Now that both the PS4 and Xbox One have launched and we’ve had ample time with Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation entries, it’s time to break down and compare the best and the worst each new platform has to offer in a head-to-head showdown. Let’s find out which console shines and for what reasons, and ultimately, where you should invest your money for the next five to seven years that these consoles will dominate.
[Editor's Note: In this feature, we break down the design, user interface, network services, controllers, and games before giving you our final conclusion on which console to buy.]
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The PlayStation 4 has a futuristic, angular look to it and has a very attractive design that stands out. That said, it looks like a game console, whereas the Xbox One blends into a home entertainment system quite nicely and has a more sophisticated outward appearance.
Similarly, the Xbox One controller has a mature-looking design than the PS4’s DualShock 4, whose added light bar may prove useful but keeps the controller looking like a toy.
The PS4 is slender and smaller, taking up roughly two-thirds the space that the Xbox One occupies, not counting the Xbox One’s massive power brick and packed-in Kinect. The PS4 also has a camera, but it too takes up less space overall and can be omit completely from your setup.
User Interface and Multimedia Capabilities
Not only is Sony’s main focus on games this generation, but with the PS4, it’s the only focus. The PS4 sorely lacks many of the media playback capabilities its predecessor boasted, but due to this, gets you into the game faster than ever. The entire UI is designed with that goal in mind—it’s simple, and it’s fast. The PS4 also lets you start playing games as they install—the Xbox One does it too, but it's nowhere near as fast and will keep you waiting for extended periods of time. The PS4 does play Blu-ray movies and features 13 entertainment apps at launch, like Netflix, Hulu, and more.
The Xbox One, however, has a very cluttered dashboard due to just how many different media and connected features are available. Xbox One has apps for Skype, NFL, Fitness, TV, Music—everything you could think of—living up to the dream that it's an all-in-one entertainment device. A new Snap feature even lets you run two apps at once, easily swapping back and forth between the two in a picture-in-picture style sidebar tile.
What the Xbox One doesn’t do as well is get you into the game. There are far too many distractions, with fewer ways to interact with the games you buy a game console for, although interacting with the system itself is easy as saying aloud "Xbox" followed by one of the various voice commands. As long as you recalibrate the Kinect if it can't hear you well enough and you make sure you pause for a moment after saying "Xbox", voice commands work extremely—and impressively—well. Also impressive is having the Kinect log you in via facial recognition. Simply sit down at your couch, and the Kinect and the Xbox One will say "Hi!" before logging you in.
Both systems feature video game capture in some way, shape, or form. The PS4 does so much faster and more easily thanks to a dedicated share button on the DualShock 4, but the Xbox One’s Upload Studio is more robust with its video editing capabilities, and the option to send the video to Skydrive ensures you can share via any social service, not just Facebook like on the PS4. Live-broadcasting gameplay footage via Ustream or Twitch is only available on the PS4 for the time being, but alreadyimmature users are putting the feature at risk.
Blu-ray movie playback is also available on both consoles, marking the format’s debut on a Microsoft platform.
Winner: Xbox One
Xbox LIVE has the most stable online servers, but the PlayStation Network is quickly catching up, and should do so at an even faster rate now that online multiplayer on the PS4 requires a PlayStation Plus subscription, much like Microsoft has been doing with Xbox LIVE Gold for many years.
Xbox LIVE Gold also gives you access to Xbox Fitness for free for the first year and is also required to access many of the Xbox One’s apps, like Netflix and Hulu, whereas the PS4 offers those services without the paywall. The PS4 also removes the PlayStation Plus requirement for many of the F2P games available on the PlayStation Network to keep them truly free-to-play.
PlayStation Plus provides the added benefit of bringing users tons of discounts on games, DLC, and more, as well as a constantly updated catalog of downloadable games for free. Microsoft has begun adding free games via Xbox LIVE Gold too, but the offering so far hasn’t come close to what Sony offers for the cost of PlayStation Plus.
Sony has really stepped up its game with the PlayStation Network, but they’re still playing catch-up to Xbox LIVE Gold. However, the added value with PlayStation Plus does make up for the services shortcomings.
Each console comes with a controller, with additional controllers available for the same exact price of .99, which is why I find the Xbox One controller to be a ripoff and a huge disappointment. Not only does it lack some unique features the DualShock 4 has, like the built-in light bar, motion-sensing, and touchpad, but it also forgoes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery in place of AA batteries. A Play & Charge kit is available at additional cost, charging you for the ability to recharge the controller via a USB port on the controller—something that Sony’s controller has without nickel and diming you. PlayStation gamers have avoided batteries since the PS3’s launch, so Microsoft’s next-generation console requiring batteries sticks out like a sore thumb.
And why is the Xbox One controller so expensive when it’s lacking a built-in rechargeable battery and various tech? Sony’s controller not only has a better hand-feel, but allows for accurate motion-controlled gaming, visual feedback with the built-in light bar, a speaker, and a touchpad for additional inputs.
Compared to the DualShock 4, the Xbox One’s controller feels last-gen, despite a number of improvements and a much cleaner, classier design.
At launch, both console are lacking a true system-seller. However, Microsoft’s line-up has a lot more AAA exclusive games that help justify the purchase of a new console. Sony has Killzone: Shadow Fall, because, well, Knack sucks. At least it does compared to the rest of each console’s exclusive titles. Sony makes up for their thin launch line-up by having loads of indie-developed digital games available for purchase—all of which are unique, quirky, high-quality, and low-cost (if not free via PlayStation Plus). But unfortunately, as good as these indie titles may be, they do not sell consoles or are enough to make you feel good about an investment.
Both consoles offer near-identical versions of third-party multiplatform games, with the upper hand going to the PS4 in terms of power and resolution. The PS4 has the better specs, but it will be a while before first-party developers fully utilize the extra oomph. Third-party titles should remain at parity throughout the life of both consoles. The PS4 also offers a digital upgrade program if you happen to own the same game on the PS3. That'll help grow your PS4 library more quickly, while saving you from paying full cost on the same game twice.
The immediate release outlook also seems to be in Microsoft’s favor, with Respawn’s Titanfall and PopCap’s Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare set to make a big splash early in 2014. The PS4 hasinFamous: Second Son and DriveClub, but neither has the audience that Microsoft’s exclusives have.
Despite a strong start by Microsoft, it has very few first-party studios and IPs aside from Halo. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of Halo, but in terms of quality and quantity, Sony always hits both marks with their exclusives from first-party studios like Naughty Dog. We know very little about Sony’s future plans, but there is no doubt that the PS4 will have some amazing exclusives to look forward to, whereas Microsoft has Halo—or has to rely on exclusive partnerships with external studios (although this is something Microsoft has done well with).
Winner: Tie (Xbox One, now; PS4 later on)
Which Console Should You Buy?
Reading through this, it’s easy to see that each console has about equal pros and cons. There is less disparity between the two consoles than ever before. In the end, it comes down to a few factors:
Which games or controller do you prefer?
Do you want your investment to pay off now, or more so later on?
How much of a difference does that extra one-hundred dollar price tag make?
Do you care about added entertainment features and media capabilities?
Ask yourself those questions and you should know what console works best for you. No matter which one you end up buying, you’re going to be happy with your purchase.