Sony PlayStation 4 Pro vs Microsoft Xbox One S: the weigh-in

Can Microsoft's slick little revision withstand the powerful 4K PS4?

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro vs Microsoft Xbox One S

Many people suspected that this would be the last console generation and that players would ditch consoles in favor of cheaper PC and mobile games. Three years in, that hardly seems likely.

In fact, they're selling well and now there are even more consoles! The Xbox One S released last month added some welcome, future-ready upgrades to Microsoft's console while refining the design, and now Sony has announced the PlayStation 4 Pro in return.

While some of the Xbox One S' biggest enhancements pertain to media, the PS4 Pro packs more gaming power and pushes the PS4 library to new heights with 4K resolution – either natively or upscaled, depending on the game. And it'll offer a big boost to virtual reality with the PlayStation VR headset, as well.

Of course, Microsoft has its own Project Scorpio console on deck for 2017, so we're sure to see a tit-for-tat battle for some time to come. But if you're eyeing an upgraded console this holiday season, here are your options – and our early recommendation on the one to get.

Power: Go Pro

While not a significant improvement over the original Xbox One, the S model adds a little extra GPU and CPU power for developers to work with. The power is primarily used to enable high dynamic range (HDR) lighting for wider contrast and perhaps help upscale the 1080p graphics into 4K for compatible TVs.

However, that little bit of added juice can also be used to smooth out the frame rate and maybe even lightly enhance the graphics. The Gears of War 4 developers at The Coalition admitted as much to Polygon back at E3. In practice, games upscaled to 4K can be a little hit or miss on the Xbox One S, but something like Rise of the Tomb Raider looks spectacular right out of the box.

Based on what we saw at Sony's event and the specs, the PlayStation 4 Pro's new GPU is significantly more powerful than the one in the standard PS4 model. From what we saw and played, some games will run natively in 4K while others will use a unique upscaling technique called "2160p checkerboard," but in any case, everything looked pretty fabulous.

From the looks of it, that should make multiplatform games on the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro run smoother and crisper on Sony's upgraded console, although we'll have to wait for the side-by-side comparison to be 100% sure. For now, Sony's got the nod here.

Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro

Design: The "S" is for Sexy

Microsoft Xbox One S

Let's be honest: neither the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is the most appealing-looking console, but we'll take the thin PS4 slab over the massive original Xbox One any day of the week.

When it comes to the powered-up revisions, however, we have to change course. The Xbox One S is a sleek and attractive little guy, trimming 40% of physical size out while switching to white and adding some nice visual flourishes all the while. It's the console we wish we had under our TV three years ago, but hey, we'll happily take it now.

By contrast, the PS4 Pro is more akin to the original Xbox One: it's added extra bulk to the initial PS4 design, making it a hulking beast of a console. What's inside matters the most, of course, and looks won't matter in the bottom line – but the Xbox One S is easily the more stylish of the pair now. What a turnaround from 2013!

Winner: Xbox One S

Media: Blu's the news

Microsoft Xbox One S

With both the Xbox One S and the upcoming PlayStation 4 Pro, you can fling streaming 4K media on your 4K TV, with Netflix offering things like Breaking Bad and the incoming Marvel's Luke Cage in Ultra HD resolution. Netflix plans to have 600 hours of 4K content up by year's end, so that tally will only surge in time - as will the number of providers doing 4K streaming.

However, there's one huge difference here: the Xbox One S has a 4K Blu-ray drive inside, while the PlayStation 4 Pro doesn't. It's very surprising, given Sony's allegiances to the Blu-ray brand, but it probably came down to cost as they've packed in a more powerful (and surely pricier) processor for gaming.

The Xbox One S is by far the best value for a 4K Blu-ray player today, and if you're craving the highest-end experience for 4K movies, the discs are better than streams. In other words, if you plan on watching in 4K more than playing in it, the Xbox One S is your object of desire.

Winner: Xbox One S

Games: Pick your exclusives

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Gears of War 4

Both the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro – and Xbox One and PS4, for that matter – will play host to a wealth of multiplatform games this holiday season, ranging from Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 to FIFA 17 and Final Fantasy XV. However, it's really the exclusives that set these consoles apart.

So far this generation, the PlayStation 4 has proven to be the more consistently intriguing option for one-of-a-kind games you can't play on another console and that looks true ahead as well. In the months ahead, we'll have The Last Guardian and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, while recent months have given us Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Ratchet & Clank, and No Man's Sky.

On the Xbox front, Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 are big guns this holiday season, while the year has already given us Quantum Break, Inside (which has since come to PS4 too), and some lesser exclusive fare.

There are compelling exclusives on both consoles, but if you had to pick one, we see a broader array of titles on PS4 and unbeatable experiences from Sony – and that doesn't even take into consideration the games potentially looking better on the PS4 Pro, too.

Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro

The VR Edge: Obvious, really

Sony PlayStation VR

Admittedly, this is a giveaway category for now, because Microsoft hasn't announced any VR plans. Rumours suggest that we might see Oculus Rift support for an Xbox console, perhaps next year's Project Scorpio, but it's unclear whether the Xbox One S could reasonably power the headset when it requires a high-end gaming PC right now.

On the other hand, Sony has the PlayStation VR headset coming out next month – and while it should run fine with a standard PS4, it'll see a big boost from the PlayStation 4 Pro's advanced GPU. That should improve and stabilize frame rates, as well as pack in more detail. And in any case, the Pro + PlayStation VR will still be about half the price of a gaming PC with a Rift or HTC Vive.

Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro

Upgrade Appeal: Sorry, One S

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

If you already have an Xbox One and you're not insistent on being on the constant cutting edge of technology, then you probably don't need to buy the Xbox One S. It looks nice and the 4K media boost is fantastic, but for gaming, the upgrade isn't dramatic.

With the PlayStation 4 Pro, we're likely to see a bigger upgrade in graphics quality. That's especially true if you have a 4K set, but as Sony pointed out, the added GPU power will also bring enhancements on a 1080p TV for anyone upgrading console before display.

It feels like a much bigger upgrade when it comes to gaming, and it's enough that we imagine a lot of die-hard PS4 fans will make the upgrade. When it comes to the difference between each console and its predecessor, the PS4 Pro seems like it has a lot more to offer upgraders.

Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro

Initial verdict

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

Really, that last point just about sums it up. When it comes to games, the PlayStation 4 Pro seems like the bigger leap ahead than the Xbox One S, which seems more focused on enhancing its media offerings for the 4K and HDR generation.

Next year's Xbox Project Scorpio could leapfrog the PlayStation 4 Pro, putting Sony at a disadvantage at that point – but for now, Sony's box seems like the new console of choice for TV players who want the best. We'll know for sure when we get the box in November, but between enhanced graphics and VR support, it just seems to have a lot more to offer.

On the other hand, if you're excited about 4K media as much as crisper games, then the 4K Blu-ray player of the Xbox One S can't be ignored. 

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