Black Friday is approaching, and with it comes the promise of getting a shiny, new console at an unbelievably low price. I've already written a piece recently about Nintendo's Wii U (which, honestly, might have the best lineup of games for the holiday), but what if you want something with a little less Mario?
A friend of mine recently asked for a comparison of Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, so what follows is an edited-for-a-blog version of my response to him. I've tried to add some section headings for easier skimming. Which console should you buy?
I'll assume at this point you've read that most experts agree the PS4 slightly outdoes the Xbox One in terms of raw technical specs. The big difference is the amount and type of RAM used. Although it's early in the lives of both consoles, there's already been some precedence of multiplatform games running at a higher resolution on Sony's box. However, both machines are going to have some great looking games, so I don't know that it's enough of a difference to really sway your vote.
WHAT ABOUT KINECT? THE PS4 CAMERA?
Even if you're not considering an Xbox One bundle with Kinect, you should read about the way it can work with your cable TV and handle voice command stuff. That didn't end up being a huge draw, but I've read that people who have it do use it more than they thought they would. Still, I'm not sure it's a must-have feature, and the Kinect model is an extra $100. If you haven't seen it, though, maybe watch a video just so you know. If you don't get it as part of a bundle, I believe it's $150 to just buy the sensor, but it comes with Dance Central Spotlight.
There's also a camera for the PS4, which was never part of a bundle, but did end up being quite popular (and hard-to-find) at launch. It lets you film yourself while doing live streams on Twitch, but it also works with "Playroom" (a set of augmented reality games) and can now do some voice command navigation of the console's interface. It's an extra $60.
APPS & VIDEO STREAMING
Now, both systems offer all sorts of video streaming services and whatnot, but you might have a Roku or smart TV for that. Xbox One does give you some ability to multitask by "snapping" an app to the side and letting you play or watch something else in the other window. You check YouTube for examples of what the "snap" feature looks like.
HBO Go finally came to Xbox One, but it's not yet on PS4. And, if the PS3's implementation of HBO Go is anything to go by, it may not work with Comcast, if you have Xfinity—but the Xbox platforms do support Comcast.
In terms of controllers, both have nicely-redesigned models from last generation, but here are the unique features: Xbox One has "rumble triggers," which seem to be primarily used in racing games to provide some feedback when you're pulling the triggers for braking or accelerating."
On PS4, you have gyroscopic motion sensing, a touch panel that can be used for moving pointers (but can also be pressed like a button), and then a light on the back that let's you tell which controller is which or can be used for ambient lighting effects (one horror game I have, Outlast, has it pulse when you're attacked or turn red when you die). Xbox has the "offset" analog sticks, but PS4 keeps them centered, side by side.
Both have received high reviews, but PS4 probably has the edge overall (it's way more comfortable than any previous Sony controller).
PS4's REMOTE PLAY
Xbox One may have app snapping, but PS4 has a unique "remote play" ability: it's basically a way for you to play your PS4 games on other devices either of your home network (which works the best) or over the internet (which totally depends on your connection).
This was originally only available to do with a PS Vita, but there are now some Sony phones that do it, as well as the PlayStation TV, a $100 Roku-esque box that plays Vita games and can let you remote play your PS4 in another room. Using the Vita for this is very similar to Wii U's off-TV play, handy for when the main TV is otherwise occupied.
The Xbox One has no backward compatibility whatsoever, but Sony has a new service called "PlayStation Now" that let's you rent PS3 games on your PS4 and basically streams them (a la Netflix) to you. Amazingly, it works well (unless you have a slow connection), so you have a viable avenue to play some of the best PS3 titles without actually owning that console.
XBOX LIVE & PS PLUS
It used to be that Xbox required a Gold subscription to use video apps and play online, and PS3 didn't require a PS Plus subscription to do either. Now things have changed a bit: neither require a paid subscription to use video apps but both require it to play online.
PS Plus is $50/yr and introduced the idea of free games and discounts with a membership. The way this works is that you get 2 PS4, 2 PS3, and 2 PS Vita free games per month. The games are only available to claim during that month before they get swtiched out. The cool part is that, as long as you have the service, you are accumulating the free games—as long as claim them when they're available. So, by the end of a year, you'd have 24 games on each system.
It's also cool that you can use the web interface to claim the PS3/Vita games even if you don't own those systems, and if you ever get either of them, you'll have a slew of games waiting to be downloaded. PS Plus also let's you backup your saves to the cloud, gives you special discounts on games and downloadable content and auto-updates game patches overnight. If you ever let your subscription lapse, you lose access to the free games, but not anything you bought at a discount. If you renew your subscription, though, your library is restored.
Xbox Live Gold used to just be for playing online, but they've copied Sony with "Games for Gold," a service that also gives about two games per month and some discounts (for both Xbox One and Xbox 360). These games are yours to keep if you ditch the service, but they do tend to be a little older (at least on 360).
The final thing to consider, especially for playing online, is where your friends are. Do you know other people with either console that like to play online?
Okay, so let's talk about games.
Exclusives are the most deciding factor, obviously, so it's worth reviewing the existing and upcoming libraries. Sony maintains a stable of about 10-12 "first party" studios that develop exclusive content, and they have some "second party" studios that aren't owned by Sony but develop exclusives. Microsoft Game Studios is similar, and they've definitely expanded their development from the 360 days.
I personally like more of the Sony franchises better (Uncharted, inFamous, Little Big Planet, The Last of Us, Killzone, God of War, Octodad, Resogun, The Order: 1886).
Xbox One, however, has some other series that look great (Dead Rising, Sunset Overdrive, Quantum Break, D4, Killer Instinct, Ori and the Blind Forest). Of course, Xbox also has Halo, Forza, Fable, and Gears of War, if you're into any of those franchises. Also of note: the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider (which is AMAZING and is on both PS4 and Xbox One), is getting a sequel called Rise of the Tomb Raider that got announced as an Xbox exclusive. It's almost certainly a timed exclusive and will come to PS4 eventually.
Still, it's hard to explain just how good both Uncharted and The Last of Us are; but there is definitely a lot of great content on and coming to Xbox One.
That is a LOT of information, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of what to expect from either console. I don't think you'll be disappointed with either, but do your research. In fact, I can help even more with that! IGN.com recently did "re-reviews" of the PS4 and Xbox One (with and without Kinect) as a sort of "one-year later" check-in on the consoles. The buttons below will take you to those reviews so you can avoid some pesky Googling:
Happy Thanksgiving, and good luck bargain hunting on Black Friday!