In case you didn't already know, this week saw the biggest event on the gaming calendar go down in Los Angeles. That's right, this week was E3. Those fateful days where the gaming industry announces tonnes of new games, and teases about a whole load more. But those games would be nothing without the consoles they're played on, and the latest generation has changed quite a bit since launch in late 2013.
That makes this the perfect opportunity to go over the two big names of the console world and try to answer the question of which one is best. What will we find? Is Mr T bang on with the seemingly endless number of comments declaring "PS4TW?" Or will the Xbox One come on top and make all of his fanboying laughable? Let's find out.
The point of the testing is to decide which is the best console for you to own, so my testing will involve a general overview of all major aspects of both consoles. That said, the main focus will be on how the consoles actually run and how easy they are to use. That means points are awarded for interfaces that are clean, easy to navigate, and have a nice look about them.
Hardware is also a major factor in the testing, and comparisons of the specifications and power of each console will be done to get a general idea of how well they'll be able to play games. Storage plays into this as well, so I will be looking at built-in storage, and how easy it is to upgrade it, along with compatibility with external drives. It's not just the guts, though, and the exterior design will play a small part since that's what you're going to have to look at whenever you decide to fire up your daily game of Call of Duty. This includes the look and feel of the controllers.
Availability of official hardware accessories will play a small part here, as well, along with what benefits of actually coughing up the cash for them. At the moment this only includes stuff available now, rather than what Sony and Microsoft have announced for future release.
Media options are also a very important, so I'll be checking up on the availability of streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and so on. Mainstream services are the key focus here, the kind of services that have a decent level of brand awareness and a large user-base. Having exclusive access to a service nobody uses or cares about means very little in the long run. Bonus points will be awarded to consoles that allow you to play media from external devices (USB drives, disc etc), with points deducted for any incompatibly with certain popular formats.
Obviously, being games consoles, the games will play a big role in testing. A good portfolio of exclusive games is incredibly important, but attention will also be paid to how well each console runs the more well-known third-party titles.
The final parts of testing will compare the online features offered over the PSN and Xbox Live (including those locked behind the PS Plus and Gold paywalls), social features, what Sony and Microsoft have planned for the future, as well as the actual cost of getting a console in your hands.
Design and User Interface
The most obvious thing about the Xbox One is how big the damn thing is. While I don't have one for comparison, it feels bigger than the original Xbox. I suppose it helps that it's completely rectangular, so it's easy to find room for it near your TV, but that's not without its problems. Half of the upper side of the console is devoted to a vent, which means you can't really put much on top of it; since it's a bit difficult to put the heavy console on top of something else, the Xbox One really needs it's own dedicated space. The Xbox One also has three USB ports, but only two of those seemed to work with the controller. They were on the back, which is just awkward.
The PS4, by contrast, is much nicer. It's smaller, thinner, and actually has USB ports where you can get to them. Like the Xbox One it has a flat top, which means you could put something else on top if need be. But what with it being smaller, it looks a lot more fragile than it's brick-like counterpart. The italic design is neat as well, and it looks a lot more interesting than a game-playing block.
At first glance The Xbox One seems fairly easy to navigate, with everything set out into four basic areas (Home, Friends, What's On, Store) and a section on the left-hand side of the screen for pins/bookmarks. The problem is that it’s unnecessarily complex, and actually doing anything other than finding games and apps is almost impossible. I found that I accidentally turned on the Snap feature and couldn't figure out how to turn it off. When I did eventually turn it off, I accidentally hit the B button and that caused the console to launch Minecraft for some reason.
I also found that navigating the settings menu was a little tricky, especially when it came to managing what you had saved on the console's hard drive. I found trying to do so via the settings menu took me straight back to the standard list of apps and games you had installed. It took me a while to figure out that pressing the view button opens up a small menu with extra options. Annoyingly non-intuitive if you ask me. Similarly the Xbox One has an all-or-nothing attitude to unintelligible games, whereas its predecessor gave you the option of deleting select aspects of what you had saved (DLC, save files, and so on.)
Then again that's all a bit up in the air right now thanks to the announcement of a new user interface. That might fix these problems, and it might not. The UI does look as though it's had a massive overhaul, and that definitely isn't a bad thing. We'll just have to wait and see what happens when it arrives this autumn.
The PS4's interface is a lot simpler, and much neater. The interface is comprised two two distinct sections: the main menu where you access recently used apps and games, and the upper menu where you access the system tools like profiles and settings. It's much better than the Xbox One's interface in almost every sense. It's easy to find everything, there's no unnecessary fluff taking up the homescreen, and I didn't get lost, or accidentally open something, once. It's fair to say that it's pretty idiot proof, which is always a good thing.
The only downside is that the PS4 doesn't have any system for pinning or bookmarking certain apps, which is a bit of a pain. Sure if you use something enough it should appear on the main screen anyway, but it's always nice to keep to know your important bits are easily accessible. Maybe have a third menu below the main screen? That could work.
The Winner: Without a doubt it's the PS4. Not only does the console look so much better than the Xbox One, I never got lost trying to navigate the system. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do.
The PS4 controller has a decent design, and a lot more comfortable than I was expecting given my experience with older iterations of DualShock. It feels good in my hands, and even though the analogue sticks aren't where I normally rest my thumbs they're still comfortable to use. In fact, after using them it's almost preferable to have the symmetry of them next to each other. It's also a bonus that the controller has a built in battery pack (which the Xbox One lacks) and charges via micro USB. Sadly it's not without it's problems. For starters the rubber on the analogue stick is prone to crumbling, and after a while they can look a big raggedy. Secondly there's that damn glowing light.
The light is supposed to be there for use with Sony's upcoming VR headset, Project Morpheus. I didn't notice the light straight away, but once I did I couldn't 'unsee' it. I can understand Sony wanting to include some VR tech in the controller, but there should be a way to turn that light off when you don't want to use it. Otherwise it's just draining the battery, even when dimmed. It does change colour based on what you're playing, though, which I suppose is kind of cool. Oh, and let's not forget the touchscreen pad in the centre of the controller looks so bad. It's really out of place, and it doesn't really seem that useful. If it's still around on the PS5, maybe Sony should stick it on the back of the controller like it did with the Vita.
The Xbox One controller hasn't really changed much from its predecessor, and given the Xbox 360 controller has also been adopted by PC gaming that's hardly surprising. It's lovely and ergonomic and fits well with the contours of your hand, even if it does feel a bit small for the bear paws I use to interact with the world. Sadly I still have no clue how to use the view and menu buttons, and apparently I'm not the only one. Another negative is the fact that you have to supply your own batteries (or settle for wired gameplay), and batteries makes the controller feel far heavier than its Sony-made counterpart.
Both the PS4 and the Xbox One offer fairly similar second-screen experiences in the form of mobile apps. The Xbox Smartglass (available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone), and the PS4 has the PS Vita and the official PS4 app (available on iOS and Android). Both console's second-screen experiences give you a level of control over your console from your phone by connecting over Wi-Fi, and lets pull up a touch-enabled controller onscreen.
Controllers are useful for many things, but they suck when it comes to having to type things out. Both systems let you do that with your phone (and the Vita on PS4). Both smartphone apps also let you manage your account on the move, letting you chat with friends, browse the store, and see what's going on. But the Xbox has a small advantage here, because it lets you control media using your phone.
Whether you've hooked up your TV box through the Xbox One, use the digital tuner accessory, stream videos, or something as basic as playing them from a USB stick, Smartglass will function as a remote control. That's much handier than using a controller, and much cheaper than buying a first-party remote.
The Winner: It's rather close, but the Xbox One just clinches it. The controller is a lot more streamlined in appearance than the PS4's, even if it doesn't come with the luxury of a built-in battery pack. Plus, being able to use your smartphone as the Xbox's TV remote is pretty damn useful.
Storage is important, and in the age of 20GB day-one patches and 50+GB games we're starting to need a heck of a lot of it. The launch versions of both consoles come bundled with 500GB hard drives as standard, but that's hardly what you're limited to. Microsoft recently announced a 1TB Xbox One console, which you can go out and buy right now. Similarly a recent leak revealed that a 1TB PS4 is on the way, but there doesn't appear to have been any official announcement by Sony.
The PS4 does have an advantage in that you can tear it open and upgrade the hard drive, and in fact Sony has built it so people can do that fairly easily. From what I've heard it's not that difficult, and it's possible to do it without voiding your warranty. The internet is full of how-to guides, like this one at TechRadar. It's possible to upgrade the Xbox One's hard drive, but doing so is more difficult and will void your warranty.
To counter that, the Xbox One does offer something that the PS4 does not: external hard drive support. It's not universal, but any USB 3.0 hard drive with more than 256GB of space is compatible. I can see that some may find the restrictions annoying, but if you've managed to fill up a 500GB/1TB hard drive then you probably don't want to use something with 8GB of space. The PS4 does let you back up all your data to a USB hard drive, but as far as I can see you can't actually run games from it.
The Winner: I'm going to have to go with the Xbox One, simply because the 1TB console is actually available right now and the fact that plugging in a hard drive is much simpler than actually opening up your console to add a new hard drive.
One of my biggest gripes with the Xbox 360 used to be that everything was locked behind a paywall, especially streaming services. That’s not really the case anymore, and the overwhelming majority are available for people who don’t pay for Gold. So you can go off and watch the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime without having to fork over £35 a year on top of your usual subscription fee.
That said, there are a few features still locked out. The main one is online multiplayer, so don’t expect to pwn some n00bs on Halo 5 without subscribing. The rest aren’t huge, but they’re all little things that are designed to enhance your gaming experience. Things like sending voice messages, live broadcasting your games over Twitch, using the game DVR, and media sharing. You can find a full list of what’s free and what’s not here. It's good to know that Microsoft is fairly generous with dishing out free trials, with games being bundled with a couple of days (or sometimes weeks) or free Gold membership fairly regularly.
There’s also the Games With Gold scheme, which grants Gold subscribers two free games per month. Xbox Gamers also have a small advantage over PS4 gamers, since games given away over PlayStation's Instant Collection will be locked if their PS+ subscription expires. But, like Games With Gold, Instant Collection grants PS4 owners two free games a month.
Back in the days of PlayStation 3, online gaming was famously free. Sadly, that's not the case on the PS4 and you need the £40/year PS+ subscription for the luxury. A lot of stuff on the PSN is free to use, including streaming apps and the like. What you do get with a PS+ subscription, aside from online gaming, includes exclusive discounts in the PlayStation Store, exclusive access to demos and game trials, the ability to store your save files in the cloud (up to 1GB), and Share Play.
Unlike the Xbox One, voice messaging, live broadcasting, Game DVR, and media sharing are not locked behind the paywall. You can find a list of what's free, and what's not, here.
The Winner: It's a tie. For the most part the big draw of paying for Xbox Live Gold and PS+ is the online multiplayer, everything else is just an added bonus. That said being cut of from your free games if your PS+ membership expires is a huge pain, something Xbox Gamers don't need to worry about. On the flip-side PlayStation gamers don't have to pay for certain social features, so it kind of balances out in my eye.
Media and Streaming
So what about those streaming apps then? The Xbox One has pretty much all bases covered. On the TV front you have BBC iPlayer, All 4, Demand 5, and Now TV, while streaming includes YouTube, Netflix, Plex, Twitch, blinkbox, Wukai, Amazon Prime, and a whole bunch of lesser known brands. Curiously absent is any form of third-party music streaming, which I found surprising. Aside from Microsoft’s own Xbox Music, there is no music whatsoever. No Spotify, no blinkbox music, or anything like that. A big disadvantage compared to the PS4.
The PS4's offering was pretty similar, offering the same big name services as the Xbox along with a much bigger list of smaller, niche services as well. The noticeable differences are that the PS4 has its own live broadcasting service, alongside popular third parties like Twitch, dedicated apps for BBC News and Sport, and Spotify. Spotify is the biggy, and while the app is officially called PlayStation Music (powered by Spotify) it's just Spotify with a fancy PlayStation UI. It links up to your account, continues playing while you play games, and you can even control the music pumping out of the console using your laptop or phone. Big advantage for team PlayStation.
As for other forms of media, everything is tied. Both systems have their own built-in media players that will play almost every video or music filetype imaginable, they can read and play media from USB devices, and they both play Blu-rays. There's nothing more to really say.
The Winner: PS4 clinches this one, simply because it offers Spotify. Spotify is the big dog in the world of music streaming, and not including it on the Xbox doesn't really make sense.
Social features aren't really a huge part of either console, but both of them have integrated friends list that you can use to play with your friends online. You can see what your friends are playing, what they've done recently, and chat to them with messages and voice chat.
On top of that the PS4 lets you find Facebook friends who've connected their account to the PSN, and the Xbox One has Skype, which lets you video chat with friends if you have a Kinect. The Xbox One's Snap feature also lets you chat to people on Skype while you play games, by sticking the video feed into the right-hand side of the screen.
Both consoles have the option to record and share clips of your gameplay (though the Xbox One's is locked behind the Gold paywall). On Xbox you can capture gameplay footage from the past five minutes, and on the PS4 you can capture anything from the past 15 minutes.
The PS4 does have the most important social feature by far, and that's Share Play. Share Play lets you play with your friends as if they were in the same room, even when they're not. This works by letting them view your screen from elsewhere, letting them take control of your console from elsewhere, and in some cases (like Far Cry 4) play co-operatively with you even if they don't own the game. That's pretty spectacular if you ask me.
The Winner: The PS4, because of SharePlay and the controller handover features. Skype on the Xbox One can't compete with that.
Hardware and Third Party Game Performance
For the most part the PS4 and the Xbox One both have incredibly similar internal hardware, with two notable exceptions: The PS4 has a superior graphics card and more memory bandwidth overall. The graphics card means that the PS4 offers superior graphics and imagery compared to the Xbox One, with many game hitting the coveted 1080p resolution. The Xbox One, on the other hand, tends to settle around 900p. The extra memory bandwidth doesn't play as big a role, but it does mean that the PS4 could deal with doing more things at once.
That means that if you're buying third-party games, you should be getting a better picture on the PS4 – if you look carefully, that is. The graphical changes are subtle, and shouldn't really impact your gaming experience all that much. That said, it does mean that the PS4 has softer visuals and better clarity when looking at distant objects.
If you'll remember, Ubisoft originally announced that the PS4 version of Assassin's Creed Unity would be locked at 900p "to avoid debates and stuff". This didn't go down well, and that lock was patched away.
Both consoles are capable of hitting 60 frames per second, but as we've seen time and time again that's all down to whether the developers can be bothered to make that push. Assassin's Creed Unity and The Order 1886 both famously dismissed 60 FPS while claiming that 30 FPS is more cinematic (it's not, that's nonsense). But the developers of The Master Chief Collection, and The Last of Us Remastered have made a point of saying that the games will run at 60 FPS.
The Winner: Without a doubt it's the PS4. In the future, as developers learn to better use console resources, the Xbox One may catch up, but for now it suffers from the lower resolution.
One of the interesting features the Xbox One has its the HDMI-in port, which is designed to let you watch live television through your Xbox One rather than using a separate input channel on your TV. The idea is that you plug your TV’s set top box into the Xbox, and after setting it up you can watch live TV as normal – albeit using an Xbox peripheral to access it.
It’s not just for TV, though, it’s for any HDMI-enabled device. So your laptop, your PS4, your Xbox 360, and so on. I did find it a little tricky to switch devices over, but it turns out that was down to my own impatience and rushing through the setup without letting the Xbox refresh the input. It’s not too shabby really. I plugged both my laptop and my Xbox 360 into the Xbox One to try it out, and aside from a little sluggishness when responding to mouse/controller input (and I mean a little) it worked perfectly. It’s not exactly one of those things you absolutely need to have, but it’s reassuring to know that you have an extra HDMI port if you need it.
Of course the big thing that Microsoft announced at E3 was the fact that the Xbox One will be able to play Xbox 360 discs and digital downloads. It's already available for Xbox preview members, and it'll be available for everyone else before the end of the year.
What’s more you don’t have to pay a penny more to play them on the updated console. That gives it a major boost over the PS4, which only offers backwards compatibility in the form of digital rentals and purchases. So you can put your old Xbox 360 in the cupboard, unless you want to play classic Kinect games. But let’s be honest, why would you? Sony has announced that it does not have plans to bring backwards compatibility in this form to the PS4, and honestly I don't think PlayStation Now can compete with that. Certainly not with its current pricing model.
The Xbox also has the 'Snap' feature, which lets you pull one of your apps into the side of your screen while you're playing games. That includes web browsers, Skype chats, Xbox Music, TV, and DVR.
The PS4 also has a few unique features, the most important being remote play. Remote Play lets you connect your PS Vita or Xperia smartphone up to your PS4 (provided everything is connected to the internet), and play PS4 games on the portable device. Honestly that's pretty cool, and it means you don't have to leave that online match unattended while you run to the toilet or answer the front door. The Xbox One doesn't have this right now, but it's coming. More on that later.
The PS4 also has Share Play, which I mentioned before.
The Winner: The Xbox One. Snap may not be that impressive (and incredibly annoying to use), and HDMI input may be slightly niche but backwards compatibility is a killer feature. Remote Play on the PS4 is pretty great, but since we know it's coming to the Xbox One later this year it doesn't really help its case all that much.
No gaming console is complete without a slew of accessories to enhance your gameplay, and the Xbox One and PS4 are no different.
Over on team Xbox you can get your hands on one of the ever controversial Kinect sensors, a Digital Tuner for watching live TV, a stereo adaptor to use non-Xbox headsets, and a Play and Charge kit to make sure you never run out of batteries.
The Winner: Again it's one of those things that doesn't really have a definitive answer, but it's worth pointing out that The PS4 doesn't need an adaptor for non-PlayStation headsets, and has battery packs built into its controllers.
In the long run the consoles are almost exactly the same. Yes each one has its own respective advantages, but to me they seem to mostly balance each other out. What you really need to worry about are the games, particularly the exclusives.
Well known Xbox One exclusives include The Master Chief Collection, Halo 5, Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Dead Rising 3, Titanfall, Forza 6, Killer Instinct, Ryse Son of Rome, and Sunset Overdrive. Because of the whole Microsoft connection, a lot of Xbox Exclusive also wind up on the PC.
Well known PS4 exclusives include The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Bloodborne, Hotline Miami 2, inFAMOUS Second Son, No Man's Sky, LitteBigPlanet 3, and The Order 1886.
The Winner: There's no way you can pick a winner here, because it all comes down to your own personal preferences. Exclusives should really be the deciding factor in choosing which console you should buy, because what good is an amazing console if you can't play any games you like?
The future has a lot in store for the Xbox One. For starters Windows 10 streaming means you’ll be able to play Xbox One games on your PC or tablet. That also means that you’ll be able to use an Oculus Rift headset with your Xbox One games. There are no 360-degree virtual reality features, but it does mean you get to play your games through the headset. Plus, thanks to an announcement that Windows 10 would be the perfect platform for Valve and HTC’s Vive headset, it’s strongly suspected that you will be able to use it to play Xbox One games as well. Similarly it is suspected, but not confirmed, that there will be some sort of Xbox/Hololens implementation happening at some point in the near future. Oh, and Fallout 4 will be the first game to bring mods to the Xbox One.
Plus Microsoft has promised to keep updating the Xbox One’s software on a monthly basis, and so far it has kept its word. Expect from from that in the future. We’ve even already had a small glimpse at the major design overhaul that will be released this autumn.
The major thing planned for the PS4's future is, of course, the Project Morpheus VR headset. We don't have many details on release, but we know that it's coming next year and it will use the main PlayStation Move controllers.
The Winner: It's a mixed bag. The Xbox One has a lot coming over the next 12 months, but a fair bit is playing catchup with the PS4. The PS4 has virtual reality coming, but the Xbox One is going to work (to an extent) with the VR headsets available for the PC.
The Winner: If you're buying right now, the Xbox One. But only just. It is the cheaper console, and you can buy it with 1TB of storage built in. Sadly my name is not Cassandra, so I don't know what the future holds when the 1TB PS4 becomes official.
The Overall Winner
Looking over things, it's clear that Mr T is correct and the PS4 comes out on top. Going through the testing I thought it was going to be close, but it's the obvious choice. It has superior hardware, both in terms of performance and size, which means it looks great and offers a more visually appealing gameplay experience. The user interface is nice to look at and easy to use, and in terms of features the Xbox One is still playing catchup. Heck, it's not even that much more expensive.
That doesn't mean I'm saying that the Xbox One is a bad console, and if there's an exclusive game that you want to play badly enough then you should go out and buy one. After all, gaming should really be about the games. It just so happens that when compared to the PS4, the PS4 comes out on top.