It's Not Just Google That's Threatening Consoles

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

If you're a console manufacturer, you've had a pretty good run. Millions of users around the world with plenty of appetite for new content, games, and DLC. On top of that, consoles have always had a wonderful secondary market: people picking up cheap bundles or standalone consoles to serve as media players and low-cost entertainment options for the family.

That principle of the console as a media device is a handy part of the market. It's been a huge success for the Xbox One S, being pitched as the cheapest 4K Blu-Ray player locally. But with the next generation of TVs finally offering stiff competition on the usability front, the value of owning a separate media device (or gifting a hand-me-down console) is starting to shrink.

In case you're in any doubt about how serious a problem this is for the console manufacturers, consider this. The most used application for both Microsoft and Sony in Australia isn't a game or some first-party creation. It's Netflix. Gaming might be the reason they bought the console in the first place, and maybe why they might buy another console in the future, but it's not the console's most popular function.

So what happens when we live in a world where iView, Stan and Netflix are loaded faster than the time it takes for your console to boot up?

I had the opportunity, along with Tegan from Gizmodo, to check out the next generation of Samsung TVs that are available from today. There was plenty of future TV tech on show at CES this year - that rollable LG OLED being one - but this was a chance to trial the Q90 QLED 75" TV, and the accompanying Q70 soundbar. The new QLED TV range also includes the Q900 8K TV, although press isn't expected to get hands on with that until later this year.

A lot of the improvements in TV tech year-on-year tends to be largely iterative. The 2019 range supports the new HDMI standard, adding support for variable refresh rate and high frame rate content. The higher frame rate does add a little bit of extra latency (just over 15ms in game mode, compared to just over 11ms at bog-standard 60Hz), although they're nowhere near the response time of any gaming monitor.

But if your current TV still has a 25ms or higher input lag, not to mention the other peculiarities of earlier game mode implementations (like vastly reduced brightness), then that's still a solid improvement. Even more valuable, particularly to the legions of Australians who no longer view free-to-air TV at all, is an interface that actually, finally, works the way it should.

I'm not saying for a heartbeat that the in-built experience of a TV is going to make a difference for everyone. Your smart TV isn't going to be as versatile as a Kodi box, and it probably won't have the same upgradability or portability.

But that's not how most people use their TVs. Most people don't even use the game mode on their TVs, as John Carmack quipped recently.

Being able to jump into a video faster than the time it takes the sound to kick in? That will eliminate the need to think of an Xbox or a PlayStation as a media device for most Australians. It'll take about three or four years for the hardware in this generation of TVs to become commonplace for most Australian consumers, but that also fits the timeframe when most people think about upgrading their TVs anyway. Plenty of Australians will have also only just upgraded in the last couple of years; brand new 4K HDR TVs cost less than $1000 these days.

The snappiness of that experience is what made the Nvidia Shield one of my favourite devices last year. Being based on Android TV also meant apps - outside of the largest streaming services - were often better designed, and updated, than their smart TV equivalents. It was most evident with the free-to-air networks and public broadcasters, whose apps are ordinary at best.

Unless you're on console, where they're worse.

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All of this isn't irrelevant for gaming, either. Most of the major TVs this year will ship with Apple Airplay, allowing them to cast any Apple Arcade games from their iOS device to the TV. Samsung TVs already come equipped with Steam Link, and while it won't make as big a difference as the connection of the host PC, eliminating any processing lag from the TV's end certainly helps.

Google Stadia is on the horizon, and there's whatever Amazon decides to do in the cloud gaming space. The kicker with all of this is that, previously, a console or some other form of set-top box would have been necessary for any part of it. Smart TVs simply weren't powerful enough. The apps were slow, the performance dodgy, the content out of date.

Consoles filled that void. But in a few years, that void won't be there.

This doesn't affect seasoned gamers and the early adopters who will buy a console just to have the next generation. But it will hit the bottom line of console manufacturers eventually. Why bother spending $299 or $399 on an 8K console bundle if you can just stream the experience straight through your TV? Why would you bother gifting a hand-me-down console to your parents if they don't need it anyway?

This is all a few years out, of course. Plenty of households have just upgraded to 4K and HDR, and it'll be years before there's any FOMO around 8K content, especially since there is no 8K content right now. And with the average amount of TVs per Australian household declining steadily from 2010 to 2017, people aren't upgrading their TVs any faster.

The most popular use of a console in Australia is for Netflix. The TV experience has already reached a point that surpasses what consoles do today.

What happens when you're not turning your console on for movies and TV shows anymore? What impact does that have on your exposure to the games on those platforms, and everything else those consoles want to sell?

A war is afoot. Google are pledging to kill off the console with their promise of cloud gaming. They won't, certainly not in Australia. But an attack from Google can't be ignored. And that's not the only front console manufacturers have to fight on.


Comments

    Wasnt the cheapest 4k bluray player the x1s and not the x1x?

    Last edited 11/04/19 12:42 pm

      Ugh, yeah I meant the S. My bad, it's fixed now.

    Literally all my XBoneX does is run Netflix, Kodi and Youtube.

    I have a PS4, PC and Switch if I want to do actual gaming.

    I kind of feel like this is a bit of a FUD article. For a start I'd like to know if by "Most used application" they mean the section of a console dedicated to Applications (which are not games) or they mean out of everything that gets run on a console. It also doesn't mean that people don't also use their console for gaming, just that they prefer consuming their streamed content on it.

    It's a very complex assessment full of ifs and buts. Do people use their console for streaming because it's the locus of entertainment? Do they use it because streaming has supplanted their game playing and they feel the investment would go to waste if they didn't use it? If they changed their streaming habits what would their gaming habits look like?

    Yes, there are more devices and services coming out that will draw people away just like mobile gaming had an impact because the "casual" audience no longer had one source of gaming. In reality though I don't think the threat is as large as the article is making it out to be. People have long had the option to stream mobile games to their TV via either Apple TV, Chrome Cast or even Amazon Fire TV. Let's not forget how spectacularly the Ouya failed either.

    Streamed games are also still in question as to how much of a threat they are due to the fact that the infrastructure is just not there yet. It may be fine in a carefully curated scenario on the demo floor but in the real world it's a vastly different story. I guess we'll see.

      It's the most used application, so apps aren't being segmented from games in this regard. (Xbox does split off apps from games, but the PS4 doesn't. Same deal either way.)

        The most used application for both Microsoft and Sony in Australia isn't a game or some first-party creation. It's Netflix.

        Does Netflix beat out games as a whole category? Or does it just beat out any given game/app?

          Just any given game/app.

            That would make sense. More of a 'common denominator' than 'people use their consoles more for Netflix than for playing games'.

    I have a Chromecast that fulfills all my smart TV needs. Controlling with a phone is pretty intuitive. Using a console would be a huge step backwards.
    Console is purely gaming, no media apps at all. Chromecast uses almost no power, why have a console running instead?

      Especially when you can start gaming effectively through that Chromecast. That's Google's argument, anyway.

        TBH, I don't really see an appeal in that. I guess it depends on what games release but I don't see myself going for it.

      I preferred using my PS4 for Netflix etc over Chromecast mainly because I prefer having physical buttons over touchscreen for pause / play / seek etc.

      A couple of months ago I got a new Android TV which can be operated using the physical buttons on the remote. Now I don't use either of the PS4 or Chromecast for Netflix, I just do it directly through the TV. Doesn't make me any less likely to buy a new console when the time comes, though.

        Typing looks to be the biggest chore without a touchscreen although it's not used a whole lot.

        Same thing with consoles, I buy them for games.

          Yeah but when it comes to Netflix I tend to do my browsing on my phone when I'm not actually watching. Eg if I'm on the bus or somewhere else when I'm bored then I'll look through it, find stuff I'm interested in and add it to my list. When I'm actually sitting in front of the TV to watch something then I just scroll through the list and pick what I want, no typing required.

          I have a wireless keyboard hooked up to the XBoneX. It solves the typing issue, and makes navigating Kodi a breeze.

          I also have the XBone's media remote, which is really nice and, unlike the keyboard, works properly in the Twitch app.

          Now, if only someone could convince Youtube to use the system keyboard interface rather than it's own stupid keyboard interface that sucks.

    Almost like we watch more content than play games.

    The article is pretty FUD like - people are going to use whatever they have on hand to watch content, which is likely a console of many households. I can't see many of those consoles disappearing simply because they can now use their TV to do the same job.

    Most of the time I used my PS4 over my Chromecast to stream Netflix or other catch up services as the PS4's wifi is stronger than the Chromecast. SBS is the only service that needs Chromecast as they stopped supporting the PS4.

    I guess then I add to the Netflix being the most used console app, although my gaming time is much higher than my Netflix watching.

    I wouldn't rely on this data.

    Each game would have its own separate hours of usage as opposed to Netflix - a single app for all videos watched inside it instead of treating each show/movie as a separate thing for usage.

    I'm sure that Netflix is quite often left open idle (i know i do) as well skewing results.

    Games can be played offline (thus not counting towards the usage stats), Netflix cannot.
    Many people still have their consoles offline.

    Also, confusing popularity with usage/hours played.
    If I binge watch a series on netflix all afternoon it doesn't mean I liked that more than my 2-3 hours playing a game that day.
    That would be like saying cricket is more popular than football because the match goes longer.

      That's what I've been thinking too. It's a bit misleading to use app usage of Netflix and imply people use their console more for streaming over playing games. Netflix is a gateway to contents (1 app, multiple contents) whereas a game is 1 app, 1 content

    The only reason I use Netflix on the PS4 is because the Netflix app built into the TV is a bit crappy.

    I feel like cloud gaming is being pushed by the large companies in an attempt to fool us all into thinking it's the future. This future that Google wants will place a stack more income into their hands while reducing the overall experience of the user significantly.

    No one wants cloud gaming except for the companies seeking to profit from it. These companies have a poor track record.

      I think people do want cloud gaming, but not if it’s the only option. I’d love to play games on any platform with low power hardware - but I don’t want that to be my only option. I also want my high fidelity, high frame rate PC. I want it as an additional option, or a replacement.

    For me personally on the Xbox, Netflix beats out every other game and app individualy for hours used/played by a long margin.

    This is becuase the amount of content on Netflix is way higher compared to how long I'm entertained by a single game, from binge watching a marvel series to watching a random movie becuase I'm to tired to play somthing.

    I'm not suprised at all by Netflix being used more than anything else, I don't watch free to air TV anymore so it is Netflix or gaming and Netflix usually beats out gaming becuase I can watch something and eat dinner at the same time or when I'm just not in the mood to play a game I can watch a repeat of Brooklyn Nine Nine to relax.

    Updated my PC and now my XBone is exclusively a media player, but I do love it for that role. Voice control via Kinect is pretty useful, and I'm a big fan of its ability to output Atmos for Headphones so I can enjoy (virtualised) surround.

    Why bother spending $299 or $399 on an 8K console bundle if you can just stream the experience straight through your TV?
    first off, are you talking about streaming games or movies?
    if movies - more options are always good. sometimes a service isn't available on your smart device
    if games - hahahahaha you kidding me?
    playstation now service isn't even available in Australia, plus have you tried the average Australian internet experience?
    with the crippled NBN implementation I will say that true online game streaming is a pipe-dream here.
    also, Google is notorious for pushing products almost like concepts and then somewhat abandoning them, allowing for other companies to fill the void if there is a potential market.

    some people don't want/need to rely on a strong internet connection for their gaming media.

      I know re. games. I broke that down fairly well in the larger Google Stadia feature. And I was referring to movies primarily, but hear me out.

      The question is that segment of families and non-core gamers (for lack of a better term) who also buy into the console market, not as first adopters but later in the lifecycle, when bundles go on sale for cheap. That money still matters to console manufacturers, and those people are also getting advertised various games and DLC whenever they turn on an Xbox or a PS4 on.

      Obviously that's not the main group who gets targeted by someone selling you an Xbox or a PS4 (Nintendo's strategy is different here). But they still generate revenue that companies then use to invest in development, buying new studios etc. And they're also the target market who would find the idea of a low-cost subscription - like a Xbox Game Pass or some other kind of monthly low-fee offering vs higher price for individual games - very tempting.

      That's what I'm getting at, anyway. Those types of console owners - maybe the ones who only buy a game once or twice a year, plus some DLC or whatever - aren't ones that ordinarily the gaming public cares or talks about a lot. But they're still a part of the calculus all the same.

    It's Not Just Google That's Threatening ConsolesIt's not even Google that's threatening consoles.

    Then theres people out there like me. havent watched regular tv in a decade+, dont use netflix, dont own a modern console and would not want to play my games with significant input lag that streaming games would provide. i consume all media and games on a pc with svp that on the fly re encodes all media to 144fps from any source. im not the target market of this article, but show not everyone would be interested.

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