Every holiday season, there are always a few hot-ticket items that everyone clamors for, and this year, it’s pretty safe to say that the much-anticipated Xbox One from Microsoft and PlayStation 4 from Sony are at the top of a lot of people’s wish lists.
For gamers, it has been a long wait for these next-generation game consoles (Microsoft released the Xbox 360 eight years ago, and the PlayStation 3 debuted seven years ago), and some early adopters have probably already made their decision on which system to buy. But what about the rest of us, especially those who might be purchasing a console for the first time? Which one should you get?
To start, it’s worth noting that both companies have a pretty different view of what a console should be. For Microsoft, the aim of the Xbox One is to be the central hub for all digital living-room activities, including TV watching and streaming media. Meanwhile, Sony’s goal in designing the PlayStation 4 was to create the most powerful console for gamers.
My colleague Katie Boehret reviewed the Xbox One a few weeks ago, and she found that it offers a number of media and entertainment features that would appeal even to the non-gamer.
Meanwhile, I’ve been testing the PlayStation 4 for the past couple of weeks, and though it has some of those entertainment extras, it’s clear that gaming is the star of the show. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s the most powerful game console on earth, but it did its main job well, and with a simpler interface, sleeker design and cheaper price than the Xbox One ($400 versus $500).
Set-up was a breeze, and Sony includes all the essentials (power cord, HDMI cable) for hooking the console up to your TV. I don’t have a ton of space left in my media cabinet, so I really appreciated the PlayStation’s smaller size compared to the Xbox One. It can also be positioned horizontally or vertically.
You will need to log in to or sign up for a PlayStation Network account to access most of the console’s features, but it’s easy and free. I found navigating through the system’s menus to be intuitive and simple, especially compared to the Xbox One’s menus, which can be a little overwhelming. Also, as Katie mentioned in her column, using the voice commands to get around the Xbox One can be a frustrating experience.
You can use voice commands to launch games and navigate on the PlayStation 4, too, but it requires getting the PlayStation Camera, which costs $60. Since I was given one with my review unit, I gave it a whirl, but got mixed results. It had no problems understanding simple commands like “back” or “home screen.” But there were multiple times where I wasn’t able to start a game using my voice.
The camera can also be used to log in to your PlayStation account using facial recognition, which worked fine, and there are some cute augmented-reality games you can play with it. But since there aren’t a ton of features or games that utilize the camera right now, I wouldn’t say this is a must-have accessory.
Moving on to more fun topics, like gameplay. You can install games onto the console’s 500 gigabyte hard drive either via physical disc or by downloading them through the PlayStation Network. A subscription to PlayStation Plus, which ranges from $10 for a one-month membership to $50 for a one-year membership, is required if you want to play any multiplayer online games. It also offers you access to free games every month, online game saves, and more.
For my tests, I played a handful of titles, including the first-person shooter Killzone: Shadow Fall, a challenging puzzle game called Contrast, and my favorite, a space-shooter game called Resogun (I may or may not have played this for three hours straight).
I found game play to be smooth, and graphics looked great. I should also note that the DualShock 4 wireless controller was really comfortable to use. The analog sticks weren’t too loose or stiff, and the integrated speakers and rumble motors (which makes the controller vibrate to simulate certain actions, like explosions, on screen) enhanced the gaming experience. There’s even a Share button if you want to upload a video clip or screenshot to Facebook or Twitter or broadcast gameplay to Ustream and Twitch.tv.
My only complaint is that battery life wasn’t all that great. Sony says that the controller should last about 15 hours with constant use. But sometimes I had to recharge after about 10 to 12 hours.
Here’s the real downside to the PlayStation 4. First, if you own a PlayStation 3 or any previous generation console, you can’t play any of its games on the PlayStation 4. Second, there currently aren’t many games available for the console. There are 28 in total right now, with three being PS4 exclusives (Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack and Resogun), so that doesn’t give you a whole lot of choice.
To be fair, this isn’t a problem that’s limited to the PlayStation 4. The Xbox One also suffers from the same problem. And surely the game catalog will grow over time.
So what does the console have to offer besides gaming? Well, there are about 14 entertainment apps available for download, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, NHL GameCenter Live and NBA Game Time. The Xbox One’s app catalog is a little more robust, with options like YouTube, ESPN and HBO Go coming soon.
Sony includes its own streaming services like Music Unlimited (a subscription starts at $5 a month) and Video Unlimited, where you can rent and purchase movies and TV shows. The PlayStation 4 can also serve as a Blu-ray and DVD player. But unlike the Xbox One, there is no live TV integration.
So, returning to the question of which console to get: If you want a system that can be an all-in-one entertainment and gaming device, the Xbox One is the way to go. But if gaming is your first priority, the PlayStation 4 is a great package, and delivers on performance, though you should compare game catalogs before committing to either console.