Console companies just don't have the resources to compete with GPU makers.
Nvidia's Senior Vice President of Content and Technology, Tony Tamasi, recently talked with PC PowerPlay about the typical comparison between the PC platform and consoles. He revealed that, unlike generations in the past that were on par if not better than many performance PCs at launch, console makers no longer have the resources to jump ahead of the PC gaming hardware market. This became obvious during E3 back in June, as many demos showcased on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 just didn't look as good as the earlier PC versions.
Tamasi explained that at the time of the first PlayStation console, there really weren't good graphics on the PC. It wasn't until the PlayStation 2 that 3D really started to shine on the mainstream PC platform. By then, the likes of Sony, Nintendo and Sega could dump tons of money into hardware to support (then) high-quality 3D graphics. Tamasi even admitted that the PlayStation 2 was faster than a PC at the time of its launch.
Once the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 arrived, their hardware was on par with the PC at launch. Look inside those boxes and you'll find hardware by AMD and Nvidia because, at the time, they were leading the innovation in PC graphics. He said that Nvidia alone spends $1.5 billion USD per year on research and development, and over $10 billion in graphics research during a single console's typical lifespan. Microsoft and Sony simply don't have that kind of pocket change to dump into research, whereas AMD and Nvidia sell millions of chips year after year.
"The second factor is that everything is limited by power these days. If you want to go faster, you need a more efficient design or a bigger power supply," he explains. "The laws of physics dictate that the amount of performance you're going to get from graphics is a function of the efficiency of the architecture, and how much power budget you're willing to give it. The most efficient architectures are from Nvidia and AMD, and you're not going to get anything that is significantly more power efficient in a console, as it's using the same core technology."
Consoles will always be less capable than a PC because they have power budgets of only 200 watts or 300 watts – they're designed to run quietly and cool in the living room. On a PC, 250 watts can be used solely on the GPU, thus consoles will never beat a 1000 watt PC. In a chart provided by Nvidia, the trajectory shows that consoles will never equal or succeed the PC platform again, that the tiny window between 2005 and 2006 will likely be the last time these two industries will ever be on the same page.
"At that time, the PC graphics industry wasn't operating at the limits of device physics and power," he said, referring to why the X360 and PS3 were on par with the PC despite their power limitations. "If you wind back the clock, a high-end graphics card at that time was maybe 75W or 100W max. We weren't building chips that were on the most advanced semiconductor process and were billions of transistors. Now we're building GPUs at the limits of what's possible with fabrication techniques. Nobody can build anything bigger or more powerful than what is in the PC at the moment."
To read the full interview, head here. They also talk about performance due to development on closed versus fragmented systems, and more. Fun stuff to feed the console vs. PC war.