Yup, I’m going there! Because there’s nothing more likely to risk upsetting everyone than writing an Xbox One vs PS4 piece, and I am apparently that stupid.
But it’s not that I’m actively looking for abuse or anything, but with Christmas just around the corner, I figured it might actually be useful to attempt an objective, non-partisan, non-fanboyish comparison between the two main next-gen machines – and particularly useful for anybody who genuinely doesn’t know which one to opt for, or indeed, for anybody who might have one and be considering whether it’s worth getting the other.
I also happen to think that much of the more extreme fanboyishness that does exist tends to come about after the purchase of one console over the other (for a few reasons I won’t dwell on here, but mainly to do with confirmation bias, emotional (and financial) investment, sometimes just for shits and giggles) so, obviously, once you’ve already crossed that particular Rubicon, stuff tends to be somewhat lacking in objectivity and whatnot.
Anyway, as somebody lucky enough to have one of each, and indeed, as somebody who really likes them both, I’ma make a valiant attempt to stick my head above the parapet – smack-bang in the middle of the two opposing trenches – and hope I can avoid getting shot at from either, or both sides. And I’m going to be doing this armed only with my big boy words – so, you know, wish me luck with that.
Firstly, in the interests of full disclosure – and in the hopes of pre-empting any ‘you’re obviously an agent for x’ type unpleasantness – my personal gaming history features a fairly equal amount of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, sometimes at the same time, sometimes one over the other(s). In terms of Microsoft vs Sony, I personally went PS2, Xbox 360 (twice, thanks to the Red Ring of Death), PS4 (and PS Vita), and now Xbox One as well – so I think it’s fair to say I’ve given them both a fair shout (there’s also some Nintendo flavoured goodness in there too, but I’ve already made a case for the Wii U here, so I’ll leave that out of this piece). And when I opted to go from the 360 to PS4, for example, it was because of a careful weighting of pros and cons which – *at the time* – tipped things in favour of the PS4. Crucially though, a lot of that was personal preference, and given subsequent updates, releases, changes etc, that whole *at the time* thing has changed significantly. In other words, if I was making the decision now, with the newer information, I might not arrive at the same place.
All of that’s to say that I don’t particularly have a dog in the next-gen fight, or perhaps more accurately, I actually own both dogs and a) I don’t want them to fight, and b) I love them both – just a bit differently, and for some slightly different reasons. And it’s those reasons, and those slight differences that I’m going to look at here. This will be broken up into two parts, and they’re long pieces, but I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible, essentially collating – in the same place – all the various points in the ongoing console debate.
The Little Black Box, what’s in there, and how it all works.
On paper, both the PS4 and the Xbox One are fairly similar machines, and consequently they both operate at much the same level. Indeed, a comparison of all the spec-ey stuff shows basically the same numbers – just with a few different letters after said numbers. In practice, I’ve not noticed a great deal of difference between the two. Even though the frame-rate issues of the Xbox One have been well documented, a) I can’t say that it’s much impacted on my experience, and b) a lot of the smoothness of a particular game is down to the actual game. For example, I recently went from playing Rise of the Tomb Raider on the Xbox One to Fallout 4 on the PS4, so if I was assessing them both purely on that, I’d have to say the Xbox was the smoother, faster machine. But I’m not, because that’s comparing apples and oranges, and it wouldn’t be fair to do so. In general though, the PS4 does ever-so-slightly edge the Xbox on all-round performance (taken as an average – and comparing the same game across both consoles), BUT the difference is negligible, and varies from game engine to game engine anyway.
Now, the CONTROLLER. The Xbox One controller is sturdier and more robust than those of the PS4 – I have three for the latter, and on two of them, the rubber on the thumbstick is fucked. Does that really matter, I hear you ask?! “It’s not a deal-breaker” would be my reply, but I’d also invite you to try picking the locks on Fallout 4 with a shitty thumbstick, and then ask yourself the same question again, because it’s not a totally unimportant thing.
I also really like that I’ve got both a rechargeable controller and a battery-powered one for the Xbox too, and that the batteries last for at least a week’s worth of serious, all-day sessions. In contrast, on the PS4, I have to do a continuous play with one, recharge the other type dance, and essentially swap every day. However, I also really like the track-pad whatsit on the PS4 controller, and I think – in some games – that just make things a little better, or cooler, or whatever.
Aesthetically speaking, I have to say that – for me – the PS4 is just better. It’s smaller, it’s got a distinct look about it, and it’s just altogether less box-ey. It’s a small thing, but the light on both the PS4 and its controller – which can change colour contextually – fills me with a weird, deeply felt joy; that might be shallow, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a thing.
Finally, and on an anecdotal note, I’ll relay a couple of GENERAL ISSUES I’ve had with both machines. First, with the Xbox, I’ve found that it gets super hot, and whatever enjoyment I’m getting from a game is slightly tempered by the fear that I’m about to die hideously in a huge explosion of CPUs and circuitry. One collateral effect of that though, is that on colder days, my girlfriend actually encourages me to play on the Xbox because it raises the temperature of the entire room, so, you know, every cloud…..
With the PS4, I’ve had recurring issues with it ejecting discs randomly and – because fate’s a cruel mistress – usually at the absolute worst possible time: “Yay, I’ve finally beaten this boss at the millionth attempt, now I can…. BEEP, WHIR, EJECT….no….NO…… NOOOOOOOOO [redacted expletives]…….!!!”. In all honesty, that’s not a lot of fun at all, and it’s a really, really shitty problem to have. The only real fix that I’ve found (it’s not foolproof, but mostly works) is to take my PS4 out from its shelf, and stand it upright *every* time I’m playing a game on disc – just in case. It seems (according to the t’internet) that this problem largely exists with the very early PS4s, so you might not have to worry about it anyway, but consider yourself warned.
Result, Round One:
Basically a draw, with the PS4 just about taking it with a bonus finesse point because it performs slightly better, and, in my opinion, looks slightly better. Also, it’s got blue lights, and everything’s 165.36% cooler with a blue light.
User Interface, Gimmicks and Extras
Part of the reason I opted for the PS4 over the Xbox One was that a lot of the ‘Pros’ of the Xbox didn’t really appeal to me anyway, but having now experienced them a bit firsthand, I appreciate them slightly more – or at least the potential of them. The Xbox One was clearly intended to be the hub of your entertainment set-up, whereas the PS4 is happy just being a part of it. That desire manifests itself in a few ways, which is what I’ll look at in this section, as well as a more general overview of software, and add-ons etc.
In terms of UI, the Xbox One will be familiar to anybody who uses a recent Windows OS, and especially to anybody who has a Windows tablet or phone. Basically, there’s a shitload of tiles. And more importantly, there’s a degree of customisation to how those tiles appear, and indeed what tiles you can have – to a point anyway. This is because you can download ‘apps’ onto your Xbox in much the same way you can on a tablet, or phone.
In contrast, The PS4 is basically a vanilla OS, with certain things in certain places, and not a whole lot you can do about it. In most aspects, it’s just an altogether simpler, less-tiley system – for better or worse. You have two linear bars – the top one fixed (friends, settings, trophies etc), and the bottom one showing recent games/apps etc. for quick(ish) access. It’s that simple. In terms of what those apps are, there are considerably fewer than are available for the Xbox One. There’s the more common Video on Demand ones (Netflix, etc), and there are a few Sony Entertainment Network type ones (for music, films and such), Twitch, share-factory, and the like.
The biggest difference between the two systems, however, is the extent to which the Xbox facilitates multi-tasking and such. If you so wish, you can run, for example, your TV through your Xbox – switching to and from watching it with, you guessed it, a tile (or the switch/back button). You can even watch TV whilst you’re playing, thanks to the Xbox’s split-screen/snapping facility. I’m not great at focusing on two things at once (or even one, to be honest), so I don’t bother, but it’s great for keeping an eye on, say, sports while you’re playing, I guess. Moreover, you can basically snap anything into that side-screen bit – maybe you want to open the Internet Explorer tab to follow a guide, or perhaps you’re chasing a particular achievement, and want to see the specific details, for example (and on that note, I’ve noticed that the achievement tiles on the Xbox have a progress bar, so you know roughly how close you are to, say, getting x kills with such-and-such gun – which is cool and useful).
Maybe you want to open a Skype call with somebody whilst you’re both playing (or even watching a film or TV show) – again, providing you’ve both got the camera set-up, that can go in your little side-screen bit too. I don’t have any friends, but if I did, I can honestly see how talking to them on Skype whilst playing Fifa (for example) would be pretty awesome, and slightly more awesome than just in-game chatting etc – especially if I could see their face when my goalkeeper scored a last minute bicycle kick against them (which wouldn’t happen, but shiiiiit, if we’re imagining alternate realities, I might as well go to fucking town with it, right?)!!
And the list goes on – and basically, using the Xbox is like using a multitasking tablet – you can get football scores to pop-up on your screen, incoming Skype calls, message notifications, etc, etc, and if it’s ever something you’re interested in, you can snap it to that side-screen bit without leaving your game. Obviously, this is most useful for multiplayer/online gaming when you might be unwilling, or unable to pause, or leave the game etc, and it is, undoubtedly, a really cool option to have. And if you’ve got the kinnect set-up, you can do all of this with voice commands and hand gestures – which basically means you can be living the dream in your own sci-fi film.
Result, Round Two:
If you’re likely to use Xbox’s features, and myriad multitasking options, it almost certainly gives it the edge over the PS4 – and just being sat in your living room, issuing commands to your Xbox like you’re a goddam Starfleet Captain’s a pretty great way to spend any afternoon regardless.
Peripherals, Equipment and Gadget-ey Things
Talking of the kinnect brings me nicely to the issue of peripherals – the stuff you can hook-up to your console, or use alongside it. Whilst I don’t think anybody’s going to be choosing a games machine based solely on, for example, the headphones you can get for it, it’s still worth considering this aspect anyway.
Right off the bat, I think it’s fair to say the Kinnect and the PlayStation Camera basically do the same sort of thing – and thus cancel each other out – and whether or not you’ll utilise either will depend on you. Aside from the added utility of the swiping/voice stuff, the actual games that use the Kinnect/Camera are, I think, fairly niche, and I’m all about being sat on my arse when I’m gaming, so they don’t really appeal to me anyway. If you’re some sort of masochist who enjoys exercise though, I think you’ll likely find both of them offer very similar opportunities for you to indulge your proclivities like the weirdo that you – quite clearly – are!
Headphones wise, you’re basically looking at much of a muchness too, depending on how much you are prepared to spend, etc – but with one key exception.
With my Xbox One, I’ve got a decent pair of Afterglow Wired headphones (again, I’m a sucker for blue lights), and via a little adaptor thing, they plug right into my controller, and that allows me to adjust the volume/mute/etc with ease and speed. I can’t really tinker with much, and consequently I only ever really use them for multiplayer shenanigans – especially given that my home Sound System’s better for gaming.
For my PS4, however, I have the official PlayStation Gold headphones (which didn’t cost much more than the 3rd party Xbox ones), and I often use them just for general gaming. See, they’re wireless (via a little USB DooDah that plugs into the PS4), rechargeable, and have a bunch of cool features, thanks to the Headset Companion App. You can have two settings stored on the headphones, and swap and change what those settings are just by hooking the headphones up to your PlayStation for a few seconds. Even cooler than that, some games have optimised sound settings unique to that game, which you can upload to your headphones. BOOM – The Last of Us gets a bit creepier, Destiny gets a bit spacey-er, etc, etc. as your headphones emphasise and optimise that particular game’s sound engineering. Likewise, the headphones have a general virtual 7.1 Surround Sound option which is amost as good as my actual surround sound system, and just adds that bit extra to my gaming experience in terms of immersiveness, or atmosphere, or nuances that I might not pick up on without them.
To give you an example, in a certain multiplayer game, I could hear footsteps suggesting I was about to get pummelled from my right, and I quickly turned to face my attacker – only to then get stabbed in the back. After this happened a few times, I eventually realised I had the headphones on the wrong way around, so my right was actually my left, and I was effectively turning away from my attacker. This highlights my general stupidity, obviously, but also just how good, and detailed – even advantageous – playing a game with a set of headphones optimised for that game can be!
Now, let’s take a look at the general area of “SECOND SCREENING”, and what the options are for both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. Second Screening covers two main things – essentially, a) augmentation and b) remote play. Augmentation is basically using a second screen in conjunction with a game you’re playing – say for inventory management, or as a map, or for sub/mini-games within your main game (like the dog thing in GTA V, or Kenway’s Fleet in AC: Black Flag). This sometimes requires you to have downloaded the General Companion App (Smart Glass for Xbox/PS App for the PS4 – obvs), and whether you can use it, or how good the experience is, depends entirely upon individual games. Other games have a dedicated App, particularly the ones with separate mini-games (like the aforementioned two). Again – these range from cool, to ‘meh’, so it’s not really a massive, or consistent, factor in my gaming.
However, the remote play thing is, in my opinion, more of a thing. If you’ve got a nice dedicated set-up for your console this is likely not needed, but nowadays, as families increasingly want to use the TV for different things, it can be a genuinely useful – perhaps even relationship saving – option to have. There’s nothing worse than having to turn your console off because somebody wants to watch Keeping Up With America’s Next Top Pet With a Talent-ey Factor, especially if your gaming time’s limited anyway, and for gamers, helplessly watching such shite whilst their gaming time inexorably ticks away is just all different kinds of awful. The good news is that there are solutions to this problem for both consoles – the bad news is it might require either additional purchases, and/or require you to own a particular type of tablet/computer.
With the XBox One, you can stream the games to a Surface Tablet, or any PC running Windows 10 (or a mac running Windows 10, apparently) over the same WiFi network. That’s pretty cool, and whilst not everyone’s going to have a Surface Tablet – more people are likely to be running Windows 10 – either now, or in the not-too-distant future. Obviously, the chances are that both a tablet and PC are likely to be not quite as good as playing on your 30+” TV – but still about a bajillion times better than watching crap you don’t want to watch, I reckon.
With the PS4 – the Surface/windows stuff is mostly replaced by Xperia stuff (the words “Synergy” and “cross-platform brand re-inforcement initiatives” possibly having been thrown around in the respective boardrooms at some point) – and you can use newer versions of Xperia tablets and phones as a second screen, remote play option – again, over the same wireless network. Sony have also very recently strongly suggested there’ll be a play on your PC/laptop option arriving soon – so, basically, this means another draw for both consoles.
However, Sony have two aces up their sleeve, but they do require additional purchases. Firstly, if you have a PlayStation Vita, some games will allow you to remote play with that. Even though I’ve already written about how much I love my Vita, I appreciate that it’s not for everyone – and that it’s not cheap. If you do own one though – or were thinking of getting one anyway, it’s almost certainly worth considering this as a massive bonus.
The Second Ace is, like the Vita, an additional purchase, but it’s also a cool little thing in it’s own right, again just like the Vita. In fact, PlayStation TV is basically the Vita, just without a screen. Or buttons. Or a battery. But it does have a slot for Vita games, and Vita memory cards – and you can use it to play (some) Vita games on a big TV – either from a game/memory card, or by downloading to the latter from the PS Store. Then, using either a PS3, or PS4 controller, you can enjoy a more non-Vita-ey experience from your Vita Games.
As you’ll have likely guessed by now, hooking up your PlayStation TV to a secondary TV will also allow you to stream your PS4 game to that TV – and bada-bing-bada-boom – instead of sulkily watching crap on the family’s main TV, you can carry on shooting people in the face on a second one, which, for most people, is likely to be better than the tablet/phone/PC option. Huzzah! The last feature of PlayStation TV is that it will stream games from PlayStation Now – Sony’s Netflix for games/Game rental service – and also some Sony Entertainment Network content. Basically, PlayStation TV is a tiny (it fits in the palm of your hand) secondary console – which can be taken anywhere, and will allow you to access some of the features of the PlayStation Universe wherever you happen to be. It is an additional purchase, but – if you’re likely to get any benefit from it, even if it’s just the streaming to another TV thing – it is fairly reasonably priced at around £45/$99.
Result, Round Three:
Peripherals cost extra cash-money, obviously, but that’s sort of the point of them, in that they are things you can choose to get to make your gaming life that little bit better. Whilst the XBox One and PS4 mostly tie with the playing on a tablet/PC thing, and the camera/kinnect stuff, the ability/option to enhance your Gaming World with both the Vita and PlayStation TV (if you so wish) has to give the PS4 the edge this round.
Right, I’m aware that this is now officially the longest blog post in the history of the world, ever, so I’m wrapping up Part One now. If you’ve not lost the will to live already, please join me again in Part Two – where I’ll be looking at FRIENDS, GAMES, FUTURE-PROOFING, and arriving at a CONCLUSION.
See you on the flip-side, mofos. Hopefully. I mean, only if you want to, obviously…….
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