It’s almost time – we’re on the cusp of the release of the next-generation consoles. Microsoft’s Xbox One will hit the UK first on 22 November, with the PlayStation 4 following a week later on 29 November (which, incidentally, is the opposite of the situation in the US, where the PS4 will hit the shelves a week before the Xbox).
So how do these two systems stack up? That’s the question we’re answering here, in terms of the hardware, launch games and exclusives, and other concerns such as media and services. First off, though, we’ll visit one major difference – the asking price.
Price and launch
The PlayStation 4 is a full £80 less expensive than the Xbox One, priced at £350 compared to the Xbox One’s £430 price tag. However, the PlayStation 4 doesn’t come bundled with a camera, while the Xbox One will include the new Kinect to allow for voice and gesture control along with video chat out of the box.
At launch, both consoles are expected to have just over twenty games available to purchase. Major titles include several cross-platform games like Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Battlefield 4, although Ubisoft's long awaited Watch Dogs has been postponed until next year, which is a definite shame (but better to get it right than rush it out, of course). The Xbox One will get Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, and Ryse: Son of Rome, and the Playstation 4 will get Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack as respective launch exclusives. The PS4 was going to get Forza Motorsport 5 competitor Driveclub as a launch game, but it has been pushed back.
Even though the technology is exciting, system launches are almost always tepid for game releases, and with most major games available for both the PS4 and Xbox One as well as current-generation systems and PCs, don't expect a lot of excitement for the first few months of the new systems' availability.
AMD 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 the hood. 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 was very clear that AMD is the main partner it worked with to develop the Xbox One's 8-core custom CPU.
Regardless, the question of which CPU (or GPU) is "faster" will likely remain a continuous discussion – as we saw with the Xbox 360 and PS3’s processors (and indeed the Xbox and the PS2). Different architectures and operating systems make benchmarking the two consoles 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. Expect graphics performance to stay roughly neck-and-neck between the two systems for the start of this generation, though the PS4 may have a slight visual edge as we’ve seen many recent articles talking about (the last one we published focused on how Kinect is holding the Xbox One’s graphics back).
8-Core AMD Custom Microsoft CPU
8-core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" CPU
500GB Hard Drive
500GB Hard Drive
Kinect 2 (1080p)
Blu-ray (Blu-ray and DVD movies)
Blu-ray (Blu-ray and DVD movies)
DualShock 4, PlayStation 4 Camera (Optional)
Dead Rising 3
Forza Motorsport 5
Ryse: Son of Rome
InFamous: Second Son
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Shadow of the Beast
The Order: 1886
Games at Launch
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 sixteen times the amount of RAM on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Of course, quantity isn’t the only factor worth considering when it comes to RAM – the PS4 will have GDDR5 RAM while the Xbox One will use the more common and slower DDR3 RAM (the same kind found in the Wii U).
For storage, both systems have a confirmed 500GB internal hard drive, which could prove anaemic for users who want to download or fully install all their games, or use their system as a media server. The Xbox One will allow you to hook up an external drive via its USB 3.0 port for more space, but according to Sony’s FAQ, the PS4 won’t allow users to connect an external HD to expand storage. However, the PS4 has an easily replaceable hard drive, as we discussed in this article, so it’s possible to swap that 500GB unit out for something larger with a minimum of fuss (and that isn’t the case with Microsoft’s console).
Unlike Nintendo, which drastically remixes its controller designs every generation, Microsoft and Sony are sticking with what works and only 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, adding a new way to control games. It also integrates a speaker and a headset jack into the controller, and a four-colour light bar does a better job of indicating which player is which controller, and can impart other information as well. 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 a 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 Microsoft has been very vocal about the device, initially making it a mandatory part of the Xbox One experience before backpedalling and announcing that users will be able to disable the camera. However, it will still listen to users, even when the Xbox One is turned off, ready to turn the system on at the "Xbox On" voice command.
The Kinect (pictured right) 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, but we'll just have to wait and see if the new Kinect works better than the original Kinect for voice and gesture control. Skype will also be available on the Xbox One, and will work with the Kinect for video chat.
The PlayStation 4 will have an updated PlayStation Camera, but Sony has been much less specific about what it will do and how useful it will be. Also, as we’ve already mentioned, it won’t come bundled with the system as the Kinect will – the PlayStation Camera will be a £55 accessory.
The PS4’s camera will use a two-lens system like the first Kinect for 3D video capture, and it will be able to record video at 1,280 x 800 pixels at 60 frames per second. It will work in tandem with the Dualshock 4 controller's lights to detect gamepad motion, supposedly making it much more accurate than the PlayStation 3's Sixaxis motion control. It also boasts a four-channel microphone array. This camera will be a major upgrade over the seldom-used PlayStation Eye, but it will still be a step down from the technical refinement of the Kinect, and it won't be bundled with the PS4.
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’ll each have their own online libraries of movies and music to rent or buy, and they will access 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 (coming to the US at launch, and the UK in early 2014) and an HDMI passthrough, the Xbox One 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 (it’s supposed to be arriving in the UK at some point in 2013, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely now). Even so, the Xbox One’s complete integration of TV watching is new for a game system.
Microsoft has put Xbox Live at the centre of the Xbox One, but it has (again) backpedalled significantly following an outcry about the system requiring an Internet connection to play games. Microsoft will now let the Xbox One work and play games without an Internet connection after an initial connection to register the system. This has also resulted in Microsoft backpedalling on its much-vaunted cloud-based features. Cloud storage and server hosting will be available, but Microsoft hasn't been clear about whether its U-turn will influence the in-game cloud computing features mentioned at E3, and its promised digital game trading and sharing features have been downplayed for more conventional disc-based and downloadable game management systems. As with the Xbox 360, the Xbox One will require an Xbox Live Gold membership (costing £40 per year) to play games online and use streaming media services like Netflix.
Sony takes a step forward and a step back with PlayStation Network on the PlayStation 4. On one hand, users will still be able to watch online media services like Netflix without a subscription, and will get the ability to capture and share gameplay footage with their friends online. On the other hand, the PlayStation 4 will require a PS Plus subscription (also costing £40 per year) to actually play non-free-to-play games online. This is a stark change from PSN on the PlayStation 3, which didn't require a PS Plus membership to play games online. The subscription fee rather evens out the disparity of content and access between the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, but historically, PS Plus has had much better selections of monthly free games than Microsoft's relatively new free games service.
For more on the launch of the next-gen consoles, have a read of our article about why you can expect problems from day one with the Xbox One and PS4 launch.