With more information from E3, we can now take a closer look at the options currently on the table and try to shy away from the “drama” to focus on one thing: which console would work for *you*. Ultimately, only you can decide about this, but I’ll do my best to lay out the choices in a clear way so that you can make an informed decision if you want to jump on the pre-order wagon. Also, I haven’t included the Wii in here because although it’s supposed to compete, I don’t think that many people are currently thinking “Xbox One, PS4, or Wii-U… hum…”. I may be wrong, so you tell me.
Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 Design
I’ll skip the design drama, but I’ve included a photo gallery. I have my own preference, and I can tell you that I was surprised by the Xbox design (not in a good way), but in the end, it doesn’t really matter much what I think of the design, and industrial design itself is only important to a point for a game console. You’ve seen the console, and you can decide for yourself. After all, it’s your room. That said, check the relative size of the new consoles, compared to the older ones (photo courtesy of @tyzaa_).
The Xbox One is obviously bigger, and it weighs 3.18kg (7lbs) while the PS4 weighs 2.8Kg (6.17lbs). When I observed the Xbox One at CES I saw that there were vents everywhere, and I assume that the Xbox designers were very (maybe overly) cautious about the cooling system since they want to see a repeat of the overheating issues that Xbox 360 users had to endure when the console was first introduced.
Games presented so far
After E3, I have to say that Microsoft is coming out on top in terms of perceived games line-up. Now, you have to pay very much attention to the games release dates because some of them are scheduled for “spring 2014″ or even farther than that in time, so double-check and do your homework.
What I’ve seen at E3 is that despite having a potentially inferior hardware (more on that below), Microsoft was able to demonstrate 60 FPS gameplay on key titles like Battlefield 4 (also scheduled for PS4). Other games like Titan Fall and Forza Motorsport also looked very impressive and fluid. For an overview of the best games on both platforms, check my previous Best E3 Game Trailers post, and this will give you a quick taste of what to expect.
Future Games and Franchises
What’s more interesting is the exclusives that Sony and Microsoft will get. They will mostly come from their own studios, but some 3rd party developers will also sign deals. Here is a list of exclusives that we know about at the time of publishing. We will try to keep this updated this as we get closer to the launch: Again, you have to choose which games you prefer, but for my part, I currently prefer the Xbox One line up as demonstrated at E3.
|PS4 Exclusive||Xbox One Exclusive|
|DC Universe Online||D4|
|DriveClub||Dead Rising 3|
|Final Fantasy XIV||Fantasia: Music Evolved|
|Infamous Second Son||Forza Motorsport 5|
|Killzone: Shadow Fall||Halo 5|
|The Order: 1866||Kinect Sport Rivals|
|Primal Carnage: Genesis||Project Spark|
|Secret Ponchos||Quantum Break|
|Super Stardust HD Sequel||Ryse: Son of Rome|
|War Thunder||Zoo Tycoon|
You can find many of these games’ trailers in our Best E3 2013 Game Trailers post, and I recommend to check them out since they are pure eye-candy. You won’t regret it.
Multi-platform games (plenty!)
The good news with this generation hardware is that there are no huge differences in hardware that would make games extremely difficult to port from one to the other, so I expect most popular games to be available on both consoles, unless it falls in the previous “exclusive title” category. From a technical standpoint, things should be smoother than it was for PS3/Xbox 360 where each console had radically different strong points, which made code optimizations difficult. Games like Battlefield 4 or Metal Gear Solid 5 should run very well on both systems and look substantially comparable.
Motion Control (for those who care)
This is where things start to seriously diverge: Microsoft has integrated Kinect 2 into the basic Xbox One package, saying “Kinect for All” and this accessory is now completely embedded into the Xbox One user experience. This allows every single Xbox One user to control the console with gestures or voice, in a much improved way when compared to the original Kinect which is still rather unique after all this time. If you loved Kinect, you will love it even more, there’s no question about it.
Kinect 2 improves upon its predecessor by using a higher resolution sensor and it has been improved to work better in difficult lighting environment. Its field of view is also wider, which makes it more capable in tighter spaces, and when there are more users in front of it. Kinect 2 is now capable of seeing things as small as “thumb movement” according to Microsoft.
The downside of this is that it raises the price by $100, and if you didn’t care about Kinect before you’ll get it anyway. Some critics also say that Kinect is “spying on you” at all times, but Microsoft’s engineers assured me that Kinect was basically waiting for an “Xbox” command before really doing anything, so it should be looking at you all the time. Maybe a (discreet) light indicator for when the camera is on would put that to rest. For now, I don’t consider it to be a real problem, but you tell me.
Sony has not been pushing motion controls very much, but in theory, the PlayStation Eye for PS4 and the PlayStation Move accessories could be a basis for that kind of experience. For some users it’s plenty and provided a Wii-like experience, but although it has mostly been less “laggy” than Kinect, I found the Kinect experience to be better, with less friction. If you have never tried both — I’d say that overall, Kinect is better.
Used games and Internet connectivity differences (Microsoft pulls a 180)
As you may have heard, at E3, Sony came out a clear winner in the battle for the “hearts and minds” of gamers, at least that was the general vibe that I got from people that I talked to during E3, including regular gamers, game reporters, and industry insiders. I completely agree with that assessment.
Since then, Microsoft has pulled a complete 180 and has given what users want: the policy around how people can use the game discs is going to be the same as what users are familiar with on the Xbox 360 today. Basically, users can loan their discs to whoever they want, and the person who has the disc can play the game. Also, Microsoft has removed the connectivity requirement necessary to enforce the DRM scheme. Just to provide some context, I’m leaving the original paragraph here:
=== Old DRM Policy Start ===
Let’s talk about the used games: Microsoft has basically said that it is up to developers to decide how (and if) they want to control the resale or loan of games. Each publisher may have a slightly different policy that you may be aware of (if you care about resell/loans). For instance Microsoft Games will have the following rules:
1/ You can give a game, but only to friends who have been in your list for one month.
2/ Each game can be given once
3/ People can play your games on your console, even if you’re not logged-in
4/ There won’t be a possibility to “loan” or “rent” games. Microsoft is still “exploring” the idea and doesn’t close the door, however.
According to Microsoft, the goal is to help developers monetize their games beyond the first customers, and in theory this *could* lead to more affordable game (or that could just lead to higher profits for the publishers…). Now, I’ve heard some people complaining that GameStop or some other retailers get a cut each time a used game is sold. Yet, users are unconvinced that Microsoft’s DRM scheme will benefit them and so far, this seems like lost battle, at least in terms of public perception.
To enforce these policies, Microsoft requires users to be connected at least once every 24 hours (why not 1-week?), otherwise games may not work. I think that most gamers will have some form of Internet connection, so that’s not a “technical issue”, but many people are unhappy with this because they feel like these restrictions don’t bring anything to them and represent potential additional costs and hassle in the future. So far, Microsoft’s idea has been deeply unpopular.
=== Old DRM Policy End ===
Another potential problem that may affect users around the world is that the Xbox One is region-locked. Since the verification seems to be done via Xbox Live, there’s a chance that the console may not work if used in a country which is not supported by Xbox Live. This would obviously be a no-go if you are in such country, so you may want to do your homework. Also, it’s not clear what happens if you bought the Xbox One in a supported country and move to another that is not supported. Microsoft has a lot of questions to answer, and until then, please keep an eye open for those issues.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sony has confirmed at E3 2013 that their policy is simple: “it’s your disc, and you can do what you want with it. Loan it, sell it, give it. It’s yours”. The company even made a humorous video to poke at Microsoft and it is having great success on Youtube.
PlayStation 4 is also region-free, which means that you can use it anywhere in the world and purchase/trade games with any other regions. This is great for folks who want games that are first released in regions like Japan, or the USA. Again, Sony made things simple to think through and this is undoubtedly play in their favor.
I recommend you to look beyond the “principle” to see how you are actually using games, and go from there. I personally don’t care much about all this because I tend to buy a limited number of games, and I don’t trade/resell much. Your situation may be very different, so do your research.
Extending games into the cloud (potential, yet to be realized)
Microsoft is justifying the above to some extent by saying that an “always connected Xbox” will improve the user experience in the future, and that “change” is often not popular, but sometime necessary (for the greater good). For instance, the company has shown us some tech demos to demonstrate how games can be extended in the cloud by having persistent worlds and by offloading huge computations on remote servers. The demo basically showed that the (Microsoft) cloud had the potential to extend the game capabilities way beyond the capabilities of a single box. In theory, anything that does not require to be computed every frame could be offloaded to the cloud.
I can believe that much, and the pitch is very interesting, but at this point in time Microsoft still has to prove to their customers that all constant connectivity will truly bring this promise into real games. I think that there will be bumps on the road since developers will likely prefer using their own cloud solution (vs. Microsoft’s) which could be multi-platform etc… I really like the cloud idea, but right now there are many unknowns which include publisher/game support. I have the feeling that Microsoft’s own studios will lead the way on this one. Let’s wait and see.
Also, it’s not farfetched to argue that 1/ the cloud experience could be “supplemental” and not a “requirement” 2/ that PS4 games could also support the same type of features on either publishers clouds or an eventual Sony cloud (which doesn’t exist now).
Xbox One vs. PS4: controllers
I’ve tried both types of controllers during E3, and fortunately, they feel very similar to the current generation of controllers (phew). The PS4 controller called Sixaxis probably has more changes because of the addition of a trackpad in the middle and a “motion light” in the back which should help the webcam track the controller’s movements in space. With this, games can keep an eye on the users instinctive reactions (like ducking) during a game, and provide additional controls, motions or graphics. Despite the changes, it feels nearly identical to the PS3 controller.
On the Xbox One side, there are some internal improvements which include WiFi Direct support, better triggers and a battery compartment, but when you play, it’s not different from the Xbox 360 controllers.
Xbox One vs. PS4 Specifications (PS4 gets an edge)
The “specs war” has largely defined each generation of game consoles since the beginning of game console history. Why? Because technical features often proved to be key advantages or limitations that could help or haunt platforms for years. Although “specs” are still important, they may not “define” who wins or loses this time. More likely, it is the games, services and exclusive deals that will. Here’s a quick table for comparison, and the main points on which people are going to focus are the memory bandwidth, and the graphics processor (GPU) speed.
The memory bandwidth define how much data can be circulate in the system (in GB/sec) and it is hugely important since games require processing incredible amounts of data. Sony and Microsoft have chosen different paths to address this. Sony went with high-speed memory modules that provide the bandwidth they need. The downside is that GDDR5 modules are more expensive, but while it may affect Sony’s bottom-line (at first), consumers won’t get hit and the $399 price is proof of that. Secondly, PS4 has more GPU cores than Xbox One has: 1152 vs 768, which is 50% more raw graphics horsepower. This is theoretically a huge difference.
From what I’ve seen at E3, this doesn’t seem to give Sony a big advantage in terms of visual quality today, but as developer squeeze every last bit of performance, this may turn into a real asset for Sony down the road.
|CPU||8-core AMD “Jaguar” 1.6GHz||8-core AMD “Unknown” 1.6GHz|
|GPU||1152 cores||768 cores|
|On-chip memory||No||32MB eSRAM|
|Memory||8GB GDDR5||8GB DDR3|
|System Memory Bus Width||256bit||256bit|
|System Memory Bandwidth||176GB/sec||69GB/sec|
|Storage||500GB user-removable||500GB not user removable|
|Networks||Wired Ethernet, WiFi B/G/N||Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi B/G/N|
Xbox One vs. PS4 Multimedia and TV connectivity
Both Sony and Microsoft want their consoles to be more than a gaming box. It’s easier said than done, but there is no doubt that both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have now mastered the integration of services like Netflix and Hulu. PS3 may have been a bit faster to ramp that up, but it’s pretty much a done deal by now: the next-gen consoles will have all that stuff working right away. We just can’t imagine that they would not.
Interestingly, the Xbox One uses an HDMI connection with ARC (Audio Return Channel). It is a feature that was added with HDMI 1.4 and it allows the TV to send audio back to the console. This feature is necessary for the Xbox TV controls to work properly. It’s great if you have a TV that supports it, but in reality few TV do support it in today’s user-base, but this may change over the life-span of the console. You may also need an ARC-compatible cable, so checking that your TV has an ARC HDMI port may not be enough. There are so few people using this that it is difficult to get reliable information, so keep an eye open for this.
Conclusion (immediate PS4 advantage, Xbox One potential to be proven)
Unless you can afford both, you will have to make a choice, and I hope that the information above did provide some help in your research.
What was revealed at E3 shows clearly what both consoles are capable of, and I expect most third party games to be available on both PS4 and Xbox One. At the end of the day, you need to think at your own usage, and get the one that works for you. If asked, I would say that if you just want to play games and don’t care much about the multimedia features (TV, music, voice control…) then the PS4 seems to have an advantage with its pricing. That’s particularly true if you are selling or trading used games.
The Xbox One has the (yet to be proven) potential to bring a unique experience in casual gaming (Wii-like) and “beyond traditional gaming”. It can recognize who’s using it, and the gestures and voice controls have been improved so most of the friction experienced with 360+Kinect have been much improved. Still, today you would be betting on something that may or may not materialize.
So… what kind of user are you? PS4 or Xbox One?