Both Sony and Microsoft have been dropping hints about potential hardware upgrades, and as usual where there are those types of hints, there’s probably some substance to it. This of course got the community in a tizzy, and conjured the expected comparisons to Sega’s dalliances in the 1990s with the Sega Genesis and its Sega CD and 32X add-ons, neither of which arguably did the main console, or Sega itself, any favors. In my opinion, I see no scenario where we’ll get an add-on or upgrade from Sony or Microsoft that allows for exclusive content just for that add-on or upgrade (sort of like the few dedicated releases for the Nintendo New 3DS versus their standard 3DS/2DS), but instead something a bit more subtle, and ultimately something harder to argue against.
Although both Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft Xbox One can support 4K video output as-is now, they can’t do it for gaming, only video. I can therefore see both companies releasing versions of their respective consoles that support 4K game upscaling, meaning that the 4K display sees it as native content and not something it has to upscale itself like with 1080p content. And perhaps some software could then be written to output select games in actual 4K resolutions, i.e., if it detects an original console it will output at the usual 1080p, but if it detects a 1.5 console (with its extra horsepower), it will output to 4K. It could also be a situation where a game may run in 30 FPS on an original console, but 60 FPS on the 1.5 console (again, thanks to the extra horsepower). I think those would be reasonable compromises and concessions in lieu of releasing completely new systems, which it’s far too early for.
This strategy would of course have some parallels to what goes on with PCs today. The more powerful the PC and associated video card, the higher resolution and frame rate. As long as you meet the minimum specs, you can still run the same game on a less powerful PC, albeit with some compromises. Of course, in the case of a near mid-life console upgrade, you wouldn’t run into the issue of the software not being able to run at all like you still can on the PC side, particularly for a PC that hasn’t been upgraded in a long time. Of course that’s assuming that the upgrade is done as I described in the second paragraph and not more like the Nintendo New 3DS route, where there are in fact some titles that only work on the later upgraded, stand-alone system hardware.
There’s also another possibility on the PS4 side and that’s not only allow for the 4K stuff, but perhaps even build in the PlayStation VR breakout box, helping to eliminate some clutter. That’s probably unlikely though as that might place a limit on future VR upgrades that follow a similar path, i.e., PlayStation VR 1.5 that automatically ups the resolution, but is still otherwise fully compatible software-wise both ways.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I realize they’re perhaps more logical and optimistic than we should necessarily give these companies credit for, but until we know otherwise, I think that’s the best case scenario. After all, we have to believe that there are people in both camps who know both their markets and history, right?