The Rebirth of Portable Gaming Consoles
In the past few years people have migrated from the portable console towards other inventions, such as tablets and smartphones, when it came to gaming. Nowadays, people prefer throwing a drunken bird at some pigs while traveling to work, instead of solving complicated quest puzzles in demanding role-playing games. Simplicity, you might say, is at a trend, for some.
For the rest of the world, the ones who still like to put some effort into gaming and spend around $30 for a quality title, portable gaming consoles have always been the answer. Unfortunately, there was a problem with that also: too few options out there.
In a console market dominated by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, the appeal of the portable gaming segment was diverted immediately towards smartphones and tablets, where tons of games were released over-night and developers had enough gear to experiment on. And so, beautiful inventions like the PSP have almost become extinct. Until now…
Portable Consoles – the Phoenix of Mobile Gaming
Mobile gaming consoles have been neglected by product makers in the past few years, their attention shifting slowly towards more practical devices, like smartphones, or towards more profitable niches, like stationary console units. In the meantime, the lack of innovation and enthusiasm from consumers can describe the situation of the past year.
Burdens of the past
Let’s face it: since Sony had the idea of introducing the PlayStation Portable, and its later evolutions, the mobile gaming market has been a dry sea. Not a single device has lived to see their success number (maybe Nintendo, but that’s not so popular outside Asia) and I’m not speaking here of sales only, but also about prestige and pure greatness.
The Sony PSP was a remarkable device, one that is still bought by young and old gamers all around the world, even though the Vita evolution hasn’t managed to live up to expectations. If you like a software comparison of this situation, you can think of the PSP as Windows XP, and of Vita as Vista.
Stepping away from Sony, my opinion targets all other manufacturers who were lazy in this period, and left the mobile gaming movement rot on a sea of cellphones. Although quite a few consoles were released during the years, only a few managed to light a spark. Here’s just a short list:
- Nintendo 3DS / Game & Watch / DSI
- Blaze NeoGeo X Gold
- Hyperkin SupaBoy
- Sega Mega Jet / Nomad / GameGear
- Tiger Game.com
- Game Park GP2X / GP32
- Tapwave Zodiac
- Tiger Telematics Gizmondo
- Atari Lynx
- Bandai WonderSwan
The Wonders of Tomorrow
The future is going to be pretty awesome, in matters of gaming. With technology branching through several segments, like cloud hosting, gesture manipulation, eye-movement recognition and so on, limitations will soon be crossed. But in the past few weeks and even in those to come, some interesting gadgets have been announced.
Rather new companies in the hardware gaming world have announced themselves as future members of the movement and even some first-timers have plans to revolutionize the industry. Here are the major pillars of the future:
Razer, the well-known gaming accessories manufacturer, has announced since 2011 that a portable console which will revolutionize the world will be launched in 2013. The year has come without Razer making any major statements, but we still linger at the possibility that a console, bearing Microsoft’s Windows 8 or 7, will be powerful enough to replace conventional computer for those who play and travel, at the same time.
Razer describes the console to be revolutionizing, but not from the technical gimmicks part, where Switchblade may only pack an Intel Atom CPU clocked at unknown frequencies, a screen capable of rendering content at 1024 x 600 resolutions (not even HD) and a 128GB SSD of unknown origins.
The revolution should be seen from the precision and high-control aspects of the device, where Razor has embedded an ultra-sensitive multi-touch screen with a tactile dynamic keyboard that adapts, and changes configuration, depending on the game played. Imagine playing each game with the perfect set of commands – this is what Razer wishes to accomplish.
Chosen as the best project of CES 2011, the Razer Switchblade is still a thought of the future, but Razer, if you are reading this, now is the time to do it.
GameStick, a console which hasn’t even finished its KickStarter campaign, aims to bring portable gaming into your pocket for just $79. The console, which is simply a controller with an USB stick that attaches itself to a host TV, thanks to a HDMI port, will be able to render high quality Android and iOS titles onto high resolution TV sets. Although the main idea behind the project is to choose the most compelling titles from the market and port them on a high-resolution screen, seasoned developers and names have already pledged to program dedicated applications.
What’s so great about GameStick is of course, portability. Future owners will have the possibility of installing mobile games on a USB stick and pair it with the controller. From there on, all you need is a kick-ass TV and you’ve got yourself a powerful gaming experience, no matter in which hotel room you are sitting.
Pretty much like Ouya, the designers of GameStick aim to create a fully-open gaming world for developers, where experienced managers can launch a title right next to a kid developing the next major breakthrough from its home PC. Quality will be the only thing separating the two, and not a huge PR team in the backstage.
At this moment, the project is still in a prototype stage, but its makers have an April deadline of launching the beast and to draw the audience from smartphones, once more to portable gaming consoles. Until then, here’s what this baby will have under the hood:
- Processor: Amlogic 8726-MX
- Memory: 1 GB DDR3 RAM
- Storage: 8 GB FLASH
- OS: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Special features: Cloud-based market for games, support for up to 4 controllers (including a conventional mouse, keyboard), full 1080 decoding and compatibility for Android / iOS devices to be used as controllers
As simple as it sounds, I can’t stop pronouncing that name or from watching their presentation video. For those who haven’t yet heard of OUYA, this is a major KickStarter project who can be called one of the very firsts to bring the console gaming, and the wonderful-experience overall, back to the TV.
OUYA is a $99 priced console built around Android OS that wants to open up the console world for intelligent developers and bring your favorite game on the TV, for a low price. OUYA aims to introduce a concept where all games are free to try, purchases being made after you’ve realized that the title is a perfect match for you.
In matters of portability, OUYA will be implemented as a small box paired with a beautifully designed wireless controller and a HDMI port to connect a high-resolution TV. This will allow owners to travel from one location to another with the box in their bag and when they arrive in front of a TV, all you need is plug the darn thing.
When it comes to performance, OUYA has what it takes to render game-ownage:
- Tegra 3 quad-core processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 8 GB of internal storage
- Wi-Fi, USB 2.0 and Bluetooth LE 4.0
- Android 4.0
- Ethernet connection
Nvidia Shield Project
After harnessing a lot of gaming potential, Nvidia was bound to enter the console markt, a fact which recently happened and in style. Project Shield, as Nvidia entitled their next wonder, is a combination between a long-awaited portable gaming console, cloud computing and a processor that can develop unseen power.
Coming as a big-sized Xbox 360-like controller with a 5-inch wide screen attached on top, the Nvidia portable console is expected to deliver high quality-gaming, on the move. Besides the ultra sleek design and awesome technical specifications, which are by the way showcased below, the device has some other tricks up its sleeve that will make gamers want it very bad.
First of all, the console will come with a HDMI port that allows gamers to pair a high-resolution TV and enjoy gaming on the big screen. Secondly, thanks to the Android Jelly Bean operating system and the home-made processor, owners will have the ability to run any tablet / smartphone game and even enjoy Tegra-specific titles. Pairing that with the ability of running names right from the Steam platform, makes this baby a wonderful choice:
- nVidia Tegra 4 Processor
- 5-inch wide multi-touch display with 720p resolutions
- Integrated speakers
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
A rather unknown company, Xi3, has introduced this year in Vegas a portable gaming console called the Piston, with multiple functions. The latest generation of this console, called the 7A, is said to arrive this spring with lots of muscles gathered inside a tiny space, no larger than the size of your hand.
The Xi3 Piston A7 uses the Trinity platform to combine a quad-core microprocessor clocked at a whopping 3.2 GHz and 384 programmable graphic cores, which can pretty much draw anything, even 4K rezolutions. The assembly also comes with 8GB of DDR memory and the ability to support three monitors at the same time. Depending on the price, the configuration may vary and adapt from 64GB to 1TB of storage. Imagine how it’s like to harness that amount of power under one roof, and while consuming just 40 watts of energy.
The Piston A7 is a wonderful example of mobility, where gamers can pick up a cube and pair up with two other friends, into deciding who is the best DotA player or who can gather the most frags in a session. For ultimate gaming, multiple gamers can gather their cubes and connect them in one rack for high-end data processing.
Valve’s Steam Box
There are lots of talks about Valve’s own Steam Box this year, especially with the display of Xi3’s Piston, a project founded by Valve, arriving right on the Las Vegas show. Although the whole situation is still in a great fog at the moment, Valve keeping comments as tight as it can, the Steam Box project is a device that will be completely made and sold by Valve, in an attempt to overthrow other portable gaming figures.
At the moment, the game-platform maker is testing the market and looking for a hardware box to implement their ideas into and by the looks of it, the Xi3 Piston may be one of the variants. Although hard details will only be delivered in the last part of the year, here is what we know:
- Valve is looking to make a brand new device, which will be named and sold under their name.
- Besides being a gaming console, this device will serve as a streaming server to multiple monitors and multiple controllers, in order to accommodate wishes and gaming desires for all members of a family. In a recent interview, Valve’s spokesman stated that up to eight television sets may be paired.
- The Valve box has a high chance of packing Linux as the main platform, but some say it could arrive with Windows 8 or, if not, owners will have the liberty of installing it.
- Speaking of liberty, the project might be an open-sourced one and may include biometric data and gaze tracking
Portable beyond consoles
Now that I have drawn your attention, you must understand here that portable gaming is not all about having great consoles and great games to play. It’s about mobility and being spontaneous. It’s about calling your friends and gathering them to play a hack of a tournament, each member bringing its platform and creating a joint with others. It’s about getting your gear in the train and playing until you reach destination, without feeling the need of your PC or console back home.
Also considering mobility, nVidia had another great idea which should be implemented soon enough. Known as the GRID Platform, the nVidia cloud-gaming solution is something that will revolutionize who we think and perceive technical specifications.
When cloud-computing will fully come into effect for the gaming world, people will no longer need a state of the art device to play demanding games.
Everything will be processed remotely, by powerful machines like the Piston above, and end-users will only need a terminal from which to connect, an Ethernet connection powerful enough to stream data and of course, a subscription to services like the GRID.
In GRID, nVidia wants to stream regular PC games on portable consoles and optimize their interface according to the end-device.
Moreover, pausing and the principle of location will become somewhat irrelevant, with users being given the chance to catch-up with their quest from any type of terminal as long as they can connect. Although still in a testing phase, the project looks great.
And thus, the most powerful steps in the portable gaming technology have been made: new consoles, new games, and new ideas.