Year 2013 really is and will continue to be a turning point in the history of home consoles. For all video game lovers, Xbox and PlayStation are two very big and popular products in history of gaming. Both these consoles are getting an upgrade this year. Microsoft announced Xbox One, followed by Sony with the announcement of the new PS4. However, apart from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, what choices do we have exactly?
Until last year, a gaming device, either a console, or a handheld, meant choosing from Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, or Nintendo Wii and DS. But starting this year, thanks to crowdfunding, we are seeing various alternative gaming consoles, with promising features at a cheaper price. Crowdfunded basically, is a project which is supported by a large group of people, each of them pooling up a little amount of money to back up that project.
These new devices have a few things in common. Some are small in size, and hence also called micro-consoles, some are a hybrid of a tablet and a gaming controller. In addition to conventional gaming, these devices are also capable of other tasks, like multimedia streaming, cloud gaming etc.
So, here is the complete list:
Ouya, (Stylized as OUYA) can be considered as the trend setter of alternative gaming consoles. Launched on Kickstarter as a concept, this project was able to generate $8 millions from backers. The tiny box can be called as the inspiration for all the devices which are included in the list, opening the future of open source gaming devices.
Basically, Ouya is a 3-inch cube running on a customized version of Android. Instead of depending upon touchscreen controls, the device connects directly with the TV via HDMI, bringing the whole user interface onto the TV, similar to Xbox and PlayStation. A wireless physical controller, with buttons, analog sticks comes along with the device, acts as a gaming controller as well as for controlling the user interface.
The console is able to play all the Android games available on the Google PlayStore. However, since most of the games on Android are not designed to handle a physical controller, Ouya has its own online store, consisting of exclusive games along with optimized versions of existing Android games. All the games available on Ouya has a mandatory free-to-try option, enabling users to sample the game before making a final purchase.
The microconsole has a 1.7GHz quad-core Cortex A9 CPU on a NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB internal storage. The memory can be expanded via the USB 2.0 and microUSB port. The device can connect to internet using LAN or WiFi, and also boasts of Bluetooth 4.0. The console is capable of streaming 1080p output to TV via the HDMI port. Being marketed as the first totally open video game console, the Ouya offers zero limitations on hackings and modifications.
Another product of Kickstarter, GameStick is similar to Ouya, with difference being smaller in size and cheaper in price. The gaming console is as small as a thumb drive, and looks the same, and the console is about the size of an average smartphone. The wireless controller neatly stores the console inside it, when not in use. Being small in size, you can carry the device anywhere in your pocket. To play, you just need to take out the microconsole from the controller, and plug into HDMI port of any TV. The GameStick connects wirelessly to one or more controllers via Bluetooth and to the internet via Wi-Fi.
The console runs on Amlogic 8726-MXS processor, and is coupled with 1 GB RAM and 8GB out of the box memory, capable of producing 1080p output. As a separate accessory for GameStick, a Docking Station is also available, that offers wireless charging to the controller, 3 USB ports, an SD card reader (upto 32GB allowed) and Ethernet connection.
Similar to OUYA, this device runs on Android and has its own digital distribution platform.
3. NVIDIA Shield
NVIDIA Shield gives a first look of an Xbox controller, with a attached top screen. The display is hinged in the clamshell form. When you open the console, the buttons are at the bottom half, and the screen at the top.
The device is packed with a 1.9GHz A15 quad core processor on a Tegra 4 SOC, backed by 2GB RAM and 16GB of internal flash memory. A 5-inch touch screen with 720p resolution is the primary display, with the option to connect to TV via the inbuilt mini HDMI port. The device has Android 4.2.1, meaning the ability to play almost all games available for Android OS. Games and apps can be downloaded via inbuilt Google Play Store, or the TegraZone marketplace.
The thing, that makes this handheld console stand out from the crowd, is its ability to stream games directly from the PC. However, the limitation being a compatible GeForce® GTX-powered computer, connected to a same WiFi network. This feature is similar to Wii U Gamepad controller, but with the option to stream almost all PC games onto this portable console.
For connectivity, the device has WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, along with GPS, something not expected on a gaming console.
4. Wikipad 7
Wikipad 7 is basically a 7-inch tablet, coupled with a gaming controller dock. The dock fits nicely along the sides of the tablet, and adds analog sticks, face and shoulder buttons, and a feeling of holding a big screen gaming device onto your hand.
The device was conceptualized as a 10.1 inch tablet, but the final output came as a 7-inch. The tablet runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, giving it the access to the whole Android Play Store.
Excluding the gaming controller dock, the device is basically a normal tablet, with a 1.4 GHZ Nvidia Tegra 3 T30S quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal memory, with expandable microSD slot. The tablet has a 7-inch 1200×800 touch display, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, accelerometer, GPS, micro HDMI, and a 2MP front camera, basically everything expected from a tablet. This device is particularly suitable for those, who don’t want to carry an extra device to cater their gaming needs. Remove the controller dock, you have a multipurpose tablet; attach the dock, cool gaming device; as simple as that.
5. Razer Edge
Razer Edge, in simple terms, is a Windows 8 version of WikiPad 7. However, this should not mislead you to think of it as just any other Windows 8 tablet. This 10-inch tablet is different, its a gaming tablet, which should easily replace your laptop totally.
At the base price of $999, you are getting a Intel Core i5 1.7 GHz processor, which can be overclocked to 2.6GHz, along with 4GB DDR3 RAM, 64GB SSD. The $1299 Razer Edge Pro upgrades the tablet to Core i7 1.9 GHz, which can be overclocked to 3.0GHz, 8GB of RAM, and 128 GB SSD. If you prefer 256GB SSD with the pro tablet, the tablet will cost $1499. Both the base and pro model house NVIDIA GT 640M LE Graphics, 1GB and 2GB respectively.
As for other features, the tablet has built in WiFi, 2MP front cam, and one 3.0 USB port
Gampad Controller, Docking Station, and Keyboard Dock are sold separately, giving you the choice to use the tablet as a laptop, handheld console, or as mounted display. The Gaming controller, priced at $249, has dual analog sticks, backlit buttons and supports vibration feedback. The Docking Station adds three USB 2.0, and one HDMI port, along with Mic and Stereo output. The Keyboard dock, at $125, which transform this tablet into a high end 10-inch touch laptop.
6. MadCatz M.O.J.O
Similar to Ouya, MOJO is a tiny box, running on Android, capable of connecting to a wireless controller and a TV. The company, Mad Catz already has a brand reputation when it comes to gaming peripherals.
The specs are not clear about MOJO, however so far, we have collected some information from here and there. The microconsole will have 1080p HDMI output, Tegra 4 1.9GHz Quad-Core processor, 2GB DDR3 RAM, and 16GB expandable storage. Pictures shows that the device has two USB prts, a microUSB port, HDMI, audio port, and a microSD card slot. The device will include Bluetooth based controller, similar to XBox, Mad Catz CTRLR, capable of supporting four players simultaneously. It is slated for release in Christmas 2013.
Price: $9.99 per month
OnLive is basically Netflix for video games. Users can choose full games, Assassin’s Creed for example, on to their PC, tablet, smartphone, or TV, without much of hardware limitations. Basically, you can play all the games offered by OnLive, on any computer hardware, capable of decent video playback along with a fast internet connection.
OnLive provides apps for Windows, Mac and Android and iOS platforms. For a TV gameplay, a microconsole is provided which brings the gamestream directly to TV. A wireless controller is provided which can be used on either device, your smartphone, tablet, or TV.
While the concept is very interesting, since for a monthly fixed amount, you get access to a vast library of games, which you can play at anytime, there is one glitch, occasional lag. Unlike movie stream, a lag in game can be how much frustrating, multiplayers will know. Still, for games not requiring very high framrates, can run quiet smoothly, provided you have a great internet connection.
Maybe, in future, when we are in a world of ultra fast broadband, lag is minimized to negligible levels, then, at that day, cloud gaming will give serious competition, or might even replace hardware based console gaming.
Price: $6.99 per month
Status: Pre-order. Expect delivery by 2013 end.
GamePop, by BlueStacks is a combination of Ouya and OnLive. This microconsole is a small cube shaped device, running on Android, and offers unlimited streaming of Android games onto your TV for a monthly subscription. In addition to running games on Android’s Jelly Bean OS, GamePop can also run supported iOS-exclusive games through its proprietary technology called “Looking Glass.” BlueStacks already has apps for Windows and Mac, which brings mobile apps and games to PC. GamePop takes it to the next level by including TV to the supported device.
A smaller version named as GamePop mini is also available. No word is available on the hardware specifications or the controller.
9. Xi3 Piston
Xi3 Piston was hyped as Steam Box console, officially backed by Valve, and was aimed at bringing PC gaming experience to living room. The cube sized micro sized PC is packed with power of 3.2GHz Quad Core AMD Processor, Radeon HD 7660G, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. However, the thing, that didn’t hit it off, was its pricing. At $999, the base model is way too costly. You can get a decent sized gaming laptop with better configuration, and a screen and a keyboard and some spare change in the same budget.
Valve, which is an investor of Xi3 Corp., and Xi3 jointly demonstrated Piston ultra-small form-factor gaming PCs at Consumer Electronics Show this year. However, Valve distanced away from this product later. Apparently, instead of Piston, Valve is working on its own official Steam Box gaming PC, which is supposed to come up as prototype in the coming few months.
My Personal Opinion
I am highly inclined to go for the GameStick, as its sleek and portable. Android has some good games these days, and a pretty console, which you can just take out of your pocket, and plug to TV to play, is something which seems little futuristic. I already own a Sony PSP and a HP gaming laptop, which seem enough for me. So I’m not inclined to any Windows based device. Ouya is good, but it requires me to connect wires to the TV, which is something I will not prefer. I already have mesh of cables, chargers, and headphones all around me. So, to sum it up, I think I’ll be owning a GameStick very soon.