The years of waiting have finally come to a close: Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 are here. Many of you have undoubtedly already made your choice, but there are millions more who are setting aside some cash or carefully crafting a holiday wish list this year who have yet to decide which console is worth the investment.
We reviewed both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 without getting into any comparisons between the two, but all bets are off in this final console showdown. Only one black box can be crowned king of this console generation.
Hardware: From a visual standpoint, the PlayStation 4 is a better looking, less bulky piece of hardware. Despite its odd, angular design, the PS4 is compact enough to fit comfortably under any television set. The Xbox One is noticeably heavier, it looks like a VCR, and the added appendage that is the Kinect can take some getting used to.
We knew that the hardware was going to be an issue when reports started coming in which revealed that Call of Duty: Ghosts had been upscaled from 720p on the Xbox One as opposed to running natively in 1080p as it does on the PS4. Hardware issues stretch beyond resolution though — everything just moves a little bit slower than it should. Disc installs are longer, in-game loading appears to be more pronounced, and you can’t move through the main menu nearly as quickly on the Xbox One as you can on the PS4.
The gap will likely close as developers have more time to polish their games and Microsoft has time release a system update or two, but for visual-conscious gamers, the PS4 does have a leg up on the competition.
I can’t speak to the PlayStation 4 camera as I do not own one, but having watched plenty of streaming footage from others using the camera, and videos of how the camera works, I think I can safely say that the PlayStation Camera is very much an optional accessory, and has been marketed as such. Kinect, on the other hand, is a vital piece of the Xbox One puzzle, and as I said in my review, it almost always works. The times it doesn’t work make me feel ridiculous, but once I settled on which commands were easier with a controller and which were easier with Kinect, it created a very interesting synergy between the two. The Kinect is a huge part of the potential of the Xbox One.
The controller: I have to admit, despite my initial concerns, I’ve come around on the Xbox One controller. The lack of any meaningful additions is a bit of a bummer, and the shoulder buttons could use some readjustments, but after a few hours with the controller, most of these annoyances become moot. After sitting down with Dead Rising 3 for an hour, using the controller became second nature.
That said, the DualShock 4 is still a better device. While the Xbox One controller looks like an updated version of its predecessor, the controller for the PS4 is a complete overhaul of the PS3’s controller. It might just be my realization that the DualShock 3 wasn’t a great controller to begin with (and the Sixaxis was even worse), but the DualShock 4 feels like the culmination of what Sony has been trying to accomplish all along.
The indentation on the analog sticks and the lips of the triggers make granular adjustments easier, the extended grips allow the controller to contour perfectly to your hand, and some of the new features are genuinely revelatory. Much like the Wii U GamePad, the DualShock 4 has a headphone jack that routes all audio through the controller — that means no more silent late night gaming sessions.
Other major changes, such as the touchpad and the Share button, will take more than a few weeks after launch to prove themselves useful, but as the foundation of how players will be interacting with its console, Sony has designed a stellar controller.
Game lineup: When I sat down to review the two consoles, I avoided talking about the launch lineups. It might seem a bit silly to leave out games when reviewing a game console, but I was more interested in how the hardware worked. After expending 3,000 words on the hardware, I figure it’s worth discussing the software. After all, once you spend $400-$500 on a machine, you’re going to want to use it.
Microsoft got a head start this generation. The list of exclusive games on the Xbox One more than triples that of the PS4. Although many of the titles are forgettable, quantity is just as important as quality when games are this sparse. All things considered, some of the games are actually pretty great.
Both Dead Rising 3 and Forza Motorsport 5 have received overwhelmingly positive reviews, Ryse appears to be a step above mediocrity, and both Killer Instinct and Zoo Tycoon took most everyone by surprise on day one. On Sony’s side of the aisle, Killzone: Shadow Fall was underwhelming, Knack lacked soul, and Resogun, a free download for PlayStation Plus subscribers, is the only solid launch title of the bunch.
It’s a sad state of affairs for PlayStation 4 owners at the moment, so if your only impetus for buying a next-gen console in 2013 is to play new games right now, the Xbox One is your best bet.
UI & Features: This category surprised me more than any other. We knew up front that the Xbox One had a broader launch lineup, we knew that the PS4 was going to be marginally more powerful, but we didn’t know how the consoles were going to function once they were actually sitting in our living rooms and bedrooms.
The user interface of the PS4 is nearly as sleek and uncluttered as the PS3’s, but unlike the XMB, the PS4 UI looks like something Sony can build upon. Everything moves fast and nothing is ever too deep into a menu. The Xbox One features a much more robust interface, one that will evolve as the generation moves forward, but it does feel slightly crowded. Once
Microsoft eats Sony’s lunch when it comes to entertainment apps — there’s no way around it. The requisite Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant appear on both consoles, but Microsoft managed to secure HBO GO and the NFL. The inclusion of Skype is also being touted as a major draw of the console, and the ability to Snap into Skype while playing a game or watching a movie is just a bonus.
Microsoft did a much better job with home screen customization too. If you use pins intelligently on the Xbox One, you’ll never lose your most valuable apps and games. On the PS4, the endless scrolling log of everything you have installed on the system is a huge blot on an otherwise sparkling UI. There’s no way to decide which apps appear where, and your most recent app or game is always pushed to the front of the line. Both interfaces could use some work, but the issues on the PS4 stand out much more than those on the Xbox One.
Finally, the Xbox One’s optional cable box connection could be a huge draw for a certain audience. After having spent the entire Thanksgiving weekend trying to get my family to use the Xbox One voice commands to change the channel, I have discovered that my family is not that audience, and neither am I. The OneGuide is a great feature if your cable provider has a sub par guide of its own, but for my money, the only worthwhile use of running cable through the Xbox One is gaining the ability to swap between gaming and TV watching without hitting the ‘source’ button on my remote.
Pricing: Looking at what the two consoles have to offer at the moment, it’s very hard to justify the additional $100 of the Xbox One. The Kinect is an incredibly cool device, one which has the potential to become an essential part of gaming this generation, but it just doesn’t do enough to warrant the price at launch. I have only gotten my hands on a few of the available Xbox One games, but none of them use the Kinect extensively.
As for the PlayStation 4, Sony has built a console significantly more powerful than the PlayStation 3 for just two-thirds the price. Playing games is an expensive hobby, and the $100 savings could be put to good use on software. Unfortunately, none of that software has made it to retail quite yet.
Even the online membership is uneven — $50 for one year of PlayStation Plus and $60 for Xbox One. If online gaming isn’t your thing, most of the functionality of the PS4 will remain intact regardless of a subscription. On the other hand, you can’t even use Netflix on the Xbox One as a Silver member. If Microsoft is going to charge a $100 premium for its console, it needs to offer a more competitive package.
Verdict: The easy answer, and probably the most valid answer, is that each console offers something different. Sony has hedged its bets and built what could be the best gaming console ever released. Microsoft opted for the kitchen sink approach and unleashed a hefty box that does just about anything you’d want it to do.
And therein lies the problem.
As we said in our review, the Xbox One does everything, but it only does one thing really well: play games. Other than the occasional Battlefield 4 crash (which is EA’s problem, not Microsoft’s), the Xbox One plays games just as well as the PS4, PS3, Xbox 360 or any other competent console. Everything else is a bit iffy. Kinect is hit-or-miss, the cable box functionality needs work, installs take too long and the UI is inconvenient at times.
As for the PlayStation 4, there’s really nothing to complain about on a hardware level. There is no arguing that the Xbox One has a better lineup right now, but the balance will shift very quickly as indie developers begin flooding the PlayStation Store later this month.
So if you still haven’t yet picked up a new console but you’re in the market to purchase one, I have to recommend the PS4. In a year’s time, things may change, but the best console of 2013 is the PlayStation 4.