Nothing gets rumors started like the expected launch of new consoles, and speculation over Microsoft and Sony‘s next generation of hardware has been brewing for years now. With Xbox 720 or PS4 announcements at E3 2013 expected ever since last year’s show went without them, now it looks like Microsoft has already confirmed the unveiling, and Sony might pull back the curtain even sooner.

Whatever the consoles look like and pack under the hood, some expectations have been reinforced by competing hardware shown off this week at CES 2013. Now one particular investment research group is projecting that whatever hardware the next-gen consoles rely on, they can both be expected to retail for $350-$400 at launch.

Now, those who followed the launch of the last wave of consoles won’t be blown away by that projection (although we’d lean much farther towards the top end), since the 20GB Xbox 360 did just fine sales-wise at that price, while the PlayStation 3’s much larger price tag was blamed by many for its lagging install base.

The basic points of Baird Equity Research’s projections won’t be too much of a revelation for gamers who have been keeping up to date on next-gen specs, but more evidence is always a good thing. According to Baird’s Colin Sebastian (courtesy of GI) the name of the game will be cut costs thanks to PC architecture, with official details coming this summer:

“Given the fragile state of the console game market, we expect the E3 trade show in June will take on added significance, most likely providing the industry with the first public opportunity to examine next-generation hardware.

“Our checks suggest that next-generation console hardware will be largely built from ‘off the shelf’ high-end PC components, along with hybrid physical/digital distribution models, enhanced voice controls and motion sensing (Kinect integration with every Xbox), and broad multi-media capabilities.

“Moreover, a PC-based architecture (Intel chips in the case of Xbox) should have a number of advantages over custom-developed silicon: for one, the learning curve for software developers will be shorter than completely new technology. Second, the cost of production and retail price points should be lower than prior console launches.”

Assembling their consoles using competitive PC components at the time of production is a wise move for all involved, since ports and programming will require less work on the developers’ ends, while also cutting the cost of proprietary hardware manufacturing. And with Kinect’s runaway success (in terms of hardware sales, not necessarily software) it’s been assumed for some time that Microsoft would be integrating the motion and voice detection (among other functionality) into the console itself.

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Sebastian went on to project that Nintendo may continue to find difficulty selling Wii Us to anyone other than their core fan base, and that either massive first-party development or an early price cut are imminent. Considering The Big N’s track record, that’s anything but a groundbreaking prediction.

The next generation of the Xbox platform (or, generations) and PlayStation 4 must be somewhat attractive to developers, since Ubisoft has stalled its re-invigoration of the Rainbow Six franchise, and BioWare seems to have done the same. Those are just a pair of such delays, all pointing to a serious announcement and timeline come E3 2013.

If Microsoft and Sony both hold themselves to a $400 price tag, there’s no question that consumers will be relieved, but is that necessarily the best idea? Whatever software or technology the two companies implement to either encourage digital purchases or take a bite out of used game sales, hardware doesn’t upgrade once its shipped.

If the next generation of home consoles have a life cycle anywhere near as long as that of the Xbox 360 or PS3, will gamers really be glad they only had a $400 version to purchase? If that investment will be stretched over six or seven years – on hardware developers already know the limitations of – where does the line between bargain and ‘bargain basement’ get drawn. Would Xbox 360 or PS3 owners have spent another $200 then for better performance now?

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Either way, we won’t scoff at affordability. But the fact remains: the next generation of home consoles could be the most interesting we’ve yet seen, long after the launch sales numbers are in.

What’s your opinion on these projected price tags? Do you think they’re inaccurate, or right on the money – for good or bad? Sound off in the comments.

We’ll keep you up to date on the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 when more information (or rumors) arrive.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.


tags: PS4, Sony, Xbox One