Microsoft Xbox One vs Sony PS4: in depth
Microsoft and Sony's next-gen gaming powerhouses square up to each other in this clash of the console titans
We’ve seen the next-generation consoles do incredible things. Some of them even involve games. Here we take a look at what we’ve experienced so far of the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One.
Before we begin, check out our PS4 review and Xbox One review for our verdict on Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen gaming powerhouses.
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.
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 while the Xbox One will blend in beneath your telly a little better than the PS4, Sony’s console is, simply put, the prettier of the two.
Microsoft’s console also dwarfs Sony’s angular offering, despite the fact that the Xbox One has an external power brick while the PS4’s is built in.
Microsoft seems to be playing it safe, offering plenty of room for the Xbox One to breathe, hoping to avoid the over-heating issues that plagued the original Xbox 360.
Having said that, only time will tell how both consoles will hold up to daily use, but for the time being they both run cool and quiet – just the way we like it.
graphics and power
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.
Indeed, Call of Duty: Ghosts will run natively at 1080p on the PS4 while the Xbox One will run it natively at 720p before upscaling it to full HD. While both versions will run at 60fps, it does show PS4 does pack more graphical grunt than its rival.
However, games on both consoles look positively luscious and are a marked improvement over the previous generation. And things can only get better as developers become more comfortable with the hardware on offer.
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.
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 damn 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.
Overall, bar a few individual minor gripes, they’re both excellent and we’d happily take either.
For a thorough look at both controllers, check out our Xbox One vs PS4 controller showdown.
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.
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.
It has HDMI pass-through which means you plug your Freeview, Freesat, Sky or Virgin PVR into the HDMI input, and then plug the Xbox into your TV or AV receiver as normal. This means that you can watch TV through the Xbox One and ‘snap’ what you’re watching (via a Kinect voice command no less) to the side, letting you game and catch up with the footy at the same time.
Sadly for Brits, the OneGuide (which serves up your PVRs TV guide) isn’t yet available in the UK. That means you can’t browse channels and shows, set recordings and channel surf with Kinect’s voice control ability. Gamers in the US can however get the full Xbox One TV treatment. Boo.
In the UK you can however adjust volume, pause and play, and you can set up your remote to work with the Xbox One by setting it up with the relevant code.
The PS4 on the other hand doesn’t shake hands with your Sky box, but makes up for it in other ways. For starters if you’ve got a PlayStation Vita, you can play PS4 games streamed directly to the handheld meaning the action doesn’t have to stop when your TV’s been commandeered for X Factor. It’s just like the Wii U’s tablet, and it’s a fantastic feature for Vita owners.
Another bonus for the PS4 is the fact that you can upgrade its hard drive with a standard 2.5in offering. Considering that game downloads can reach 50GB and the fact that its OS and various system files take up 93GB, this is a massive plus, especially if you want to load it up with a vast media collection.
Microsoft’s list of UK media partners at launch include 4OD Netflix, Lovefilm, Blinkbox, Crackle, Eurosport, Machinima, Muzu TV, Ted Talks, Twitch and Wuaki.tv, but unlike PS4, the Xbox One won’t support iPlayer at launch, though Microsoft, in an interview with CNET, stated that it is “…working to bring BBC iPlayer to Xbox One in the future”.
The PS4’s streaming services including Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, Crunchyroll, EPIX, NBA Game Time, Netflix, NHL GameCenter LIVE, Redbox Instant by Verizon, VUDU, YuppTV.
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.
Can Sony’s second attempt at the Eye match up? Well it too offers recognition to log in, has two 1280×800 resolution cameras, four mics for voice control (though it’s much more limited than the Kinect) 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.
The Kinect is unarguably the superior bit of kit, and its voice recognition works perfectly nine times out of ten. When it does, you’re filled with a sense of childlike wonder. When it doesn’t you reach for the controller in frustration. But its potential is enormous and we have to hand it to Microsoft for pushing the boundaries and injecting our living rooms with something so futuristic.
The fact that the Kinect comes bundles with every Xbox One console will also encourage developers to create compatible titles for it, while the PS4 Camera, which is sold separately at £45, could be relatively neglected. Considering what the new Kinect could theoretically do for future gameplay, that’s worth considering.
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 screenshots and video of your latest and greatest frag, before sharing them with your mates.
The Xbox One is a social creature too, letting you search by what’s trending or popular with your friends. Want to 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”?
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 5 will be putting in an appearance on the next-gen consoles.
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, though the only one you’ll be able to pick up at launch is the excellent Forza 5.
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 Microsoft 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 was a massive 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.
The Xbox One will set you back a wallet-stinging £430, while the PS$ has a cheaper £350 price tag. It’s worth bearing in mind though that the Xbox One comes bundled with the Kinect camera, while PS4 gamers will have to fork out a further £45 for the PlayStation camera.
The Xbox One is the more ambitious console, but it just doesn’t quite manage to follow through on all of its potential. Yet.
The PS4 on the other hand might have less media and voice control powers, but its beefier specs promise a slew of eye-watering exclusive titles further down the line.
If you want the Xbox One’s media powers and Kinect magic, then your decision is clear. But if you’re after a purer gaming experience for a cheaper price, then you’ll want to fly the PS4 flag.
Console wars are long, bloody, drawn out affairs though, and we can’t wait to document every battle along the way. It’s only just begun…