I owe Sony a lot of credit. It wasn't the original Xbox and the young Xbox Live service that gave me my first taste in console online gaming. It was my beloved PS2 that connected me to the early adopters skating around Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, and wannabe commandos practicing flanks together in the original SOCOM.
With an add-on Ethernet adapter and LAN cable strung halfway around my house, the PS2 allowed me to engage in an activity that gamers on most modern consoles take for granted. Getting online with PS2 games was part test of patience and part geekdom experiment. PlayStation Network wouldn't launch for another four years or so, and one console later - on the PS2, you were truly on your own when it came to navigating online gaming.
But I didn't care too much. The joy of just skating with others in THPS3 or partaking in intense team battles on SOCOM was something I had not done before, outside of split-screen match ups in a single room, fighting for tube TV real estate. Sony rightfully was haphazardly dipping its toes into console online gaming, seeing that SegaNet couldn't keep the ill-fated Dreamcast afloat, as novel as it was. Xbox Live it was not, but pains aside, it sure was a blast.
Getting online with Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (above) on the PS2 wasn't easy by today's standards. But for 2001-era online console gaming, it was a novel experience worth the trouble. PS2 introduced me to online gaming on consoles, but Xbox Live took the concept and has trounced Sony ever since. (Image Source: GiantBomb)
So fast forward to 2015, and I can finally say I've leapt into the modern console generation faster than any other point in previous generation console wars. I went Xbox One, and I don't have any qualms about my decision. No regrets, either. While many around me decided that PS4 was their console of choice, I just couldn't justify going back to Sony after such a great 7+ years with my Xbox 360.
From the known quantity and gold standard for online gaming, Xbox Live, to exclusives I just care more about (namely Halo), PS4 didn't get me excited in enough areas to pull me back into Sony land. Before the online trolls pounce on me for picking a camp, let me run through the justifications for sticking with Xbox this go around.
Sony may have had the lead over Xbox One both at and for a decent time post launch with the PS4, but the tables have effectively turned. Microsoft has ditched the requirement for Kinect to come with every Xbox One, and as such, pricing is more aggressive than ever now. While PS4 bundles with games like Arkham Knight or The Last of Us are retailing for $400 USD, Microsoft offers Assassin's Creed Unity and Master Chief Collection bundles for a nice $50 USD cheaper.
And for gamers who want the fatter 1TB edition Xbox One (w/ Halo MCC), that edition takes the same $400 price space that PS4 occupies with a 500GB console and a single game.
As if the above deals weren't sweet enough, Microsoft is even offering a SECOND free game with a new Xbox One at no extra cost through June 27. That's two free games, once all is said and done, for $350 USD before tax and a 500GB console. Generous is one way you can put it.
Pound for pound, Microsoft has better value on the table across the board against the PS4. While I got my Xbox One via extra special pricing through some coupon and credit action I had accumulated, Microsoft's console is still the better deal for the average shopper.
8. External Storage Capability
While the PS4 allows you to upgrade the internal hard drive with a larger unit, it's a touchy process that involves many of the things which make computer users cringe when it comes to doing the same. Backing up data, manual drive replacement, installing OS software, etc. I personally don't care to mess around with that on my game console, even though I'm a professional geek by day.
With the Xbox One, I can pick up any off the shelf external USB 3.0 hard drive and plug it right in. That's it. The Xbox One handles the rest, and I've got a massive increase in storage space for game saves, game installs, and all the other files that quickly consume internal HDDs on consoles.
This is great because I can take advantage of the benefits of massive storage space without fretting about bricking my console with a botched hard drive upgrade step. Microsoft was smart in bringing this capability to Xbox One so early in the console's life.
7. Aggressive Console Firmware Update Cycle
While Sony has been trickling out new features for the PS4 via firmware updates, Microsoft has literally unleashed a torrent of updates on the competing Xbox One in the last year and a half. From functionality like Snap to refined TV watching down to interface updates, Xbox One has been gushing with improvements each month - easily more than any release cycles seen on the Xbox 360 or even original Xbox before that.
Some people may attribute that to an argument that Xbox One was not as refined or polished as the PS4 at launch, but it's a subjective statement at best. The fact that Microsoft (like Sony) is committed to bringing monthly improvements to its console is reassuring that it's not only listening to fans, but proving it's standing behind its product for the long haul.
If you're unconvinced at the massive update list the Xbox One already enjoys, just take a read at the lengthy changelog Microsoft hosts. One can arguably say it trounces the PS4 changelog in both size and breadth over a nearly identical timeframe.
And big changes are still on the horizon, with news and video of the upcoming Xbox One Fall Update 2015 just being released. Microsoft's tossing us a revamped home UI, Cortana integration, and very likely the inception of Universal Apps - something unique to Xbox due to its unified Windows 10 backbone. I'll touch more on that benefit further down.
6. (I Think) One of the Best Controllers Around
I'm still torn whether I prefer the Xbox 360 controller more, by a hair, but the Xbox One controller follows in the same style and design choices which provided me so much joy on last generation's 360. After years on a PS2 controller, in Dual Shock land, I can comfortably say that for my larger hands, the Xbox controller is a few notches more comfortable.
And it's not only comfort that does it for me. I prefer the offset nature of the thumbsticks opposing each other, with a D pad separating the two. The current, and last few, Dual Shock controllers continue to feel way too... utilitarian, for lack of a better term? Sony's controller isn't bad, but it's just too stubby in the wrong ways which creates for long gaming sessions that are just not as easy on the hands as the Xbox One controller.
(Image Source: TechRadar)
One thing I also never understood with the PS4 controller is the inclusion of the touchpad. It has no true outstanding real world application in a game yet, and much like these Reddit commenters, I'm convinced it's currently nothing more than a gimmick. Sony may prove me wrong, but almost two years in, the still-too-new-to-develop-for excuse won't hold for much longer.
The Xbox 360 controller was a huge update to the chicken sized original Xbox controller, which I never particularly adored. With Xbox One, Microsoft kept all the best aspects of the 360 iteration and added in a few new touches. But it's still one of the most comfortable controllers I have put my hands on.
It's not too surprising, then, that VR gaming yuppie Oculus Rift chose the Xbox One controller for its first major offering to consumers.
5. HDMI-In Port and Live TV DVR Likely Coming Soon
One year ago, I rallied against Xbox One for missing on one major opportunity, which is a lack of live TV DVR capability. It's still the big missing elephant in the room, for reasons we may never know, but I'd be quite shocked if Microsoft wasn't preparing to roll this into a system update in the next half year or so.
The writing is all but on the wall by now. On top of the bevy of TV/OneGuide updates that have hit the Xbox One in the last year and a half, Microsoft finally brought live TV viewing to Xbox One for US buyers. While it doesn't feature any kind of TiVO style functionality, which is what I am dearly waiting for, it's not far fetched to believe this is the next logical step in crafting the Xbox One as the one-stop-shop media center to replace all lesser devices in your home theater.
And why wouldn't Microsoft bring us live TV DVR capability? It only makes sense - especially since Microsoft has billed the Xbox One as a gaming+media hub since its very inception. Filling that final piece of the puzzle will give Microsoft the bragging rights it wants: to be the unified experience in your living room; the only electronic you will need for any and every entertainment medium from the comfort of a couch.
The new 1TB Xbox One only leads further credence to this notion, as the original 500GB console was getting too cramped for most people's liking. While 500GB was a tight fit, 1TB is quite nice, and the option for external storage to fill any media hog's needs is icing on the cake if TV DVR is truly on the way. All we need now is a proper CableCard tuner for Xbox One; you can read my thoughts on that aspect in a previous piece.
And even if we don't end up seeing native CableCard support on Xbox One soon, the inclusion of the native HDMI-In port on the rear of the console will still allow for streaming from a cable DVR for the interim. I actually stream my TiVO into my Xbox One without issue right now in this manner and it works for the most part. I haven't tied OneGuide into my setup yet, as I don't have Kinect and decided to buy IR blaster cabling to get the job done, but it will only make the experience that much cleaner for me.
A unified media and gaming experience under one device? I like that a lot, and Sony doesn't seem interested in covering the same media bases on the PS4. The Xbox One was a no brainer in this regard.
4. More Exclusive Games I Care About
I'd almost argue that the PS3 had a better exclusives lineup against the Xbox 360 than what the PS4 puts up against Xbox One. Aside from Uncharted and Killzone, there's not much that excites me on the PS4 side. Even Sony themselves half-admitted this fact when Sony CE CEO Andrew House referenced the company's tough time with landing solid exclusives, and having a "sparse" first party lineup.
Xbox One has numerous exclusives, some of which I already purchased. Titanfall is an awesome titan action game I am just getting into. Sunset Overdrive is wildly addicting once you get into it (especially if you're a Jet Set Radio fan from the Xbox/Dreamcast days). And it goes without saying, as a Halo fanatic, that Halo 5 and Halo MCC are excellent additions to the series' legacy.
(Image Source: Xbox Wire)
Add in the fact that Xbox One is getting Metal Gear Solid treatment with MGS5, and has access to numerous cross-platform titles like the Call of Duty series and most sports titles, there's little reason I would consider a PS4 from a games perspective. Of course, this is completely subjective and relative to your taste in games, but for me, Sony has little concrete to sell me over that of an Xbox One.
MGS was one of the few remaining things making me regret not getting a PS3 (due to MGS4) but I wouldn't be surprised if even that game got wrapped in a dual-pack flavor with MGS5 at some point on Xbox One. Assassin's Creed, another series with relative new fondness for me (Black Flag got me hooked), is also solidly cross platform with few signs showing much changing there.
And one of my favorite PS2-era games, SOCOM, has no evidence so far it will be making any kind of return to action on the PS4. I was holding out for a revival, but it seems Sony has no appetite for bringing me back to my original online console gaming roots.
PlayStation's grip on the exclusives I truly can't live without is long gone. Since the 360, Xbox has held that crown for me.
3. Universal Apps
With Microsoft unifying the code base of all Windows devices to Windows 10 this summer/fall, Xbox One is one of the lesser-discussed beneficiaries. Apps on consoles has always been a love-hate affair for most, since development effort for them is usually steep, and approval policies for making it into a console's available app selection considerably tougher than on mobile or desktop devices.
That's about to change for the better. Reports are saying that the Universal App change for Xbox One will reap real-world rewards early on with "thousands" of new apps coming to Xbox One upon launch. While Microsoft will still treat Xbox One app approval with a stricter wand than its other platforms, the notion that developers can opt to create a single unified app and have the potential to serve Xbox One customers if they please is a pretty big deal.
Write once, deliver everywhere. At least that's the mantra Microsoft is offering up for developers to jump into the Universal App scene on Windows 10. A Windows 10 laptop app can run on tablets the same way it can, theoretically, run on Xbox One as well. This could make or break the Xbox One app scene in the long haul. (Image Source: VRWorld)
Serving Xbox One users won't be a discussion of "it's too much work" for developers; it will merely be another checkmark on their supported devices list in the Windows 10 ecosystem (given Microsoft's final approval, mind you). While this won't translate into things like Office 2016 being usable on Xbox anytime soon - realistically, we can expect a plethora of additional new age media apps to hit, like additional video/music streaming apps, news apps, gaming apps, and plenty of in-between stuff.
This also means that modern cross-platform experiences will be made possible, like game saves, for example, being consistent between Xbox One and a Windows 10 tablet. Or the excellent YouTube app, MetroTube, allowing you to start a video on your Windows 10 laptop, pause it, and finish watching from that exact spot on your Xbox One. The possibilities are limitless.
Either way, Universal Apps and the Windows 10 transition for Xbox One can only be positive for the console as a whole. A unified app store is something only Microsoft is bringing to fruition in such scope, and for Windows users, it's a win-win situation.
2. Xbox Live
Even though I got my first taste of online console gaming on the PS2, once I tasted Xbox Live on the original Xbox, there was no comparison. Consistent friends lists, messaging, and saseamless access into online capabilities for any network-capable game on the console. That was a hard to beat proposition which I quickly grew to appreciate back in the original Xbox days.
PlayStation Network has had a good track record and is a distant second to Xbox Live. But Sony's debacle with how long its 2011 PSN outage lasted (23 days total) was embarrassing, and makes me question the technical quality of Sony's network backbone for the service. Even TIME Magazine penned a million dollar question: is it time for gamers to abandon PSN due to its meandering uptime issues?
Microsoft is no angel with Xbox Live, don't get me wrong. But given that Xbox Live got its start back in 2002 and PSN only entered the fray in 2006, Microsoft's overall track record has been quite better over a longer timeframe, with no major month-long outages to its name. Never say never, but Xbox Live is a solid, stable gaming service that is well worth the $60/year (note: I get my XBL subscription cards online for only $45 or so each year; hunt around and you can find the same).
The tight integration with the Friends system, Party sessions, game chat, and the other bells and whistles that Xbox Live advertises makes it an easy sell for the gamer who loves playing with friends. While I consider myself a casual online gamer now, preferring random Halo sessions to drawn out nights with XBL friends, the platform works the way I would want it to. Even if PSN were completely on-par with Xbox Live, it would have to offer something compelling to draw me over.
That, at least for now, is something Sony doesn't offer -- a compelling reason to jump ship.
1. Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility
Microsoft dropped a huge bombshell at E3 this year in that Xbox One will finally be able to play Xbox 360 games. While the list starts small at about 100 titles by this Christmas, just like Xbox 360 did for original Xbox games, the list will start to swell as time goes on. And that's a great thing for gamers who are heavily invested in 360 titles (like I am).
For the skeptics, yes, there are a few gotchas, and I'll be the first to shed light on them. First, publishers need to OK every single title that will be available via backwards compatibility. And secondly, Microsoft will need to "work its magic" to enable the functionality for any title approved by the publishers. But given those two aspects, we can still expect a large portion of 360 titles to make their way onto the Xbox One.
I can see some hesitation among some publishers, like Activision with yearly-moneymakers such as Call of Duty, in bringing older releases over. Paul Thurrott insinuated as much on the Windows Weekly vidcast last week, and I do agree with him on this sentiment to a degree. But even so, I'd rather get a sizable portion of the 360 library ported over onto the Xbox One, then not see any.
One of the biggest worries I had when looking at the Xbox One was: what the heck do I do with my sizable Xbox 360 game collection? Set the console aside and leave those games to collect dust alongside it? Sell them off and forget 'em entirely? There are some which I still wish to replay, or go back and finish achievements on, and this seems to finally be coming into a reality for Xbox One. Hopefully, publishers will play nice and turn this functionality on en-masse for their titles.
I can't see anything but goodwill coming back from gamers; both in easing the decision on transitioning to an Xbox One without a fear of ditching older game collections, and further, option to continue buying into the franchises they adored from last generation.
Early reports are already coming in that the feature, surprise-surprise, works just as advertised with few issues seen so far. I want to see how big blockbusters from 360 do, however, and not just games I don't care too much about.
Sony has something which seems to compete nearly directly with Microsoft's backwards compatibility feature, which is its paid PlayStation Now service. But the service comes at a price tag which isn't necessarily expensive, but also not free like Microsoft's solution. PSN Now runs $20/month for month to month subscribers, or you can buy 3-month terms for $45/term. I will give it to Sony that the playlist is considerably larger than what Xbox One backwards compatibility currently offers, but that disparity will close as time goes on.
Any way you slice it, no one saw the feature coming at E3 this year, so the announcement truly hit it out of the park for hesitant 360 holdouts like myself. I'll be keeping that 360 game collection after all, thank you.
The Xbox One Value Proposition: Gaming + Media Nirvana
Unlike some that see a console as a pure-play device for mere gaming, in the year 2015, a console in the home theater plays a much bigger role. Unless you prefer using a Roku for Netflix, an Apple TV for music, a tablet with HDMI for YouTube, a gaming console for games, and other single-function devices, I'm fully of the mentality that unifying under a single device that can (almost) do it all is a rather neat value proposition.
Luckily, Xbox One replaces all of the above single-use devices, except for the cable DVR/TiVO. And as I mentioned above, I would not be shocked if that missing link was added into the Xbox One's arsenal in the near future. $350 for a console that can do what numerous devices previously were needed for in the past? I'm all ears.
Microsoft's got some work to do still. Xbox One is a great console that is much more valuable than a PS4 to me personally, but it's not perfect. That Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list needs to grow tenfold. Live TV DVR capability and CableCard support is still sorely lacking. And it's still not clear how much of a win Universal Apps will be for early adopters of the console.
But with that said, Xbox One still gets a lot right. A game selection that has the right mix of exclusives, genres, and cross-platform titles for a casual gamer like me. Solid media-center integration that is only on the up and up. And hands down the best gaming network to tie it all together into a seamless experience.
It's not too late for Sony to lick Microsoft's chops. Until that happens, I'm darn happy I got an Xbox One.
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist who owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over eight+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors.