Every day inches us closer to the portentous dates that mark the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, along with the true inception of the next generation of gaming. We seem to learn more about the consoles – and the philosophies driving them – on a regular basis, but there is little doubt that most of the finalised details are now in the wild. Considering this, we have elected to bring our faithful readers a wrap-up of all that we know about the differences between the systems in order to better inform your purchase decisions.
Without doubt, the most glaring difference to the uninformed consumer is the price. Throughout the entirety of the world, the the XBO will be retailing higher than the PS4. In the US and Europe, Microsoft’s console is $499 (or Euros), making it $100 more expensive than Sony’s. In Britain, it is £429 against £349 and Australians get it for $599 versus $549. It could be considered a major point of contention, but the difference is meaningless so long as it can be justified by a greater array of features or providing better value in some way. This means that it is time to delve deeper into the schism between the two consoles.
Microsoft made a considerable investment in motion gaming this generation with their Kinect peripheral and it is clear that they are focusing on it again in the next with the inclusion of an updated version, dubbed “Kinect 2.0”, with every console sold, thus providing something in the way of an excuse for the premium price. It has been rumoured that Sony planned to do similar by bundling the latest iteration of their PlayStation Camera, but backed away on seeing the minor backlash against Microsoft’s policy, as well as a chance to attain that price differential. In either case, the real question is what does Kinect bring to the table?
Looking at its uses in the current generation, the cynic would argue ‘not much’ – but that ignores the promise that the numerous upgrades to the peripheral offer. First off is that it now features 1080p video capture, along with a 60% increase to the field of vision. What this means is that it requires far less room to function effectively, dropping from six feet to three. It is also promised to be able to follow six people at the same time, with 25-point skeleton tracking, facial expressions and even heart rate. The new technical specifications are downright stunning, and if it pans out as promised it could provide a massive evolutionary leap for hands-free gaming.
Unfortunately, what we know of developer intentions thus far aren’t really tapping into that potential. Kinect Sports Rivals is, perhaps, the flagship game of the device, but it doesn’t seem to be making the waves that it might. It has also been announced that it will be able to determine when a new player takes hold of the controller in certain games and immediately tailor the game’s settings to the preferences of that user. An extraordinarily useful feature for fighting games and others that focus on couch-based competition, but not particularly useful for the single-players, it could be argued. It seems that, right now, the features will be reserved for much the same interactions as it has been with the 360’s Kinect: wider gestures to impact the gameplay in minor ways and voice functionality.
The real benefits for Kinect will come from, shall we say, the extracurricular abilities. It informs the console’s position as a multimedia hub and will allow the user to easily switch between tasks on the fly. This has to do with the Xbox One’s “Snap” functions, wherein the player will be able to push secondary apps, such as Skype or TV viewing, to one side of the screen to be brought into the main focus on a whim. Basically, it enhances the convenience of the end user, which is exactly what Microsoft is widely aiming for.
In comparison, we have heard relatively little about the PlayStation Camera, but it too represents an upgrade from its predecessor, the PlayStation Eye. It now captures images in a 1200-by-800 resolution through a pair of cameras that allow for depth sensing, as in the case of the original Kinect. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make direct comparisons as Sony has really sidelined the Camera in their marketing, making it abundantly clear that it is a secondary consideration for them. With it not being mandatory, this is understandable, but leaves one wondering what Sony’s approach to motion sensing will be going forward, or if it will even be a focus for them.
Peripherals, however, are only ever complementary to the experience, and this will be the same going forward, as evidenced by the sheer volume of “traditional” games that have already been announced for the new consoles. Therefore, it makes sense to look into what the hardware of both consoles has to offer. One of the comments most frequently made when discussing this is how similar both are to standard PC architecture, which is a deviation from the norm in the console world, historically relying on more exotic creations. To this end, both systems have been built on customised versions of AMD’s Jaguar chipset, which houses both the CPU and GPU on one unified APU. The upshot of this is that system resources will be shared easily between the two, reducing bottlenecks that have impacted performance in the past. Between this and the familiarity of the core architectures, developers should be able to get a better handle on the quirks of the systems far earlier and more easily than has been the case in the past.
One notable difference is that the XBO’s GPU will feature twelve compute units, against the PS4’s eighteen, resulting in a serious shortfall in theoretical peak performance. Where Sony’s console is capable of producing 1.84 Teraflops, Microsoft’s can only reach 1.23 Teraflops. Furthering this power gulf is the fact the the XBO utilises DDR3 RAM, which produces considerably lower bandwidth than the PS4’s GDDR5. This means that the amount of data that can be siphoned through the memory of the device at any given time is considerably lower: 68.3GB/s against 176GB/s. Microsoft is trying to bolster this with an addition of 32MB of “embedded static” RAM, which reportedly bolsters bandwidth by up to 102GB/s, largely equalising what the two consoles are capable of on that front.
Now, that last paragraph was largely technical jargon, but in layman’s terms it is true that, at least on the surface, the PS4 does have something approaching a 50% power advantage over its competitor, which should result in games that run much more smoothly. A theoretical comparison test by Digital Foundry last week tried to gauge this by creating computer rigs roughly equivalent to each console. As it transpires, that gap is not nearly as wide when it comes to actual performance, with an average 24% boost to performance across their ten benchmark tests for the PS4 stand-in, making it the better option if power and performance is what you are most interested in, much as the 360 was the better option this generation, thanks to a slight resolution boost in many games, particularly early on.
It seems that Microsoft may have been aware that they were coming to this battle with a lower specced console, and sought to make up for it with their much-touted cloud functionality. With the promise of an additional 300,000 servers to the Xbox Live farm, this is a cornerstone of Microsoft’s strategy. The company has even gone so far to promise that games in the future will be able to run partially through cloud computing, improving the performance. With developers being able to run games on these servers to deliver persistent worlds, the promise is most certainly there for the future.
Sony doesn’t appear to be leaning quite so heavily on the cloud, but they aren’t ignoring it. At this point, cloud computing has been mentioned as a possibility, but it hasn’t been promoted. Instead, the PS4’s cloud functionality revolves around much of what is already in place with the PS3; things like Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited. They are, however, putting their purchase of streaming service, Gaikai, to good use. Users will be able to browse games and try them out almost instantaneously, as well as being able to try every game on the PSN for free. Whether this requires a subscription to PlayStation Plus, as online multiplayer does, has not yet been revealed.
Both systems are promising to reduce the time that it takes for a user to actually start playing a game, which will be a popular move for some, while others, like myself, simply scratch their heads, seeing no issue with waiting for a few minutes before playing.
Speaking of the games, as ever, they will be the true litmus test of these consoles and should be the determining factor behind a purchase decision. We recently posted an article comparing the launch games for each, but that is only a small selection of what we know is coming. Sony, it seems, is courting the indies far more effectively than Microsoft but that may not remain the case with the latter’s alteration of its policy regarding self-publishing, so let’s stick to the so-called AAA titles. Right now, there is a pretty similar line-up for both consoles with all the usual suspects being catered for. We have first-person shooters in Killzone: Shadow Fall and Halo 5 (which has only been teased), racers in DriveClub and Foza Motorsport 5 and action games like The Order:1886, inFamous: Second Son and Ryse: Son of Rome.
Both manufacturers are expanding beyond these boundaries though, with Microsoft funding Remedy Entertainment’s new experiment, Quantum Break, and Sony harking back to years past with Mark Cerny’s Knack. What we know of now is only a tiny part of what is to come in the future. We already know that Quantic Dream and Level-5 plan to continue with Sony to deliver the kind of content that they are renowned for, while Microsoft has already garnered the assistance of Capcom and Insomniac for Dead Rising 3 and Sunset Overdrive, respectively.
Both consoles have unique features and benefits to separate them from each other, regardless of what might some say about the likenesses between them, and this certainly leaves the purchaser with a choice. Do they want the multitasking box from Microsoft, or the specs-oriented offering from Sony? In this article we’ve striven to provide you insight into the differences between the two consoles and we hope that, with such a guide, you can come to an informed decision about the console for you and to allow you to see the benefits of the other.
What we do not want to see in the comments section is a plethora of vitriolic, trolling statements written for no greater purpose than to attempt to put down the console not of your choosing and those that would elect to support it. The comments section will be heavily moderated for this post. Please, discuss the consoles in a civil manner. You can debate and we will not stop a heated debate, but when things become personal we will moderate the comment. Thank you for cooperating.
PERSONAL ADDENDUM: In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that it is not my intention to purchase either console within a year of release, and there is little that could alter that. Further to this, I will admit that, right now, I am leaning more to the PS4 as I believe, based on this generation past, that Sony will provide more of the exclusive software that I would prefer to play going forward.