The next generation of game systems is finally upon us. Microsoft has announced the Xbox One, Sony has announced the PlayStation 4, and E3 2013 will feature both game systems centre-stage. There's still a lot we don't know about the upcoming consoles, but enough details have emerged to enable us to get a clear picture of what the newest generation of game systems will offer. Let's look at how the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are shaping up against each other.
AMD has pulled off a coup this console generation, with its GPUs powering all three major game systems. The Wii U already has an AMD Radeon "Latte" graphics processor, and both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will have AMD chips under their hoods.
The PS4 has an eight-core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" CPU and an AMD Radeon Graphics Core Next engine GPU, both of which sit on one custom chip. Microsoft is less open about its hardware, but it's been very clear AMD is the main partner it worked with to develop the Xbox One's 8-core custom CPU.
Regardless, the question of which CPU and GPU are "faster" will likely remain a continuous discussion — not unlike what we saw with the Xbox 360 and PS3's processors.
Different architectures and operating systems mean benchmarking the two consoles is effectively impossible, and like all game consoles, the Xbox One and PS4's graphical prowess will only be as good as what developers can coax out of it.
Broadly speaking, you can expect graphics performance to stay neck and neck between the two systems for the start of this generation. Here's a table of the details that we do know thus far:
|Xbox One||PlayStation 4|
|Processor||8-Core Custom Microsoft CPU||8-core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" CPU|
|Memory||8GB DDR3||8GB GDDR5|
|Storage||500GB hard drive||Unknown|
|Camera||Kinect 2 (1080p)||PlayStation 4 Eye (1,280 x 800)|
|Online Service||Xbox Live||PlayStation Network|
|Media Format||Blu-ray (Blu-ray and DVD movies)||Blu-ray (Blu-ray and DVD movies)|
|Motion Control||Kinect 2||DualShock 4, PlayStation 4 Eye|
|Confirmed Exclusives||Forza Motorsport 5, Quantum Break, Ryse||InFamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Driveclub|
Both systems will pack 8GB of RAM, a modest amount for gaming computers, but four times the amount of RAM on the Wii U and 16 times the amount of RAM on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Of course, the quantity of RAM isn't the only factor worth considering. The PS4 will use GDDR5 RAM while the Xbox One will use the more common and slower DDR3 RAM (the same kind found on the Wii U).
According to a Game Informer interview with Microsoft's Marc Whitten, the Xbox One will use around 3GB of its RAM for its operating system and apps, while reports estimate the PS4's OS RAM use will weigh in at around 1GB. This puts the PS4 firmly ahead of the Xbox One in the memory department.
When it comes to storage, Sony is being vague, probably so it can leave room for multiple versions of the PS4. However, it's doubtful the system will have less than a 320GB hard drive, the current high-end of the PS3. The Xbox One, meanwhile, has a confirmed 500GB internal hard drive for storage, which could prove anaemic when the system requires a full hard drive installation of all games. Fortunately, both systems support USB 3.0 external storage, so you can hook up an extra hard drive if either system's internal drive begins to get tight on free space.
Unlike Nintendo, which drastically remixes its controller designs every generation, Microsoft and Sony are sticking with what works, and implementing relatively minor changes. The button layouts of both controllers are identical to their predecessors, and Sony even calls the PlayStation 4's controller the DualShock 4, an upgraded version of the PlayStation 3's DualShock 3. However, both gamepads add new features to their familiar designs.
The DualShock 4 features a capacitive touchpad to add a new way to control games. It also integrates a speaker and a headset jack into the controller, and a four-colour light bar better displays which player is which controller, and can impart other information too. A dedicated Share button on the gamepad also lets players stream or record their games on the PlayStation 4.
The Xbox One controller doesn't have nearly as many new features, but it boasts force feedback in its triggers, which could make first-person shooters that much more immersive. For an even more in-depth look at the respective controllers, see our article entitled How do the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers compare?
The Kinect is back and upgraded, and the PlayStation Eye has come along for the ride (though it has left its name behind). Both the Kinect 2.0 and unnamed PlayStation 4 camera come bundled with their respective systems, offering higher resolution and increased accuracy over their predecessors. There's more to it than just that, though.
Microsoft has been very vocal about the Kinect, which will be an included and mandatory part of the Xbox One experience. It features a 1080p camera with an "active IR camera" that can see in the dark, and Microsoft claims it can track motion much better than the first Kinect. It also uses a multi-microphone array with noise isolation to better hear voice commands. Controlling the Xbox One with your voice was one of the biggest features Microsoft promoted during the system's announcement. We'll see if the new Kinect works better than the old Kinect for voice and gesture control, but it certainly seems to be technically superior to the previous version.
The PlayStation 4 will have its own camera, but Sony has been much less specific about what it will do and how useful it will be. It will use a two-lens system for 3D video capture like the first Kinect, and it’ll be able to record video at up to 1,280 x 800 pixels at 60 frames per second. It also boasts a four-channel microphone array. The camera will be a major upgrade over the seldom-used PlayStation Eye, but it will still be a step down from the tech spec of the Kinect, and we still don't know exactly what it will be used for on the PlayStation 4.
Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will be fully featured media hubs. This time around, both systems will play Blu-ray discs, just like the PlayStation 3 did. They each have their own online libraries of movies and music to rent or buy, and they will access the likes of Netflix and the usual gamut of online media services.
However, the Xbox One goes further, with its own programme guide that will work with your cable or satellite provider. Thanks to this programme guide and an HDMI pass-through, Microsoft’s console will bring live TV into the Xbox One experience by taking over your set-top box, changing the channel based on your voice commands and the Xbox One's recommendations. The Wii U offers a similar feature in TVii, which turns the Wii U gamepad into a universal remote – however, it’s still only available in the US currently (hopefully it should be arriving in the UK at some point in 2013). Even so, the Xbox One’s complete integration of TV watching is new for a game system.
Sony has been quiet about its online features besides sharing gameplay footage, but Microsoft has put Xbox Live at the centre of the Xbox One experience. Xbox Live on the Xbox One will support cloud-based computing to enable persistent worlds in future games, and the system will have robust progress suspension and resumption features when you need to interrupt the action with a movie or an errand.
However, Xbox Live will be so integrated into the Xbox One that an Internet connection will be required for games to function. Microsoft has not been clear about exactly how online features will be implemented in each game, but a regular online check for the validity of a game license will be used – which is already reminding many gamers of EA's catastrophic SimCity launch and online requirements.
Sony has said even less about its online services, and measures like online digital rights management have not been announced. Sony Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida has said that always-on digital rights management was never considered, and that the system would not require an online connection for users who do not have robust Internet access. But the exact details of how the PlayStation Network and other online features will integrate into the PlayStation 4 have yet to be revealed.