At long last, we finally know everything about Microsoft and Sony’s upcoming eighth-generation consoles: The Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both console makers employed an interesting strategy of drip-feeding us information in the build-up to the final unveil, desperately trying to one-up each other and have the final word.
After months of posturing, Microsoft finally wrapped up its offering yesterday, leaving Sony to throw the last punch during its E3 keynote – and it was one hell of a swing, smacking the Xbox One straight in the gut: The PS4 will not be always-online, will allow you to freely trade your games, and will cost just £329. In short, it seems like the PS4 now has a sizable lead over the Xbox One. Read on for our full analysis of the PS4's price, hardware, software, connectivity, and games.
The Sony PS4 will be priced at $399, €399, £329, and will be released “this holiday season.” We already know that the Xbox One will be released in November, and it’s very likely that the PS4 will be available around the same time. The PS4's £329 price point versus Microsoft’s £429 Xbox One is a huge win for Sony – and, funnily enough, the exact reverse of the situation seen with the Xbox 360 and PS3 launch. The price is even more impressive when you factor in that, unlike last generation, neither console is being sold at a loss (though the profit margins are probably very, very small at this point).
While it might seem that the PS4 massively undercuts the Xbox One, it’s important to remember that Microsoft’s console comes bundled with the new Kinect – so you do get something for your extra £100.
After one press conference where Sony didn’t show us the console at all, and then a blurry 30 second video to keep us on the edge of our seats, Sony has finally shown us what the PS4 actually looks like. As you can see above, the PS4 looks a lot like a rhomboid version of the Xbox One, or perhaps an evil Wii. We don’t have the exact dimensions yet, but it looked pretty big on stage at E3. Our guess is that both the Xbox One and PS4 will look good under your TV, at roughly the same width as your Blu-ray player.
Inside the PS4 is, essentially, a specialised mid-range gaming PC. There’s an 8-core AMD Jaguar/Kabini x86-64 CPU, a Radeon 7870-derived GPU with 18 compute units, and 8GB of unified GDDR5 RAM. The only standout feature here is the RAM, which provides both the CPU and GPU with 176GB/sec of unified (shared) memory.
As always, though, it’s unfair to directly compare a console’s hardware with the PC equivalent – in reality, once developers write code that specifically targets the PS4′s hardware, we should see performance and visuals that compare to your top-end gaming PC.
On the back of the PS4, there’s simply an HDMI out, Aux socket, Gigabit Ethernet socket, and an S/PDIF optical audio out. There are two USB connectors on the front, too. This is in stark contrast to the Xbox One, which has a ton of connectors – including an HDMI in. In short, the PS4 will not be an all-in-one living room media centre like the Xbox One. The PS4 also has 802.11 Wi-Fi built in, but unlike the Xbox One it will use Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi Direct to connect to the gamepads.
Games & DRM
The biggest difference between the PS4 and the Xbox One are the games and DRM. On the games front, it seems the PS4 only has a handful of exclusives: Final Fantasy 15, Kingdom Hearts 3, and a new franchise called The Order. The Xbox One, on the other hand, has more than a dozen exclusive titles. All told, there are apparently 140 games currently in development for the PS4, with 40 of those including “experiences” that are exclusive to the PS4. Experiences is Sony’s way of saying that the PS4 will have lots of exclusive betas and DLCs, but not many exclusive games. As far as we can tell, all of the usual franchises will be available on both the PS4 and Xbox One – Grand Theft Auto 5, Assassin’s Creed, NBA, Elder Scrolls, and so on.
Perhaps more important than exclusive titles, though, is the PS4′s complete lack of DRM. Any game discs that you buy for the PS4 are yours, and can be traded or shared in whatever way you wish. This is in contrast to the Xbox One, which allows publishers to control how its games are resold.
One of the biggest differences between the PS4 and Xbox One are the control mechanisms. Whereas every Xbox One ships with a Kinect, and refuses to work unless the Kinect is plugged in, the PS4 appears to have no such gesture or voice controls. Instead, the PS4 ships with a sensor bar that tracks a light on the back of each DualShock 4 controller, and each controller has its own built-in touchpad. For more info, including all of the new additions to the DualShock 4 controller, read our article on how the Xbox One and PS4 controllers stack up.
Software and connectivity
The one area that we still don’t know a lot about is the PS4's software. We know that there will be an extensive social interface, allowing you to capture, share, and stream videos of your gameplay directly from the PS4, but beyond that Sony hasn’t really shown us anything.
Connectivity-wise, the PS4 will not regularly connect to the Internet to check on your game licenses, and you will be able to use your console offline for as long as you want. This is in stark contrast to the Xbox One’s 24 hour check-in requirement. If you can’t afford an Internet connection, or you regularly take your console offline (to your cabin in the woods), the PS4 is for you.
Like the Xbox One and SmartGlass, the PS4 will also allow you to use your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet as a second screen. Exact details on what you can do with the second screen are unknown, but it’s probably the same deal as the Xbox one: Inventory management, interacting with your friends, mini-games, and so on.
At this point, it’s clear that Sony has played its hand to perfection. It waited for Microsoft to skewer itself with the always-on DRM debacle, and then it came through with a console that gives gamers complete ownership of their games (see our article entitled Microsoft Xbox One: A closer look at the "always on" drama). It let Microsoft lead with a high £429 price point, and then came in £100 lower. Perhaps most importantly, though, Sony has built a games console, while the Xbox One is – in Microsoft’s own words – an all-in-one media centre that also plays games.
Whether Sony’s anti-Xbox manoeuvre will work out remains to be seen. With no DRM and a lower price point, core gamers will almost certainly flock to the PS4. With its multimedia tie-ins and gesture/voice controls, the mass market will probably go for the Xbox One. With such a massive divergence between the two consoles, the eighth generation of consoles will play out very interestingly indeed.