Update: Watch the new Xbox One vs PS4 comparison video we put together
Our incredibly in-depth Xbox One vs PS4 comparison is more meaningful than ever after heading into the holidays. It considers Microsoft's backward compatibility news and previous price drops, and how it all contrasts with Sony's powerful specs, exclusive games and graphics power.
Now almost two years since the consoles launched, Sony's sales numbers prove that PS4 is more popular with early adopters of the next-generation of video games. Fact.
PlayStation 4 is outselling Xbox One 2-to-1 right now, surpassing 22.3 million systems sold worldwide, while Microsoft's sales numbers are at 12.8 million. That'll continue if this week's US price drop in reflected in the UK and Australia.
Who cares? Those are overall sales statistics - all meaningless, as multiple Xbox One price drops and surge in popularity are starting to make the debate a little more even. Being able to play Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One starting next month is going to guarantee that trend will continue.
PS4 has a more distinctive angular shape with an overall stylish design. This half-matte half-gloss console measures a slimmer 10.8 in x 12 in x 2 in at its widest regions.
These dimensions make Sony's machine more media cabinet-friendly, at least next to Xbox One. The new Xbox also weighs a heftier 3.56 kg vs PS4's 2.75 kg.
PS4 has the advantage of hiding ports too, though as we illustrated in our video comparison, this can actually make it harder to plug cables into the back of the system.
In this way, Xbox One represents functionality over form. A lot of the internal specs are comparable, but Microsoft and Sony really diverged when it came to the designs of Xbox One and PS4.
That may matter since you're buying into an expensive console that's going to sit front and center in your living room entertainment system for the next ten years.
Xbox One vs PS4 front and rear ports
More clear cut is the wireless connectivity situation. PS4 makes room for gigabit ethernet and 802.11 WiFi bands b/g/n, while Xbox One includes all of that plus the older 802.11a band.
Xbox One also supports both the 2.4GHz and newer 5GHz channels that are compatible with dual band routers. PS4 limits connections to 2.4GHz, which is likely to have more interference.
Both systems launched with 500GB hard drives and now have 1TB variants, but only PS4 allows user-replaceable internal drives. An Xbox One teardown found a standard-looking drive inside, but replacing it voids the warranty. Be careful.
Instead, the Xbox One June update finally allowed gamers to add external storage to the monster-sized system. There are strings attached. The drive needs to be 256GB or larger and USB 3.0 compatible.
External storage isn't an option that Sony supports in its "go big or go home" internal approach.
PS4 and Xbox One are void of remarkable characteristics on the front. There's a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive to the left and their respective, muted-color logos to the right. PS4 has a pair of USB ports tucked between its sandwich-like halves next to where the disc drive is located.
It's party in the back Xbox One connections. That's where it has two USB ports, HDMI in, HDMI out, S/PDIF for digital audio, a proprietary Xbox One Kinect port, an IR blaster connection and an Ethernet port. To the far right is a K-lock in case you want to lug this system around to LAN parties.
Sony went with a minimalist approach when it came to PS4's rear ports. You'll only find an HDMI out, S/PDIF, Ethernet and PS4 camera port (marked "AUX") around back.
Xbox One is more feature-packed in this area thanks to its HDMI in and IR blaster connections used for its TV cable or satellite box functionality. But are you really going to use this feature? PS4 lacks this passthrough technology, opting to stick with gaming as its top priority.
Is PS4 or Xbox more powerful?
PS4 and Xbox One multiply the power of Xbox 360 and PS3. More importantly, they were built with smarter internal designs, drawing from mistakes of last-generation consoles.
Chip manufacturer AMD benefitted the most from these upgrades. Xbox One has a custom 1.75GHz AMD 8-core CPU, a last-minute upgrade over its original 1.6GHz processor.
The PS4 CPU remained clocked at 1.6GHz and contains a similar custom AMD 8-core CPU with x86 based architecture.
This represents a roughly 10% increase in processing power for Xbox One, but the opposite is true when it comes to the all-important graphics processor.
PS4 boasts a 1.84 teraflop GPU that's based on AMD's Radeon technology. The Xbox One graphics chip, also with an AMD Radeon GPU, has a pipeline for 1.31 teraflops.
Microsoft claims that as of last June's Xbox One update, Kinect-free games can reclaim 10% of the GPU that was reserved for system level processing like Kinect-related skeletal tracking data. But developers still have to take advantage of this cache in new games or patch titles.
Right now, the PS4 specs make room for faster graphics rendering than Xbox One, especially when combined with Sony's choice in superior system memory.
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Best PS4 vs Xbox One specs for RAM
Even more controversial is the memory under the consoles' matte black hoods. It's not the amount of RAM at issue - both are future-proofed with 8GB of RAM - it's the type of RAM used.
PS4 has a distinct advantage with faster 8GB GDDR5 memory, while Xbox One went with the slower bandwidth of the 8GB DDR3 variety. But, wait, there's more to it.
Neither system allocates all of that RAM to game developers - some is reserved to run their operating systems.
PS4 reserves up to 3.5GB for its operating system, leaving developers with 4.5GB, according to documentation. They can sometimes access an extra 1GB of "flexible" memory when it's available, but that's not guaranteed.
Xbox One's "guaranteed memory" amounts to a slightly higher 5GB for developers, as Microsoft's multi-layered operating system takes up a steady 3GB. It eeks out a 0.5GB win with more developer-accessible memory than PS4, unless you factor in Sony's 1GB of "flexible" memory at times. Then it's 0.5GB less.
The PS4 and Xbox One specs have similar AMD architecture at their core, but contrast like apples and oranges when it comes to memory. Only developers can determine how this battle is won.
DirectX12 could make that a reality on Xbox One by making games like Final Fantasy look more reality. Microsoft promises a preview version of its Direct3D 12 graphics toolset by the end of the year. It could make up for the slower DDR3 RAM.
Third, the differences are more noticeable in the Xbox One and PS4 graphics comparisons that include Xbox 360 and PS3. Both Microsoft and Sony leave their last-generation graphics chip architecture and RAM limitations behind, and it shows.
Xbox One vs PS4 price difference
It's expensive to be an early adopter, and the initial PS4 and Xbox One prices prove just that in each of the countries the systems have launched.
One year ago, the PS4 price was the more tempting deal: $399 for the console and DualShock 4 controller. Xbox One was expensive at $499 for the system, Xbox One controller and Kinect.
After two official Xbox One price drops, the cost comparison is actually in Microsoft's favor in the US. The new list price is $349 with a game, but without Kinect included. It's rumored to go even lower soon, maybe at E3 2015.
Right now, that's $50 cheaper than the PS4 that doesn't come with a game. Pre-owned Xbox One and PS4 consoles are even better choices, and in most regions are now becoming plentiful.
The early PS4 vs Xbox One price difference gave Sony an lead at face value, and gamers didn't seem to mind that the PS4 camera was a separate purchase. Also, for almost a year, it was the only console of the two being sold in countries like India, Japan and Turkey.
Price and availability made for Xbox One's assured shortfall in the beginning. Now, the price point is moot. Can it catch up?
What's in the box?
There was more value in the original Xbox One Kinect bundle, accounting for some of the initial price difference, so it's important to dive deeper into what's included and, of course, what's not included in the box.
At launch, Xbox Ones came with the console, a controller. and the Kinect camera. These systems also had "Day One 2013" emblazoned on the cardboard box and at the center of the controller.
That's a nice perk for Xbox loyalists, though not worth the premium they paid. Subsequent Xbox One bundles have included Titanfall or Sunset Overdrive for the same price, while newer, cheaper systems make Kinect optional.
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All Xbox One boxes contains an HDMI cable, wired mono headset and stingy 14-day free trial for Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold online service. There's no USB charging cable, as the Xbox One controller uses batteries out-of-the-box.
Inside the PS4 box is the console and one DualShock 4 controller. Wires include an HDMI cable (Sony learned its lesson after backlash for not including one with the PS3) and a micro-USB cable for the controller.
Don't throw out the box right away. Tucked inside is a 30-day subscription to PlayStation Plus and a wired mono earbud, contrasting with the just-a-cheap Xbox One headset.
The price difference between the PS4 and Xbox One was a sticking point for gamers over the first several months. Microsoft reshaped the argument at E3 2014 with price-matched Kinect-free Xbox One and may give the console another price drop this year. The question is, will gamers bite in the latter half of 2015?
Controller and cameras
The most important aspects of the PS4 vs Xbox One controller comparison include comfort, size and battery life, but a lot of this is going to come down to personal preference.
The good news is that both conform to your hands better vs the less ergonomic Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.
The Xbox One vs Xbox 360 gamepad comparison illustrates some of the 40 design innovations like a tweaked D-Pad and extra rumble effect via "Impulse Triggers" in the shoulder buttons.
Microsoft is taking its controller changes even further with the upcoming Xbox Elite Wireless Controller. This pro-level gamepad adds four back pedal, two settings for the right and left shoulder triggers, swappable analog sticks and new D-pad choices. It is expensive at $150.
Our PS4 vs PS3 gamepad comparison shows even bigger improvements thanks to the fact that the DualShock 4 is larger this time around. Its handles are easier to grip in long gameplay sessions and its dual analog sticks have a recessed divot. Precision movement is now easier.
The PS4 controller's front touchpad and mono speaker are a unique way to interact with games, and developers are starting to find ways to adopt this technology into their controls schemes.
Which controller is better? There's a lot of satisfaction with the PS4 gamepad, but that may have more to do with people's surprise at how much more comfortable the DualShock 4 is compared to the DualShock 3. That wow factor may wear away soon.
The Xbox One vs PS4 controller comparison ends up being a matter of opinion. Some gamers are accustomed to Sony's parallel dual analog sticks, while plenty of others opt for offset analog sticks that have been part of the Xbox universe since the beginning.
Xbox One Kinect vs PS4 Camera
A robust games list for Xbox One Kinect and PS4 Camera has been slow to materialize, even though Microsoft and Sony insisted on sticking with controller-free camera inputs.
The good news is that the new Kinect technology is promising, tracking up to six skeletons at once and processing 2GB of data per second. It can pick up heart rates, facial expressions and 25 joints, thumbs included.
The camera's 60% wider field of vision compared to the Xbox 360 Kinect remedies the annoying "stand 6 feet away" error messages we experienced last time around.
Xbox One Kinect is certainly powerful, it just needs more games. Right now, there are few reasons to keep the 1080p camera plugged in.
There's a free Kinect Sports Rivals demo that's fun, and the full version came out last year. It also supports two Xbox-exclusive workout games, Just Dance 2014 and a pair of Harmonix titles: Fantasia: Music Evolved and Dance Central Spotlight. Fighter Within, though, is far from playable.
PS4 doesn't have as much to offer at this point either, but it's hard to find in stock. Formerly called the PlayStation Eye, it features two 1280x800px cameras in a body that's slimmer than the Kinect.
Unfortunately, the PS4 Camera games list is also slimmer. The included robot mini-game The Playroom has been updated since the console launch, but little else besides Just Dance 2014 requires the device.
In the future, Project Morpheus will utilize the PS4 Camera for virtual reality, but the a long-off prospect of VR games doesn't really explain why the camera is often sold out.
The PS4 and Xbox One games list is now over 100 each, but only a few of the releases in the last year stand as exclusives that make deciding between the two matter.
Titanfall stands above all others on Xbox One if you're into playing Call of Duty-style first-person shooters in which you double jump with a jetpack, wall-run and hop into a giant mech. Sunset Overdrive feature just as crazy-frantic gameplay, while Halo: The Master Chief Collection lets us relive old classic.
Xbox One launch titles Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome provided over-the-top action early on, and Forza Motorsport 5 was the only first-party racing game at launch of either console. It's been joined by the more arcade-like exclusive Forza Horizon 2.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfighter and CoD: Ghosts, while not exclusives to Xbox One, has downloadable content (DLC) that is a timed-exclusive (by a month) held over PS4 gamers' heads. That's all going to change, though, as PS4 becomes the timed-exclusive home of this year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
Xbox One games in development include the Halo 5: Guardians, the next Gears of War game, Quantum Break, Fable Legends and LittleBigPlanet-like Project Spark. They're sure to join the growing best Xbox One Games list.
PS4 exclusive Infamous: Second Son couldn't match the groundswell of attention generated by the Titanfall beta last year, but it's superpower-filled gameplay is nonetheless entertaining. Even newer exclusives to PS4 include LittleBigPlanet 3, 1886: The Order and DriveClub are making an impact by adding more variety to the console.
Killzone: Shadow and Knack are the two Sony-made games that released on discs at launch, but the console is benefiting most from remakes like The Last of Us and digitally distributed indie games.
Resogun and Mercenary Kings were really driving up the points for PlayStation Plus in our book. They were free for a month with a subscription to the Sony's paid service.
Our most-wanted PS4 games list doesn't end there because Sony got out in front of supporting independent game developers.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch from Young Horses and Transistor from Supergiant Games came to Sony's console in April and May. Outlast from Red Barrels Studio made the PC-to-PS4 transition in February.
At first, Microsoft maintained that Xbox One games would need to be fronted by a publisher. That changed when the company announced that it would allow self-published games and, in the future, every console would act as a developer kit.
We're still waiting on this "free Xbox One dev kit," a potential game-changer when PS4 developer kits cost thousands of dollars. Until that shift happens, Sony has the attention of the indie developer crowd thanks to its early lead.
Apps and backward compatibility
Xbox One vs PS4 apps
The Xbox 360 and PS3 proved to be more than just gaming machines and Xbox One and PS4 are no different. Of course, most are shared across both platforms.
All next-gen gamers have access to Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Vudu and Redbox Instant and baseball subscription service MLB.TV.
Xbox One corners the app-filled market with ESPN, Fox Now, FX Now, NFL, Ted, The CW, Twitch, Univision Deportes, Verizon FiOS TV and YouTube. It also has Microsoft's own soon-to-be-defunct Internet Explorer, OneDrive, Skype and Xbox Music and Xbox Video services.
That contrasts with PS4. Sony's console features Crunchyroll, Epix, NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter Live, YuppTV, the WWE Network and the free music video playing app VidZone.
Initially, Xbox One had first access to HBO Go before PS4, but now both consoles have the premium channel as an app. At least, if your cable provider isn't Comcast. Neither system has HBO Now, which remains exclusive to Apple TV.
More niche apps are expected as time goes on, so this is hardly the final list of apps for Xbox One and PS4. Sony backers who are also HBO subscriptions can expect equal next-generation treatment for the the premium on-demand network "eventually," which just cements Xbox One's app-filled advantage.
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Are PS4 and Xbox One backward compatible?
This is where the Xbox One vs PS4 comparison has gotten interesting at E3 2015. After teasing Xbox 360 emulation, Microsoft announced Xbox One backward compatibility for Xbox 360 games.
"We won't charge you to play the games you already own," jabbed Microsoft at Sony during its E3 press conference. Over 100 disc and downloadable Xbox 360 titles will work on Xbox One this year, and the features of the newer console - like streaming and taking screenshots - crosses over to older games.
Microsoft plans to launch Xbox One backward compatibility this holiday with an early preview for Xbox Preview members starting today. It'll expand its free backward compatibility program to "hundreds" of games in 2016 and beyond. It won't be long until you can box up that old Xbox 360.
Sony's PlayStation Now service, meanwhile, launch last year and graduated from open beta to full release in March, but it costs money to rent games. That's a bummer if you already paid for The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, Dead Space 3 and Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes on the PS4.
Sony has expanded its Gaikai-based video game streaming service to PS Vita and PlayStation TV, with plans to add even Bravia TVs, and then include PlayStation and PS2 to the so far PS3-only lineup.
None of these options are foolproof yet. That means you'll need to keep your Xbox 360 and PS3 in order to replay Halo 4 and Uncharted 3. You can't sell the old systems, and that means people won't be able to readily buy them - they're more likely to purchase them directly from Microsoft and Sony.
Other PS4 and Xbox One differences
The look of the console, the feel of the controller and the appeal of the games list are the main differences from which consumers will decide on PS4 and Xbox One.
However, there are other factors at play one should consider before buying into a new system. It's a good idea to converse with friends, keeping mind of their potential bias.
Since there's no such thing as cross-platform multiplayer, you may be split up when playing Call of Duty on PS4 when all of your friends own it for Xbox One.
Both Microsoft and Sony are charging for multiplayer this console generation, whereas PS3 gamers got to log into matches Scott-Free.
Sony sadly moved closer to Microsoft in this way, while Microsoft moved closer to Sony by tearing down the Xbox Live app paywall. You no longer have to subscribe to stream Netflix and other apps.
Microsoft also supports MP3 and DLNA playback with the Xbox One, whereas Sony neglected to add such compatibility. It's promised to rectify that in a future firmware update, but hasn't supplied us with an update in several months.
The PS4 vs Xbox One comparison has evolved in the last 18 months, mostly because Microsoft's plans have shifted, from Xbox One price drops to more lenient paywall policies to graphics specs upgrades.
These two next-generation consoles are now on a more even video game playing field, which means Sony and Microsoft are going to start throwing Uncharted 4 to Halo 5 Guardians at you, and that's a win for all gamers.
For me it comes down to the variety of games, and PS4 has that sewn up right now. You can play all the biggest games on both consoles, but if your tastes are eclectic, Sony's indie and in-house lineup is irresistible.
PS4 for me. The majority of multi-platform games run better on it, the PS Plus subscription service serves up a stream of good, cheap games – even better if you also have Vita and PS3 – and it looks nicer in the living room. Is that a valid reason? Damn straight it is.
I have both because I like having options and access to everything (I even own a Wii U). For me it's about the games, but if I had to choose I do like the Xbox One's interface more because I can bark commands at it.
Hugh Langley - UK News Editor, TechRadar
It has to be the PS4 right now. Between PlayStation Plus, PS Now, Vita cross-play, and the promise of Morpheus, the whole PlayStation ecosystem feels like it's growing into something truly terrific. That said, don't get comfortable, Sony - the Xbox One is definitely beginning to close the gap.