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Last Console Generation?
The Short Answer is 'NO'
Game consoles have been around for decades. From the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, to the Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3, consoles have been providing users with endless video entertainment for years. We are currently in the 8th-video game console 'generation' as it has come to be known. Before we tackle the matter of the 'next' console generation, or lack thereof, let's first break down the previous console generations so we can better understand exactly what constitutes a 'generation'.
1st Console Generation
The first console generation can be distinguished by the lack of what the other generations brought to the table, such as microprocessors, external media & multi-colored palettes. Examples of first-generation consoles include the Magnavox Odyssey and the Atari Pong machines.
2nd Console Generation
The second console generation introduced microprocessor logic, ROM cartridges, three-channel audio and basic color. Examples of 2nd-Gen consoles include: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Bally Astrocade & Fairchild Channel F.
3rd Console Generation
The third console generation introduced the concept of 'bits' and also saw the market domination switch to Japanese-based companies. The Nintendo Entertainment System & Sega's SG-1000 marked the beginning of a strong rivalry between the two Japanese studios which would later go on provide us with some of the most unique and ground-breaking gaming experiences in history. The Atari 7800 came in third during this console generation.
4th Console Generation
The fourth console generation, and one of my personal favorites, introduced enhanced audio/visual quality, and provided us with some of the finest 2D games in existence. The previous generations are generally viewed as being a 'testing' field for developers to get a grip on exactly how a two-dimensional game should play. Also known as the '16-bit era' and home to few of the most memorable moments in gaming history, the fourth-generation was primarily fueled by the war between Sega & Nintendo as it was nearing its peak. The Sega Genesis/Megadrive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) were the two primary platforms during this generation, with a slew of short-lived and commercially unsuccessful 'copy-cat' systems by various companies.
5th Console Generation
The fifth console generation introduced the gaming world to true, fully three-dimensional titles. Sega's slight lead in the console market began to slip after the issues involved with the Sega CD & 32X add-ons. The Sega Saturn did not fare much better. Nintendo was still riding on the success of the SNES and was beginning work on a 3D-capable console which would continue to use the cartridge media format, becoming known as the Nintendo 64. Sony's disagreement with Nintendo led to the production of the original PlayStation home console.
6th Console Generation
The sixth console generation perfected the three-dimensional formula and provided us with some of the greatest 3D titles known in gaming. It also introduced us to the idea of enhanced-definition formats, such as VGA and component. It was kick-started with my favorite video game console ever created, which was the Sega Dreamcast. A short-lived marvel of a machine, the Dreamcast brought us the first true 3D Sonic game in Sonic Adventure, introduced us to the concept of a second screen with the innovative Visual Memory Unit (VMU), brought arcade-quality games to the home, introduced 480p enhanced-definition picture through the use of the VGA format, exposed us to the concept of a free-roaming RPG in the form of Shenmue and gave gamers their first taste of mainstream internet play on the console.
However, due to it's short lifespan and time of release, it's often omitted from the sixth-generation entirely. The three main consoles associated with this generation are Sony's PlayStation 2, Nintendo's GameCube & Microsoft's Xbox.
7th Console Generation
The seventh console generation was marked by another major visual shift. The previous shift came from going from two-dimensional gaming to three-dimensional gaming. This time the shift was from three-dimensional gaming to high-definition gaming, or HD. The 'console war' also shifted from Sega vs Nintendo to Sony vs Microsoft. The PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 were the two game consoles in the era of HD. Nintendo's Wii console did not deliver games in high-definition, but instead provided graphics and picture quality similar to that of the original Xbox.
8th Console Generation
The eighth console generation did not provide a dramatic visual climb as the previous generation had. It provided us with consoles that closely resembled a Personal Computer (PC) in terms of structure and design.
Sega CD/32X & Nintendo 64DD
If you look at console history, it's not a secret that there were often 'attempts' at upgrading or expanding existing console hardware. These usually came in the form of add-ons that gave the established hardware additional abilities or functions. The Sega CD was designed to afford the Genesis/Megadrive consoles the ability to perform scaling operations as well as output CD-quality audio and store much larger games than traditional cartridges possibly could. Nintendo also attempted to expand upon limitations of the cartridge by offering an add-on device that would allow functions not possible with ROM-based cartridges alone.
So, upgrading existing hardware and expanding functionality is nothing new among console gaming. Project Scorpio and what Sony is doing with the PS4 Neo is nothing different. They are essentially expansions upon the functionality of the existing Xbox One & PS4 hardware, except they are coming in stand-alone form rather than as add-ons.
The business model of game consoles is definitely shifting, but not in a way that isn't recognizable. Game development has evolved over the years, and the average lifespan of traditional consoles (about 3-5 years) is no longer conducive to providing the best experience. ; the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 survived for over a decade! The idea of being locked-in and limited to aging hardware is becoming a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean that consoles are too.