Finally, the major game consoles are being refreshed with Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 coming out on 22 November and 29 November respectively. There will be plenty of awesome game titles for both the PS4 and the Xbox One, but even if you're not massively into gaming, these systems might have something which appeals to you.
After all, the PlayStation 3 was one of the first widely popular Blu-ray disc players, and the Xbox 360 was one of the first home entertainment devices to offer Netflix's streaming video service. And the next-gen consoles have even more entertainment features to offer.
What the PS4 and Xbox One can do
Both the Xbox One and PS4 are fully functional Blu-ray players. Microsoft only supported DVD playback for the 360, but the Xbox One will finally make the jump to Blu-ray, and that means you'll be able to watch HD movies on your system of choice.
Both systems will also have access to online media services, like every other major gaming platform (including handhelds). You'll be able to access Netflix, Lovefilm, and other services to watch television and movies (and listen to music) on either system.
And they will both have access to large libraries of on-demand movies, television shows, and music, but this is where the consoles start to differ. On the Xbox One, you'll be able to rent or buy content from the Xbox Live Movies & TV and Music stores. PS4 users will be able to rent or buy content from the Sony Entertainment Network and access Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited on-demand services. The availability of movies, music, and television shows might differ slightly between the two services, but they'll both carry most major releases from studios and labels.
What the Xbox One does better
The Xbox One goes much further in terms of home entertainment value with its television integration. The system has an HDMI passthrough and infrared blaster, so you can hook it up to your cable or satellite box to integrate TV watching into the Xbox One. This will allow you to control your satellite box via the console using your voice and Kinect, and you’ll be able to browse your cable/satellite EPG right alongside the Xbox One’s other media features in the console’s OneGuide. The OneGuide system will be available at launch in the US, but sadly we’ll have to wait until next year (early 2014, with any luck) to get it in the UK.
The Xbox One also lets you use apps and services while watching television – apps can be snapped to the side of the screen so they don't blot out your TV picture.
We'll have to play with the Xbox One and Kinect ourselves to see how well this feature works, but the idea of switching between your favourite channels and shows with your voice, and watching TV alongside the different apps and features of the Xbox One dashboard all sounds very cool. This could turn the Xbox One into the real killer when it comes to non-gaming applications, and make it stand above the PS4 as a pure home entertainment hub.
These features come at a price, though. The Xbox One already retails for £80 more than the PS4 (due to the cost of the bundled Kinect), and using online media services requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold, which costs £40 per year. You can use all of the PS4’s media features without subscribing to PlayStation Plus, and the system itself is £350 compared to the Xbox One’s £430 price tag. However, if you watch a lot of television, and perhaps watch TV far more than you ever play games, the Xbox One is still going to be a better bet.
For more on the next-gen consoles, see our article on the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and how you can expect problems from day one. You might also want to read our piece on how Kinect is holding back the Xbox One's graphics performance, which is the flipside of all the entertainment goodies Microsoft's motion sensor brings.