Follow the lead of Microsoft's design with a controller that fits comfortably in a hand; Nintendo's done so with the Wii-U's pro controller, and if Nintendo copies something then it must be good (anyone in the know will be aware it's usually the other way around).

2/ Make it as slim and sleek as possible at launch.
Don't announce a new slimmer model a couple of years down the line in an attempt to boost sales, when the only change is the look of the console. Basically, don't ever re-release the console unless it's had a major hardware overhaul.

Or unless you've got a special limited-edition Crash Bandicoot model.

3/ Ignore 3D.
Please let it die with as much dignity as it can?

Xbox 360

1/ Make Xbox Live Gold free for all members.
Sony did just that; hell even those money-grabbing bastards at EA are making the Old Republic free to play this Autumn.

2/ Allow third parties to create apps for the Xbox.
Makes sense in this day and age, right?

What both companies should include

1/ Work on some original innovation rather than copying what has sold well for someone else *cough* motion controllers *cough*. We're looking mostly at you here, Sony.

2/ Support independent development and modding. Microsoft did this well with Kinect, but there's always room for improvement. Sony needs to stop suing people who can crack their hardware and software.

Did we miss any must-have features out, do you think? Let us know below.

Image Credit: Kinect 2.0 3D, PS4 and PS Eye Patent from Games Radar; Durango from T3