PS4 vs Xbox One: Battle of the next-gen giants
The PS4 is now available in the US and coming to the UK on 29 November, while the Xbox One is a smidgeon away from launch too, on 22 November. The next-generation of console gaming has begun and it promises to be a doozy.
There has been a lot of posturing and rhetoric over the past few months, from Microsoft, Sony and the gaming community and it seems that gamers are starting to divide into two camps. But which camp should you join? Which of the two consoles should you invest in for the best experience now and in the future?
Which is better for games? And which is better for the family? There's only one way to find out: a battle royal.
Will they look nice on a shelf?
Both consoles have a similar design aesthetic and come in black with glossy and matte segments. The Xbox One is considerably larger, however: more box-like. The PlayStation 4 is sleek and thin, with a strange but alluring slanted front and back. The Xbox One looks like a posh DVD player from the 90s.
The Xbox One also comes with a traditional Microsoft fave, the power brick. The PS4 power supply is inside the sleek console itself. What this means for heat and noise we'll find out over the coming weeks, but it is an important thing to consider if you prefer your cabling to be tidy.
It's also important to note that the PS4 can be stood upright, should you lean towards that sort of thing, while the Xbox One cannot.
What are they like inside?
Unlike the last generation of consoles, the next-gen machines each run a more familiar architecture for developers. It's not too dissimilar to PC tech and they share some common features.
The Xbox One has a 1.75GHz 8-core AMD custom processor while the PS4 uses a 1.6GHz 8-core x86-64 Jaguar processor also made by AMD. The PS4 chip is said to be capable of up to 2.75GHz, though, so we'll see how that pans out in the future.
Graphics-wise it's a bit trickier to sort out, mainly because of the actual information given to us by the manufacturers. We know that the PS4 runs a customised AMD Radeon GPU running at 1.84TFlops with 1,152 cores, while the Xbox has 768 cores for shading. The clock speeds fractionally fall in the Xbox's favour, running at 853MHz to 800MHz, but it cannot be denied that the PS4 has technically more to offer in the graphics department.
As for RAM, both consoles feature 8GB of RAM.
What about the other hardware features?
Both consoles come with a Blu-ray drive and much has been made of the PS4 not being able to play 3D Blu-rays from day one. As with some extra features that we will come to, Sony is promising to add that ability at a later date - it wanted to get the important gaming aspects of the console right first.
But to be fair, less has been made of the fact that the Xbox One will be unable to play 3D Blu-rays on day one too. Our advice? Don't throw away that 3D Blu-ray player quite yet, or if you use a PS3, you might have to find a bit more room in the AV cabinet to keep hold of it.
CD support is also an issue, and the Xbox One trumps its rival in this department. It can play CDs while the PS4 currently cannot. Again, Sony has promised that feature in the future.
Both consoles feature both Wi-Fi and Ethernet (cabled internet) connectivity. Both also have HDMI outputs, which comes as no surprise. But only the Xbox One has a HDMI input. You can hook up your TV set-top-box to the Xbox One, therefore, which is one of its major entertainment features. In fact, you could even hook up a PS4 to the Xbox One and play a PS4 game while chatting to your Xbox friends in a snapped sidebar. Neat, huh?
Hard drives are identical in size, at 500GB a piece. But the PS4 definitely wins this particular battle by allowing an owner to swap out the original one for a larger or faster model.
The Xbox One internal hard drive is non-replaceable. You will be able to plug in an external hard drive via a USB 3.0 port and even use it to install games on, but that isn't as neat a solution. There's also cloud storage for save games, etc, on both.
What about the controllers?
Of the two new controllers, Sony's DualShock 4 offers perhaps the most radical improvements over former generations. It is larger than the traditional DualShocks of old and, some might say, feels a bit more like an Xbox controller.
It comes with a touch panel which will be handy for some games and browser, and a dedicated Share button which, once pressed, opens up some of the more social aspects of the PS4 gaming experience, such as posting clips of gameplay. It also comes with an LED light bar to help identify players. It can also be used by developers to inform the player of in-game events.
Audio is now streamed wirelessly to the controller so you can hook it up to a headset for either multiplayer chat or in-game sound.
The new Xbox One controller is similar to the one for the Xbox 360, but adds "40 improvements", claims Microsoft. There are now vibration motors in the trigger buttons to give fingertip feedback of varying levels.
It has been remodelled with better thumbsticks, more precise D-pad and the battery compartment has gone, with batteries now fitting inside the back of the controller rather than in an attached box. With the Xbox One controller it's very much a sense of, if it ain't broken, don't fix it.
What about voice and motion control?
Both consoles will have motion and voice control functionality, but it is Microsoft that has shouted loudest about its console's talents in this area. For a start, the Xbox One comes with the latest version of the Kinect sensor.
Regardless of the privacy concerns that some have voiced, our experience with the new Kinect has always been good. Of course, it will be used by developers to enhance or even be the centrepiece for games, but the camera and voice control functionality is heavily integrated in every aspect of the new console.
From booting the machine, the Kinect will recognise the player sitting in front of it and instantly load that person's profile. Voice control can then be used to change what's on screen, from a game to TV to app to browser, whatever. And it's all done instantly and with much better accuracy than the previous sensor.
The PlayStation 4 does not come with a camera in the box - unless you pay more for a bundle. The PlayStation 4 Eye is a slightly less sophisticated beast, and its features are yet to be properly explored. It too allows for voice control and it can track individual controllers and, even, older Move controllers for gaming.
Are there any stand-out software features?
The user interface experiences of both consoles will be covered in Pocket-lint's full, in-depth reviews, but for now, there are a couple of major features for each console that could make a difference to you.
As it is a Microsoft machine, the Xbox One has Skype. That might seem standard to you, but it could be a massive feature for a family. Because of the new Kinect sensor being always present, your friends and loved ones can keep in touch in Full HD over a living room television rather than a computer tucked away in a spare room or under the stairs. Think Back to the Future II and it has great potential.
The Xbox One also has OneGuide, the television EPG that tells you what programmes are on, and features the amazing Snap Mode. This latter feature allows you to Snap functions and supporting applications to the side of the screen so you can continue watching TV or playing a game, while looking at Internet Explorer, say.
On day one, the PS4 is a more basic games playing monster. It is almost solely designed at present to play games and play games well. It doesn't support MP3 playback or DLNA media streaming - again, until a future planned patch - while the Xbox One does, in a roundabout way, but its menu system is simplified and a little less busy that the Xbox One's.
Can I play my old PS3 or Xbox 360 games?
Neither console offers backwards compatibility with the last generation of games. The PS4 will introduce a feature in the near future that will allow you to stream PS3 games from a massive library of titles.
Like the OnLive system, the games will be hosted remotely. Using Gaikai technology, you will be receiving video of your game over the internet instead, but in all other senses it is like the game is being played on your own machine.
It is believed that this service will cost a subscription fee to use, but we're not yet sure whether it will be included in the PlayStation Plus package.
Do I have to pay for multiplayer gaming?
Unlike with the previous generation, Sony now asks for a subscription fee if you want to play multiplayer games online. Not always, as some developers can build in interesting workarounds, but certainly with the biggest and most obvious games, such as first-person-shooters.
The subscription though is part of PlayStation Plus, the company's membership scheme that also covers PS3 and PS Vita. As well as offer multiplayer gaming for the PS4, PS Plus also rewards members with free downloadable games and discounts. And those games are big titles too. For example, on day one, Resogun and Contrast will be free to all PlayStation Plus subscribers. And you get to keep the games for as long as you remain a member.
Xbox One continues with the traditional Xbox Live Gold structure as before. An Xbox Live Gold subscription costs £5.99 a month, while a PS Plus subscription is a little cheaper at £5.49.
If you want to pay a year's subscription and save money, both with cost £39.99 for 12 months.
Are there any second screen experience apps?
The Xbox One uses Xbox SmartGlass in much the same way as the Xbox 360, although it will offer a more-complex and immersive second-screen experience than before as developers learn to utilise the function.
The PS4 has all manner of additional remote functionality. For a start, if you own a PS Vita handheld console you can use it to remotely play most PlayStation 4 games. Not only does that mean you can use the Vita as an additional controller, but you can play PS4 games streamed to your handheld's screen wirelessly. It's like the Wii U GamePad, where you can even carry on a game in a separate room in the house.
In addition, Sony has release a PlayStation App for iOS and Android that allows you to do much of what Xbox SmartGlass is capable of. You can track and chat with friends, watch shared games footage and even buy games for your PS4 which will be ready when you return home.
And finally, what about the games?
On paper it looks like the Xbox One has the better launch line-up, purely because of the exclusive titles in its range.
The biggest of the PS4's first-party launch titles, the ones that will never be released for Xbox One, are Killzone Shadow Fall and Knack. Download-only shooter Resogun is also getting a lot of positive responses from the gaming community.
The Xbox One fares slightly better on the exclusive launch title front, with Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome and Zoo Tycoon all being available from the off. Capcom's Dead Rising 3 is also an Xbox One exclusive and is one that a fair few have been gagging for.
In the future things should even out a little. PS4 titles that didn't make the launch but are certainly ones to watch include inFamous Second Son and DriveClub; they are both scheduled for release in the "launch window" which runs to March 2014. In addition, it has been revealed that Bungie's Destiny Beta will be playable on PlayStation consoles first.
Xbox One owners will get Titanfall though, and for some that's the end of the argument.
At this stage, with Sony promising to add many entertainment features in the subsequent months, it seems that the Xbox One has the upper hand. At £429 in preference to £349, it is more pricey, sure, but can do much more from the box.
However, with early adopters it never really pans out that way. It will mainly come down to the games, and that becomes a much more personal choice. Both have a decent, if not spectacular launch line-up of titles available, and both are very adept at playing those titles.
The final choice is yours.