“The all-in-one entertainment system.” It’s a tagline it seems like Apple should have used describe its new Apple TV console. The Apple TV has been around for years, but the App Store revolution mostly passed it by. It didn’t have access to the iTunes App Store and that meant users couldn’t play games or get any streaming audio and video apps without Apple having to work in close partnership with the maker.
That is the tagline Microsoft used to describe its Xbox One entertainment console. The Xbox One was designed by a team who had an appreciation for the empire they’d built. The Xbox started out as a video game machine, but the Xbox 360 was the first video game console to fully embrace what we think of as modern media. Hulu and Netflix were first introduced on the Xbox 360. Users could stream Netflix movies and chat with each other too, even if they weren’t on the same continent. The Xbox One kept music and video apps and added live television integration, giving users who wanted broadcast television or cable users a better experience than what was possible on lesser set-top boxes.
The new Apple TV is a direct threat to Microsoft’s Xbox One. Here’s how the two stack up against each other.
New Apple TV vs. Microsoft Xbox One: Design & Internals
The Xbox One is huge. There’s just no way around it; the console measures 13.1-inches by 10.8-inches and stands 4.1-inches tall. The console needs all that room, Microsoft has it stuffed with some hefty gaming hardware, since it’s primarily sold as a gaming console.
A quad-core AMD Jaguar processor, dedicated graphics processor 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a Blu-Ray Drive, three USB ports. Infrared audio, Ethernet, HDMI-out and an HDMI pass-through port. Every Xbox One comes with an Xbox One Wireless Controller and users can purchase a Kinect sensor or media remote if they’d like one. The Xbox One has built-in support for wireless 802.11n.
The Apple TV is a diminutive block. It’s a 3.9 inch square with a rounded edge. It stands 1.4-inches tall. Every Apple TV comes with a wireless remote with built-in support for passing on voice commands directly to the console’s built-in Siri personal assistant and a glass trackpad.
Inside is an Apple A8 Chip processor. Ports include a 10/100 Ethernet port, 802.11AC wireless internet, Bluetooth 4.0, and a USB type C port that Apple says is only for users who visit its support centers.
If we only judged consoles by their looks, these two devices wouldn’t be in the same league. The Xbox One is meant to be at the heart of any vast entertainment set-up. Sure, it can be used on its own, but there are enough ports there to support all-sorts of setups. Apple is banking on users wanting simplicity, on users deciding that having a large box below their television isn’t something they want.
New Apple TV vs. Microsoft Xbox One: Gaming
The real danger for the Xbox One is that Apple could be right, users could not really want a large box below their television set. Put another way, users discover that what the Apple TV offers is enough for their needs.
The overwhelming majority of the games in the iTunes Store are designed for touch screens. Rather than set those games aside and require developers to embrace a traditional controller, Apple aired on the side of trying to emulate the experience of a touchscreen with the new Apple TV Remote. A glass trackpad on the top of the remote lets users manipulate what they see on screen with their fingers. The Apple TV remote also borrows heavily from the Wii; it includes sensors inside for motion gaming. Apple doesn’t make its own wireless gaming controller, but does have partnerships with companies like SteelSeries to offer compatible controllers for games that require them.
Manticore Rising, Rayman Adventures, Showmatic, Transistor and Guitar Hero are all confirmed for the Apple TV. Disney Infinity 3.0, the amazingly popular toys-to-life game franchise is also coming to the Apple TV with a starter pack. Games purchased through the iTunes Store with compatible versions for the Apple TV will unlock across Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which is a key reason to game on the Apple TV in the first place. The problem for the Apple TV is going to be cultivating more games than just Angry Birds clones and free-to-play titles that focus on extracting cash from players instead of in-depth gameplay.
By compassion, the Xbox One’s problem is that its barrier to entry is so high. The console itself costs $349 for its cheapest configuration. That doesn’t include the Kinect sensor it needs for motion gaming. The Kinect sensor costs $149 extra and there aren’t too many games that use the sensor exclusively for gaming. Kinect Sports Rivals does, but most games use it as a way to navigate menus and quickly get to information. Because games on the Xbox One are so much more detailed they take up more space. That’s why the basic $349 Xbox One has 500GB of storage as compared to the paltry 32GB Apple TV shoppers get for $149.99.
The most popular titles all cost $60, but Microsoft is embracing smaller games too. The ID@Xbox program lets small teams of gamers work directly with Microsoft on tinier titles they finance themselves. There are also free-to-play games like World of Tanks and Neverwinter. You get the full range of games with the Xbox One, in your living room. That’s something we’re still unsure about when it comes to the Apple TV.
New Apple TV vs. Microsoft Xbox One: Entertainment
Microsoft started this console generation out in front, pushing its all-in-one entertainment strategy. Slowly, it’s backed down on most of this. The Xbox One was perfect for an entire family when Kinect came with every console. Every one could play motion games even if they didn’t understand a wireless controller. Everyone could quickly switch between their gaming and entertainment profiles too since the Kinect recognized people sitting around the television.
Making the Kinect a separate purchase harms a huge part of the Xbox One’s entertainment strategy. Apple is betting that if it creates a platform for entertainment app makers, they’ll get a huge ecosystem of video and music apps not available anywhere else. Microsoft started out by letting every Xbox One communicate with television sets and cable boxes using the Kinect sensor. Even today, you buy a Kinect and the Xbox One will let you change television volume with a voice command or say “Xbox, Watch USA.”
With the Kinect a separate purchase Microsoft has two strategies: Embrace and enhance cable, its previous strategy, and support cable cutters, exactly what Apple TV is doing with its apps. Today, apps on the Xbox One are curated by Microsoft. The company has said that future software updates might link the Xbox One to its Windows Store, opening up the flood gates to all kinds of entertainment apps. Current Xbox One apps support the Xbox One controller. Many support voice commands and hand gestures for easy access too. YouTube, Hulu Netflix and even Verizon are already available.
Problem for Microsoft is the sheer girth of the iTunes Store. Many entertainment companies already have apps in the iTunes Store. All they need to do is update them to make them compatible with the Apple TV. Worse, the iTunes Store is a robust entertainment store, with movies, music, tv shows, podcast and its own radio station. The Xbox One has movies and TV shows, but its music experience on the Xbox One is lacking. Podcasts are non-existent.
Microsoft has plans to add its Cortana personal assistant to Xbox One this November, but only for users who have a Kinect sensor. The new Apple TV lets users search the iTunes Store and give commands with its remote.
New Apple TV vs. Microsoft Xbox One: Which Should You Buy?
So which is better, the Apple TV or the Xbox One? For entertainment, I’d absolutely bet on the Apple TV at this point. Microsoft has had years to deliver an open app store to get more entertainment apps onto the Xbox One. I’d expect the offerings on Apple TV to eclipse the entertainment apps on Xbox One rather quickly after launch.
As for games, it’s a question of gaming habits. The Xbox One is likely always going to have a better, more nuanced library with fewer bad free-to-play titles and better curation. If you’re into the big name titles that you see commercials for on television, the Xbox One is going to be what you want.
Apple TV launches this fall for as little as $149. The Xbox One is on sale now starting at $349.