Sony's PS4 presentation at E3 has dealt a pretty comprehensive blow to the Xbox One – it's cheaper, plays used games and doesn't periodically connect to the internet to check up on you. But don't count Microsoft's slab of tech out just yet – it has one or two tricks up its sleeve.
The Xbox One's Kinect is a marvel – and it's leaps and bounds ahead of the PS4's PlayStation Eye. Where Sony's camera can track movement and offers face recognition, the updated Kinect can monitor your facial expression, measure how much force you're exerting with your muscles and even track your heart rate. Much has been made of how potentially intrusive that is – though Microsoft stresses that you can turn it off or pause it – but that rather overlooks its potential for gaming.
According to Microsoft, it could be used to bluff AI opponents at a game of poker with facial expressions, or measure your heart rate for a fitness game (and you need only look at Wii Fit to see the potential for a more sophisticated exercise game). But that's just scratching the surface – imagine a survival horror game that monitors your heartbeat and engagement to dynamically ramp up the tension. It could even call an ambulance when you inevitably keel over from the stress.
The number of times that Microsoft mentioned "TV" in its initial Xbox One launch has become a running joke – but many people will buy the Xbox One as a home entertainment hub first, and a games console second. And in that respect, it's a good sell – voice and gesture commands, the ability to switch in and out of games at will, deep TV integration, Skype, and the console's ability to learn your preferences all combine to make it a home entertainment powerhouse. Then there's the fact that it finally – finally! – adds Blu-ray, plus it'll likely score exclusive features based around Sky in the UK. As an entertainment device, the Xbox One's certainly a tempting proposition.
And then, of course, there are the games. Big, exclusive names like Forza Motorsport 5, Minecraft and Halo are a powerful draw for gamers, and many won't be able to resist the lure of familiar franchises. There are also plenty of new titles with the potential for greatness – notably Quantum Break and Project Spark, which use the Xbox's TV integration and SmartGlass features respectively. Finally, indie titles like What Lies Below prove that Microsoft isn't neglecting the smaller developers.
One thing that slipped by almost-unnoticed in Sony's PS4 presentation was that online gaming will require a PSN Plus subscription – unlike the free online gaming delivered by the PS3. That means Sony and Microsoft's online gaming offerings find themselves scrapping it out on a truly level playing field for the first time – and on current evidence, Xbox Live has the edge, with Skype group video calling, an established gaming community (with gamerscores carrying over from your Xbox 360) plus Microsoft's ability to use its 300,000 Xbox Live servers to create "living and persistent worlds." PSN, meanwhile, offers the ability to dip in and out of friends' games, which sounds cool – but the various PSN outages and hacks of the last few years don't inspire confidence.
The Xbox 360's controller was leaps and bounds ahead of its PS3 rival – and although Sony has made some improvements to the PS4 controller, all Microsoft needed to do was leave well alone. Thankfully, it has, retaining that comfy-in-the-palm shape, intuitive thumbstick layout and triggers – and adding a couple of bonus features, too. Most interesting is the vibrating impulse tech built into the triggers, which should add a fantastic layer of immersion to racing and FPS games.