Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One recently hit store shelves, each selling more than a million units in their first 24 hours of being on sale. Which new console is better? We put both to the test
Sony has redesigned the PlayStation from stem to stern, seven years after it released its last new console. The PlayStation 4's makeover brings with it new processors, software and even a total overhaul of its controller.
The result is a stellar new system that takes the PlayStation brand in a good direction. But the PS4 platform still needs time to mature before we can declare a winner in this generation of console wars.
With the PS4, priced at $399, Sony has fixed some problems with its previous console. For example, the system, though far from silent, is much quieter than the PlayStation 3. It also doesn't get too hot during the course of play. The console can stand horizontally or vertically, though anyone who prefers the latter orientation probably should pick up Sony's $15 optional stand for peace of mind. Sony also has included an HDMI cord in the box, fixing one of the most annoying parts about the PS3 launch: having to buy an additional part.
The console is sleek and surprisingly light, and it upholds Sony's reputation for snazzy hardware design. Everything on the PS4 fits within the console's clean lines, to the extent that it's actually a little difficult to find the power button. Once you do find it, tucked between the glossy and matte halves of the console, hitting it lights up a thin, blue line the width of the console that conveys the feeling of hitting the ignition button on something powerful.
A console, of course, has to do more than just look good on your TV stand. New software revamps the PlayStation's menu design, making it flow a bit better and the options easier to read. Sony also has included a number of social features, so players can upload screenshots and video clips to Facebook and opt to stream their games live over UStream or the social gaming community Twitch. You can post your content online with the "Share" button.
That is one of the many changes Sony's made to its controller, which also sports a large touchpad. Sony has improved the responsiveness of the new controller as well, making for better gameplay. Players also have the option of sending the audio through the controller's headphone jack, which should be a good option for late-night gamers who don't want to wake the rest of the household.
Sony has emphasized features that benefit players, such as introducing a much-awaited option for voice-chat regardless of what game they're playing. It has put less focus on providing other entertainment options that feature heavily in Microsoft's Xbox One. Sony's console supports apps for video services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. It also has an Internet browser, which is good for light Web surfing but definitely won't become your primary way of looking things up online.
Many additional features, such as online play, require a subscription to Sony's online service, PlayStation Plus, which costs $5 a month. A free 30-day trial is included with every console and will give players access to free games, free storage for online game saves and game discounts. It's possible to enjoy the console without the subscription, similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold program, but the system will seem incomplete without it.
PS4's game selection at launch is light on blockbuster exclusives. (Unfortunately for gamers who've spent the better part of a decade building up their game libraries, similar to the Xbox One, the PS4 will not work with older games.) The lack of big titles probably will be the PS4's greatest weakness against the Xbox One in the early days of this head-to-head matchup and might even be enough to offset the $100 price advantage it has over Microsoft's console.
Overall, Sony has 23 games available at launch, but many of its exclusives are offbeat titles. That is, however, something that will fix itself over time.
Now, the PlayStation 4 is a powerful console, but one that needs more content to realize its full potential.
Microsoft's Xbox One is the clearest example of the company's belief that game consoles must offer far more than games to succeed in a digital world.
Even the device's name, admittedly discordant for being the third model in the Xbox line, hammers that point home. The "One" hints that Microsoft is looking to unify home entertainment around its console and make a clean break with old expectations about what a console should be.
It certainly makes an impression. The box looks mammoth, and the machine is bigger than its predecessor, the Xbox 360, and Sony's competing PlayStation 4. Its beefy, almost aggressive exterior screams power rather than style. That's not to say the console's textured shell doesn't look good, but it's certainly not going to win any prizes for portability.
That's probably fine with Microsoft, which has done everything in its power to indicate that this device should be the immovable foundation of home entertainment. Not only does the Xbox One come with a suite of available entertainment apps — including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, the NFL and ESPN — it also plays live television by way of a hookup to a cable box. Microsoft even built in a programming guide.
Users can pin their favorite apps to their personal home screens, and the Xbox One will support as many as 16 logged-in users at once. In addition to video apps, the Xbox One shows off its pedigree as a Microsoft product, with its own branded music and video apps as well as SkyDrive for photos and Skype for videoconferencing. Skype, particularly, is an interesting and promising addition to the console; the app uses the camera on the Kinect controller and can follow users around the room and adjust its zoom based on how many voices it hears.
That's certainly not the only trick the Kinect has up its sleeve — in fact, it contributes most of the factors that might persuade consumers to choose the Xbox One even though it's $499, $100 more than the PlayStation 4. Microsoft has built the entire console around its motion and voice controller, meaning users can speak to the console to open apps, control video and even record games as they play.
The current Kinect is much more sophisticated than its predecessor, and can log in multiple users simply by reading their skeletal structures or hearing their voices. The included controller is also much better at reading voice commands, although it occasionally needs to have things repeated. Users can get around a lot of repeats by going through a more in-depth setup for the accessory, but it's still not 100 percent. That said, when it does work, it's quick and easy — so easy you'll probably find yourself talking to your television out of habit, even when the Xbox is not on.
All of that is great, but the non-gaming features alone can't sell this device. So although it can be easy to overlook the Xbox One's gaming capabilities, they're still at its heart. The specs are everything you might expect of a next-generation console and well matched against the new PlayStation 4. Xbox One graphics are smooth and fluid, with responsive game play and few glitches.
Microsoft, however, arguably has a stronger launch lineup of games, bringing heavy-hitters such as Forza Motorsport 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome.
As with the rest of the console, the gaming functions are most notable for how they fit into a larger picture of Microsoft's vision for the living room.
Overall, the Xbox One boasts a stronger array of games than PlayStation 4, but that's an advantage that probably will fade over time. Its greatest utility — and justification for your extra $100— lies in its all-in-one entertainment approach.