If you thought that things in the gaming community would calm down in 2016, then your hopes were dashed. Microsoft unleashed the Xbox One S on the world and spent the rest of its time delivering exclusives and better software. Sony delivered a few exclusive experiences of its own, then set its sights on defining high-end console gaming with the PS4 Pro release and bringing virtual reality to the masses with the PlayStation VR.
All of these changes means that it’s once again time to parse and attempt to understand which console has which features, and ultimately where each stands in relation to what gamers say they want.
Does the Xbox One S’ low cost, 4K and HDR capabilities negate the launch of the more expensive, but better equipped for gaming PS4 Pro? Which console makes it easier to get your fill of livestreaming television and video? Which has the better line-up of exclusive titles?
Let’s find out.
Xbox One vs PS4: 4K Gaming and Streaming with New Hardware
Any Xbox One vs PS4 comparison has to start with new hardware launches. Both Microsoft and Sony have shaken things up this year.
Sony announced two new consoles that you can purchase today, the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro. The PS4 Slim costs $299 but is more of a refined original console. It supports HDR10, but not 4K video and enhanced graphics for games.
The PS4 Pro does support 4K video, enhanced graphics and HDR10. It’s also $100 more expensive the Slim. Trouble is, developers need to build their games with the enhanced graphics or add a patch to support it. To date, only remastered games, like Elder Scrolls Online, have managed true 4K resolution on the system.
Microsoft is promising true 4K gaming when its Xbox Scorpio console arrives. That won’t happen until 2017 though, which means you’ll want to go with the PlayStation 4 Pro today for the highest resolution and best graphics possible.
The Xbox One S is on sale now for as little as $299, but with HDR10 technology and support for 4K video. There’s also a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player built into the machine, something that the PS4 Pro doesn’t offer. Developers have to build HDR10 support for games on the Xbox One S. Games get upscaled to 4K resolution when paired with a 4K television, but they’re not natively 4K.
Xbox One vs PS4: Virtual Reality
The gaming community is susceptible to the latest trends in technology. For the last few years, everyone has talked nearly nonstop about virtual reality headsets. This year Sony finally began selling the PlayStation VR headset and games that support it. If you want to experience virtual reality in your living room without building a PC and buying an Oculus, the PlayStation VR system is the accessory to buy.
Of course, that experience doesn’t come cheap. A PlayStation VR headset costs $399. It comes with a demo disc, but not with a PlayStation Move controller, which some games require. Star Wars Battlefront has its own PS VR experience. Batman Arkham VR and Battlezone are exclusively virtual reality experiences. There’s more games coming for the accessory next year.
This is a clear leg up for the PlayStation. Microsoft has teased announcements involving virtual reality in time for Xbox Scorpio, but there’s nothing out there today. Right now, the company is just fine letting Xbox One owners stream their games to their Oculus Rift VR headset through a PC.
Xbox One vs PS4: New Kinds of Entertainment
Microsoft started a war with Sony over the hearts and minds of entertainment lovers the world over when it included an HDMI pass-through port and OneGuide software in the original Xbox One. Together with Kinect, these features let the console control televisions, audio equipment and cable boxes.
You can still do all of those things, but without the Kinect sensor. The new Xbox One S has a built-in transmitter for managing that sort of thing. The Cortana personal assistant can handle voice commands for changing channels through a microphone plugged into a controller. Very little else has changed about Microsoft’s approach to TV. It still offers Sling TV for those that want a streaming cable subscription. A very, very slim Sling TV line-up is available for $20 a month.
Sony has been busy. It’s PlayStation Vue streaming service was the best there is in the business until a recent changed took away the service’s access to MTV, VH1 and other channels owned by Viacom. It’s still more viable than Microsoft’s cable-box dependent solution. Plans start at $29.99 a month, which isn’t cheap.
The PS4 Pro nor the PS4 Slim have a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive, but the Xbox One S does. The Xbox Store offers a very, very limited selection of 4K movies to stream too. The PlayStation Store doesn’t.
If you’re looking for a well-rounded, not necessarily 4K entertainment experience and are ready to get rid of traditional cable, the PS4 is what you want. For a company that claims it’s focused on gamers, Sony has done a lot to erode the Xbox One’s huge lead in the category.
If you’re interested in 4K at all or have cable already, the Xbox One is the way to go for sure. The 4K UHD Blu-ray drive ensures that. It’s not perfect, but you can get by with Sling TV on Xbox One if you don’t have cable.
Xbox One vs PS4: Games
The battle over which console offers the best games continues. Both consoles lead in different areas.
Xbox’s friendly approach to older titles continued in 2016. So did Sony’s insistence on charging users for them.
The PlayStation offers gamers the opportunity to play older titles through PlayStation Now streaming. A limited selection of PS2 games can be purchased outright. No matter what way you look at it, Sony is still charging people money for access to titles made for earlier systems.
You either pay up to experience older titles again, or hang on to your PS3 system. Those are your options.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has fixed an issue that kept games on multiple discs from being included in the Xbox One Backwards Compatibility program. The list of Xbox 360 games that Xbox One owners can play on their system without purchasing again is now 300 titles long. Some of them aren’t big names, but a lot of them are. The program recently got Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3.
On the Xbox One, your only option for renting a game is through EA Access for $4.99 a month. Yes, it’s still limited to only titles from Electronic Arts, but you get access to a decent library of titles inside the so-called Vault. PlayStation Now costs $20 a month and has a growing list of titles anyone can rent without getting off their couch. More games are available to rent if you’re willing to pay for blocks of time and not a monthly subscription.
Exclusives are currency in the gaming community. Over 2016 and 2018, there are some really exciting games coming from both companies.
Delayed until February, Halo Wars 2 kicks off things for Xbox One in 2017. It’s to be followed by Crackdown 3, Scalebound, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2. Microsoft launches a new entry in the Forza franchise every year. Halo and Gears of War 4 have already had their turns as holiday releases. It’s unclear what title Microsoft plans to use as November tent pole next year. It’s worth noting that many of Microsoft’s exclusive are part of Xbox Play Anywhere. Essentially, buying a digital copy on the Xbox One or PC unlocks a companion version for the other platform.
Sony expects to have Hellblade, Persona 5, Final Fantasy 2.8, Grand Turismo Sport, Gravity Rush 2. Teased PS4 exclusives include a God of War entry and a Spider-Man game developed by Insomniac. Insomniac worked on Sunset Overdrive for Xbox One. There’s Detroit: Become Human and Knack 2, and Days Gone to consider. Uncharted 4 launched this year to critical acclaim.
Certainly, Sony has a more interesting exclusive catalog, but a lot of what it’s announced doesn’t have a release window at all. If you’re excited for Spider-Man or God of War, you’ll want the PlayStation for sure. On the other hand, the Xbox One Backwards Compatibility program saves real people real money. It blows away Sony’s efforts.
Xbox One vs PS4: Which Should You Buy?
Before deciding whether to purchase an Xbox One or a PS4 this holiday season, ask yourself two things. First how often do you game? Second, what exclusives do you care about most?
If you don’t game that often, it’s more useful to you to have a well-rounded entertainment experience too. The Xbox One S does offer the best all-around 4K entertainment. Though not better than PlayStation Vue, Sling TV is adequate and costs less. Plus you get the built-in television control and cable box controls, and 4K UHD Blu-Ray drive. You haven’t lived until you’ve told your console to turn to a specific channel.
The exclusives are subjective. Sony will seemingly have a huge advantage sometime in late 2017 or 2018 when its glut of exclusives start arriving. In particular, Detroit and Spider-Man are exciting. Scalebound, Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 could be decent on Xbox One, but I’m not sure that’s enough to sway anyone leaning heavily towards a PS4 already. If you have games left over from the Xbox 360, you should buy an Xbox One.
Then there’s PlayStation VR to take into account. Obviously, if VR is something you care about, Microsoft’s ecosystem doesn’t have anything to offer you yet.
Neither one beats the other, but each has its own strengths, making this not so straight-forward issue for a third holiday season running. Good luck making your decision.