With mobile gaming eating away at the market and digital distribution on the rise this might actually be the last of the console wars. At least Microsoft and Sony have gone all out in this final battle: no matter which you prefer it's clear that both the Xbox One and PS4 are mighty pieces of kit.
Although market analysts IHS are currently predicting that Sony will triumph in the long run - shifting 49 million consoles to Microsoft’s 38m over the next five years - in a direct comparison it seems a close thing.
The PS4 and Xbox One are equally matched when it comes to games (most developers have hedged their bets and released for both) and whilst the PS4 has the edge in raw power, the Xbox One offers more in terms of multimedia functionality. As ever though, the devil's in the details: see below for our guide.
Price and release date:
The Xbox One will be out from 22nd November and the PS4 arrives a week later on the 29th (though it's already gone on sale in the US ). The PS4 costs £349 and the Xbox One will retail for £429, with both these packages including a single controller. However, the Xbox One’s basic price includes the cost of the Kinect 2.0 whilst the PS4 Eye does not come with the PS4.
This much is clear: they’re both black boxes. The PS4 is a bit slanty and the Xbox One looks a little like a videotape recorder, but they're both very much black boxes.
Hardware & graphics:
Both consoles have similar hardware though the PS4 undoubtedly has the upper hand in terms of raw power. There’s custom AMD chips in both and 8GB of RAM apiece (although the Xbox One’s is DDR3 whilst the PS4’s is the superior GDDR5) but the big difference comes from the GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit).
On paper the PS4’s GPU is 50 per cent more powerful than the Xbox One’s, meaning sharper looking games that run more smoothly than on Microsoft’s console. This prediction has so far been born out by the side by side comparisons we’ve seen of the two consoles (see below for video).
However, it’s worth remembering that the differences between the pair will, in reality, be minimal. Games appearing on the Xbox One and PS4 will have been made for both consoles simultaneously, meaning that it simply won’t be efficient for developers to differentiate too between the two in terms of hardware optimisation. However, games developed solely for the PS4 are likely to look nicer than those for the Xbox One.
Hardware is a nice way to compare the consoles as it’s easy to pick a clear winner, but really it depends on what developers do with each console over the course of their life time. It’s also worth remembering that if you can notice the difference between a 1600x900 and a 1280x720 resolution without blinking then you’re probably sitting too close to the TV.
This was a massive factor in Sony’s favour during the initial launches but fan outrage has forced Microsoft to rethink their position. Now, it's fair to say that the two are pretty much equal.
Neither console will require an always-on internet connection (though both will need one for an initial Day One patch) and used games will be free to play on both. Neither is backwards compatible with old titles, though the PS4 will stream these from the cloud and it’s likely the Xbox One will introduce something similar in the future.
Although this is probably one of the most hotly defended honours for any console (which is 'better' for games) with the PS4 and the Xbox One there's not much to choose between them. For a start most of the big hitters will be releasing on both consoles for the launch. This means whether you chose the PS4 or the Xbox One you'll still be getting the latest Assassin's Creed, Fifa 14, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 - all of which look like fantastic titles.
When it comes to launch exclusives the Xbox One has the upper hand (five to the PS4's two) but there's not many must-haves right now. Killer Instinct for the Microsoft console and Resogun for Sony's box both look like straight forward fun - the former a frenetic, visually busy beat-em-up, and the latter a, um, frenetic, visually busy shooter - whilst the PS4's latest Killzone will certainly outshine the Xbox One's graphical-spectacular Ryse: Son of Rome. However, if we've got to call a winner then Microsoft's addition of Dead Rising 3 just gives it the edge.
Really though you're going to have wait for the best games for both titles. The Xbox One will be getting Halo 5 and perhaps the most eagerly-awaited shooter for both consoles, the one-man-and-his-mecha title Titanfall. Meanwhile the PS4 will be getting the industrial revolution based, alternative-history title The Order: 1886 and will also see the super-powered Cole MacGrath return for Infamous: Second Son.
However, the game that looks like it will offer the most fun in early is Bungie's Destiny, a title that's exciting not only for its beautifully imagined sci-fi setting, but for the developer's promise of a 'living' game world, with MMO elements blending seamlessly with traditional shooter fun. Fortunately this one is available for both the PS4 and the Xbox One. Happy gaming.
Subscriptions and online services:
This has been a big difference in previous generations, with Microsoft forcing a yearly fee on gamers for online play (this is after you’ve paid for the game, the console and your internet connection) whilst Sony kept it classy and free.
This year however, both companies will be charging users for online services that you might have expected to be part of the ticket price. PlayStation Plus is £5.49 for one month, £11.99 for three, or £39.99 for 12; Xbox Live Gold is £5.99 for one month, £14.99 for three and £39.99 for 12. So, if you’re going for the best value packages, both subscriptions will cost £3.33 a month.
In terms of social features both consoles will be fairly similar with the likes of video capture, live stream sharing and eight person video chat all on offer, although Microsoft is offering what seems like a more fully developing miniature social network for keeping up to date with friends’ escapades.
However, PlayStation Plus absolutely blows Xbox Live out the water where it counts: games. Sony's Instant Game Collection offers customers access to a number of free titles on PS3, PS4 and on the PS Vita including Metal Gear Rising, Uncharted 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Microsoft also offers freebies but the quality of the titles just don't match up.
Peripherals and controllers:
Whether you prefer Sony or Microsoft’s controllers is mostly a matter of taste though neither camps have made significant updates to their designs. The PS4’s new DualShock 4 now comes with concave triggers and rubbery thumbsticks, whilst the Xbox One’s controller adds vibration in the triggers that can mimic everything from gun recoil to hearbeats.
Sony’s does have the advantaged of the lightbar on the back of the controller which will be used to identify players, but that functionality is matched and thoroughly beaten by the powers of the Kinect 2.0 – which can identify players when they walk in the room, log them in automatically and even detect their pulse. The PS4 can also Eye will also do automatic log ins, but it doesn’t come bundled with the console.
In a straight battle between the Kinect and the PS4 Eye Microsoft is certainly the winner, though there is the question of whether gamers want the features it offers. I have a feeling they will – the log-in feature is creepy but will prove useful, whilst HD Skype calls will certainly be worthwhile.
And with developers for the Xbox One now certain that any Kinect-heavy games they make will be met by an actual Kinect-owning audience, there’s a chance that there will be some real innovation here after a long string of failures.