Game Play: What will the future hold for game consoles?

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With the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) right around the corner, and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) only a few months away, video game journalists and game geeks alike have extended their feelers and are eagerly absorbing every detail, rumor and speculation available about forthcoming releases and reveals.

At the top of list is the induction of the next generation of gaming consoles as their predecessors approach the end of their shelf-lives.  Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have either confirmed or alluded to production or development of next generation systems, with Nintendo being the only company to announce a tentative release date of a completed product.

Considering the fact that Nintendo’s upcoming console, the Wii-U, is the only one of the three to be publicly revealed and showcased, it’s no surprise that it contains the vast majority of available concrete details, such as release plans.

According to a financial statement by Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata, the Wii-U is planned to be released before Christmas of this year.

As with most of Nintendo’s previous consoles, much of the buzz with the Wii-U is its unorthodox controller. It will feature a 6.2 inch touchscreen as well as dual analog sticks, a front-facing camera, motion-control capabilities, a microphone, speakers and stylus, according to Nintendo’s website.

The controller will reportedly be able to either mimic or supplement what’s being displayed on screen through what Nintendo refers to as a “second window into the video game world.”

Iwata confirmed that the controller will be able to independently play saved games, and that the system is purportedly completely backwards-compatible with the Wii, able to not only play its games but also use its accessories and controllers.

As for the console itself, Nintendo is claiming Wii-U will have HD capabilities, a feature lacking from the Wii, but some critics are claiming these capabilities will only be on par with Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

While no price has been confirmed, Iwata mentioned during last year’s E3 that the Wii-U will “likely” be higher than $250, and some analysts are predicting a $250 to $300 price range.

Details are much more sparse with the new Microsoft and Sony consoles, currently dubbed Xbox 720 and Playstation 4 respectively, and largely remain the subject of  gossip and supposition .

In fact, the it seems only public announcements made by prospective company representatives is that there will be no announcements regarding their new systems and this year’s E3.

“While we appreciate all the interest in our long-range plans for the future, we can confirm that there will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon,” confirmed a Microsoft rep in response to a speculative Tweet from a reporter.

Similarly,  Sony President Shuhei Yoshida expressed Sony’s reluctance to announce the status of their next system.

“We have no immediate plans for another home console announcement,” Yoshida said in an interview with Computers and Video Games.  This was reaffirmed with several comments by Deputy President Kazuo Hirai, who asserted that the Playstation 3 has always been meant as a 10-year system.  With the Playstation 3 being 6-years-old, does that mean we won’t be seeing a successor until 2016? Only time will tell.

Aside from these statements from Microsoft and Sony, all other specifics are pure conjecture.

Perhaps the most credible rumor not coming directly from a developing company is information regarding the next Xbox’s graphics processing unit, coming from “sources close to the project” as reported by IGN.

According to IGN, the GPU will be based on AMD 6000 series, that “offers support for DirectX11, multidisplay output, 3D and 1080p HD output.” According to IGN’s sources, the system will be six times more powerful than the Xbox 360, and perform 20 percent more effectively than the Wii-U.

Other very popular speculations such as anti-used game software and fully digital games, in lieu of discs, have yet to be addressed by credible sources or Microsoft.

Even less details are available about the Playstation 4, including speculations. Techradar proposes that rumors about an unsuccessful research project to create an advanced processing chip, paired with additional rumors about certain factory acquisitions, suggests that Sony may stick with a version of the Cell processor currently housed in the Playstation 3.

Again, this is all pure speculation and rumor at this point, but hopefully enough to temporarily slake the curiosities of those already looking ahead to the next generation.