Microsoft Xbox One vs Sony PS4: in depth

Design and build

Smooth round curves are out, sharp lines and blocky shapes are in. Both the Xbox One And PS4 are flaunting a cleaner look with harder edges, with Microsoft opting for a two-tone black '80s VCR-like box design which has been met with a split reaction, though we rather like it.  

The PS4 on the other hand has gone for a striking angular slanted look, with a two-tone parallelogram design which is intersected with a glowing blue line. It's new, but with strong echoes of the past: the grille-like structure will be familiar to anyone fond of the PS2 and, to a lesser extent, the original PlayStation. You could take the PS badge off of it and still know it's a PlayStation.

It's all down to personal preference of course, but we have a feeling the Xbox One will blend in beneath your telly a little better than the PS4.

Update 15/11/13: German publication PC Games has posted side-by-side shots of the Xbox One and PS4, and Microsoft's console dwarfs Sony's angular offering, despite the fact that the Xbox One has an external power brick while the PS4's is built in. 

Still, it's not like you'll be lugging either around too much and there should be more than enough room under your telly to accomodate one or the other. Or even both, if you're lucky enough.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – graphics and power

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Both the Xbox One and PS4 will pack eight-core AMD x86 CPUs which, coupled with 8GB RAM, should deliver more than enough power to get gamers hot under the collar.

Where the two differ is in the type of RAM they're packing. While the Xbox One will come with the DDR3 variety, the PlayStation 4's is the more exotic GDDR5. Strip away the letters and numbers and that means that the PlayStation 4 will have more bandwidth to play around with – which could possibly give PS4 titles a slight visual edge over the Xbox One's offerings.

Both consoles will support 4K graphics (in terms of power at least) and although the number of 4K sets at launch will be minimal, it's important to future-proof the Xbox One and PS4 against the coming wave of 4K TVs. Sadly, the Xbox One reveal didn't feature Microsoft's new Illumiroom technology – which uses the Kinect and a projector to extend your TV display across an entire room. With no showing at E3, it'll be a long time before the magical technology graces your living room with its presence. 

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – controllers

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Not a great deal of change here, but as they say, if it ain't broke... The PS4's DualShock 4 controller resembles the existing DualShock, adding a touchpad and re-branded Select and Start buttons. Sony has taken a leaf out of Microsoft's book with the thumbsticks and triggers, though – the thumbsticks now sport more grippy tops, and the L2 and R2 triggers are concave, so your fingers are less likely to slip off. About time.

The DualShock 4 features a light bar that can be used to identify players – the console will also be able to tell who's using what controller, so if you swap seats on the sofa during a multiplayer gaming session, the PS4 will helpfully reorganise the split-screen layout. The Xbox One can also do the same thanks to the wonders of Kinect and as it'll be bundled with each unit, everyone can take advantage of it out of the box. The DualShock 4 also sports a headphone jack and built-in speaker, plus enhanced rumble tech.

The Xbox One controller closely resembles its predecessor – though it now has more subtly coloured buttons. Vibration feedback through each of the triggers opens up the possibility for deeper in-game immersion and we were thoroughly spooked and impressed by the subtle vibrations during our E3 demo. You also get a more sensitive D-pad, grippier (but smaller) joysticks, a better integrated removable slot and more efficient Wi-Fi syncing.

 

For a thorough look at both controllers, check out our Xbox One vs PS4 controller showdown.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – Blu-ray and optical drive

Although there was talk of the PS4 ditching physical media to rely on the cloud all together, Sony has packed in a Blu-ray drive that's three times faster than that found in the PS3. Microsoft has similarly added a Blu-ray drive to its console – no format wars in this console generation.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – media streaming

The Xbox One is aiming to be the centre of your living room, where it can control your digital existence using voice and gestures alone. Sony hasn't revealed how it plans to take over your living room but we'd expect it has something up its sleeve. The question is: can Sony's PlayStation Eye match the second generation of the Kinect, or will it be left playing catch-up? 

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – cameras

Both the Xbox One with its Kinect and the PS4 with its Eye will be watching you game. The second-gen Kinect has a truly astonishing array of skills – it can track how much force you're exerting, log you in using facial recognition, monitor your mood and even read your heart rate. However, the fact that it'll remain constantly on might creep some users out – and the fact that Microsoft's exploring patents to monitor your TV viewing could be cause for concern.

Microsoft Xbox One vs Sony PS4

Can Sony's second attempt at the Eye match up? So far we've been promised facial recognition to log in, two 1280x800 resolution cameras, four mics for potential voice controls and an 85-degree field of view. The Eye will also play nice with PlayStation Move controllers, if you've still got them knocking around.

In terms of tech specs, it looks like the Kinect wins out – but it's just a matter of waiting to see which one actually works best. Or to see which one lets you game and watch TV without being watched by advertisers.

The fact that the Kinect comes bundles with every Xbox One console will encourage developers to create compatible titles for it, while the PS4 camera, which is sold separately at US$59, could be relatively neglected. Considering what the new Kinect could theoretically do for future gameplay, that's worth considering.

Read our Xbox One Kinect first look review

More after the break...

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – social

Sony wants to focus on social gaming – so much so it's added a Share button to the DualShock 4 controller. When you want to start a game you'll be met with comments from other players and downloadable content before you boot it up. You can sync your account to Facebook and players can now use their real names. Then there's the ability to spectate and comment on games, like an annoying backseat driver. But more usefully, the Share button can be held to take a quick screenshot of your latest and greatest frag.

The Xbox One is a social creature too – integrating social into TV so you can search by what's trending or popular with your friends. Want join mates and chat about what they're watching? Bring Skype up in the side bar and chat as you go along together. And with Kinect watching your reactions it's suggested that TV producers can tailor shows depending on your viewing experience. Can you say "filter bubble"?

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – special skills

The Xbox One's Instant Switching feature cleverly lets you jump between gaming and TV instantly, using voice or gesture controls – with games remaining in standby mode, ready to be picked up where you left off. No more phasing your console and fiddling with the remote. The PS4 offers a genius feature that'll let you start playing games as they download – with later levels continuing to download as you play. Brilliant for those with flaky internet connections.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – games

While both consoles will undoubtedly keep their AAA exclusive titles like Halo and the God of War series, heavy hitters like Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed 4 and Ubisoft's Watch Dogs will still be available for both consoles – though it's up in the air whether Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V will be putting in an appearance on the next-gen consoles, given its September release date.

Since Sony has ditched the PS3's Cell architecture for the PS4, and both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are running similar AMD processors and graphics cards, we should see even more simultaneous cross-platform launches in this generation. Much to the delight of keyboard and mouse fraggers, no doubt.

Plenty of Xbox One games were revealed at E3 and exclusive titles include Forza Motorsport 5, Quantum Break, Halo 5, Ryse and Titanfall.

The PS4's exclusive line-up includes family adventure Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, and the very impressive massive open world rubber burner, DriveClub. Plus PS4 games will support PS Vita Remote Play as standard.

The Xbox One's exclusive list is bigger (for the time being) but all-in-all, the best titles (in our opinion) are available on both consoles, which include the likes of Destiny, Assassin's Creed 4: Blag Flag and The Division, to name but a few.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – used games and DRM

Here's where things get a little heated. Not to mention confusing. First of all, the easy bit. Neither console will let you play PS3 games or Xbox 360 games. The Xbox One gives you the option to plug the 360 into it (presumably vie the HDMI passthrough) which will let you play 360 games with a 360 controller, in the Xbox One interface. Pretty handy we suppose.

Now then, Microsoft was at the wrong end of an angry mob both during and after E3 after its DRM, always-on and used game policies were scrutinized against Sony's more open PS4. Essentially, each Xbox One game could be downloaded in full – off the cloud or disc – to your hard drive, and you would have had to be online at least once every 24 hours to verify each game to your account, otherwise you won't be able to play. Not even single player mode. Sony on the other hand, did not have this restriction.

You'll notice we're talking in the past tense though. That's because since we wrote this comparison, Microsoft has completely flipped around and announced that its always-on, DRM and used game restrictions would be lifted, levelling the playing field against the PS4. It's a massive, huge decision in the face of a very tough week of angry gamer reactions.

Microsoft (like Sony) is leaving it to publishers to decide whether or not they'll be charging fees to buyers of second-hand games). This is all because you could otherwise download a game to your console and play it after selling it and making some cash.

Both consoles will now charge a monthly fee for online multiplayer, including Sony who previously offered it for free. PlayStation Plus members will have access to free game downloads as part of their package though.

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – launch price

The Xbox One will launch for a wallet-stinging US$499, while Sony surprised everyone with a cheaper US$399 PS4 price tag. It's worth bearing in mind though that the Xbox One will come bundled with the Kinect camera, while PS4 gamers will have to fork out a further US$59 for the PlayStation camera.

Why the Xbox One deserves your US$499

Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 – release date

It's not yet clear whether we can expect an exact release date for either console, though both will be out in time for Christmas 2013 – Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One will launch in November, and we expect Sony to follow suit. Those in Asia, however, may be disappointed to learn that Microsoft previously said that the Xbox One will be available in the region in late 2014. 

Read the Stuff team's gut reaction – Xbox One vs PS4

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