The Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have evolved significantly since their late 2013 launch. Both systems now have more user-friendly interfaces, an ever-growing list of useful apps and, most important, tons of great games.
Each system has some distinct advantages: The $350 Xbox One's rich entertainment features make it an excellent all-in-one living-room box, while the $400 PS4's excellent sharing and streaming capabilities make it easy to show friends your favorite gameplay clips — and even virtually hand them the controller for a little while. No matter your choice, however, third-party hits such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition take full advantage of both powerful platforms to herald what finally feels like gaming's next generation.
While both the Xbox One and the PS4 have plenty to offer, there can be only one winner in this console war. We've put the two consoles up against each other in a seven-round brawl to determine which system is strongest.
The PS4 and the Xbox One each amassed a healthy library of great games in just about every genre. Many of this generation's best titles are third-party games, meaning you'll get to enjoy hits like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Alien: Isolation regardless of which platform you purchase. Sports fans can play the latest Madden NFL, NBA 2K and NHL games on either system, though Sony's MLB: The Show series is exclusive to PlayStation.
Xbox One has lots of strong exclusives, including shooters Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Titanfall; two Forza racing games; refined fighting game Killer Instinct and irreverent open-world adventure Sunset Overdrive. If you're a fan of major Xbox properties such as Gears of War and Crackdown, you'll be playing their new-gen iterations only on Xbox One, and Square Enix's upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider is currently slated only for Microsoft's system.
PS4's notable exclusives include sprawling action game Infamous: Second Son, cinematic shooter The Order: 1886, punishing action-RPG Bloodborne and a remastered version of 2013's critically acclaimed PS3 adventure The Last of Us. Interactive spookfest Until Dawn is on the way for PS4, as is Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, the long-awaited next installment of Sony's flagship action-adventure franchise.
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Both Sony and Microsoft have displayed a strong commitment to indie games, whether you opt to play Transistor and Axiom Verge on PS4, or Ori and the Blind Forest and #IDARB on Xbox One. However, PS4 gets a bit more love on the indie side, and games like Shovel Knight can be played across your PS4, PS3 and PS Vita after being bought once.
Neither system is backward-compatible with its previous generation, though you can stream select PS3 games to PS4 using Sony's PlayStation Now service.
Overall, you'll have no trouble finding great games on either console; it just depends on whether you'd rather rally behind Halo's Master Chief or Uncharted's Nathan Drake.
Winner: PS4. Both consoles have excellent third-party hits, but the PS4's rich indie support, PlayStation Now classics and exclusives such as Bloodborne and The Last of Us give it the edge.
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Performance and Graphics
From the lush, drivable vistas of Xbox One's Forza Horizon 2 to the colorfully explosive action of PS4's Infamous: Second Son, both of these new systems make console gaming look beautiful.
If you're concerned about nuts and bolts, both of these graphically muscular machines have an 8-core x86-64 AMD Jaguar processor with 8GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon GPU and a 500GB hard drive. Both consoles support expandable storage — the PS4 via its swappable SSD drive, and the Xbox One via just about any external USB 3.0 storage drive.
While games generally look and play great on both systems, PS4 has the edge in terms of resolution. For example, games such as Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Shadow of Mordor all run at full 1080p at 30 frames per second on PS4, while Xbox One gamers have to settle for 900p for those titles.
The Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare jumps between 1360 x 1080p and full 1080p based on how hectic the on-screen action is. According to Digital Foundry, this allows the game to stay at a smooth 60 fps more often than the always-1080p PS4 version.
The difference between 1080p and 900p will matter to some gamers, and won't to others. However, if getting the best possible crispness for most games is a priority, PS4 comes out on top.
Winner: PS4. Games look stunning on both systems, but PS4 offers better resolution for many titles.
You shouldn't judge a game console solely on how sexy of a plastic rectangle it is, but the PS4 is the clear winner in the looks department. The 6.1-pound system's matte-black finish and sleek, angular design are as easy on the eyes as they are on your backpack, and it's the only one of the two systems that can be propped up vertically with a $20 stand.
While still attractive, the Xbox One is, well, more of a big, black box. The system's top panel is half-glossy, half-matte — a pattern that's reversed on the front of the machine to create a subtle checkerboard effect. At 7 pounds and 13 inches wide, the Xbox One is a bit harder to transport and will take up more shelf space than the slimmer, 11-inch-wide PS4. The Xbox One's three USB 3.0 ports are more than the PS4's two, though the PS4's front-facing ports are easier to access.
The Xbox One controller is a lighter and more ergonomic version of the Xbox 360 controller, with flatter, snappier face buttons and glossy bumpers at the top. PS4's cozy DualShock 4 has more special features, with a front-facing touchpad that doubles as an extra button, a built-in speaker and a light bar at the top that changes colors based on your battery level or the game you're playing.
The PS4's DualShock 4 supports microUSB charging and 3.5mm headsets right out of the box, whereas you'll need a $25 charging kit and $25 headset adapter for the same functionality on the original Xbox One controller. However, a refreshed Xbox One pad launching June 16 will have a built-in 3.5mm jack, in addition to better bumpers.
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Once a mandatory part of the Xbox One's initial $500 configuration, Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect camera is now a $150 stand-alone accessory. Kinect lets you navigate your Xbox One with voice commands, play gesture-based games like Dance Central Spotlight and Fantasia: Music Evolved or video chat via Skype.
The more affordable $60 PlayStation Camera doesn't have Kinect's voice-navigation features or larger library of motion-based games, but like Kinect, it lets you log in to your system via facial recognition and can be used as a personal webcam when broadcasting gameplay to Twitch. Neither camera is essential to having a good time on either console — something Microsoft acknowledged when it launched a Kinect-less Xbox One this year.
Winner: PS4. Sony's new console is more attractive, with a controller that offers more functionality out of the box.
Interface and Sharing
Once cumbersome and heavily dependent on Kinect voice commands, Xbox One's tiled, Windows 8-esque interface has enjoyed a significant overhaul over the past year. One of its biggest strengths is its multitasking Snap mode, which lets you do things like view your friends list, watch a Twitch stream or track your progress on the right side of the screen while playing a game or watching TV on the left.
If you don't have a Kinect to perform commands like "Xbox, Snap" or "Xbox, record that," you can use the new Snap menu to Snap in apps or record your last 30 seconds of gameplay with a few button presses.
While the Xbox One interface continues to become more user-friendly, PS4 is still king in terms of capturing gameplay moments and sharing them with friends. A quick tap of the DualShock 4's Share button brings up a menu that lets you record a clip, broadcast your gameplay or take a screenshot, the last of which is something the Xbox One still somehow can't do.
Both consoles can broadcast gameplay to Twitch. (PS4 owners also have the option of UStream.) PS4 players can share their screenshots and videos to Facebook, while Xbox owners can share their clips to Twitter.
Sony's system has an exclusive Share Play feature, which lets you invite an online friend to watch you play for up to 60 minutes and, if you're a PlayStation Plus member, let him or her take over your game to help you get past a tough level. If both users have Plus, you can simulate a local multiplayer session online using just one copy of a game. PS4 also has Remote Play, which lets you stream your PS4 games to a PlayStation Vita or Xperia Z3 device if you have to give up the TV.
Ever since the system's launch, Xbox One gamers have enjoyed the ability to immediately pick their game back up where they last powered-down, and now PS4 owners can do the same. A recent PS4 update added Suspend/Resume mode, which, like on Xbox One, lets you wake your system from sleep mode and get right back to gaming without having to relaunch whatever you were playing.
Winner: PS4. Xbox One has multitasking and more customization, but PS4 is the better system for sharing gameplay moments with friends.
Apps and Entertainment
The Xbox One was designed to be an all-in-one entertainment box for your living room, and while the console's focus has shifted to games over the past year, it still delivers fairly well on that promise. Xbox One's key distinguishing entertainment feature is its ability to transmit your cable box's TV signal, allowing you to quickly switch between playing a game and watching a show, or snap your TV feed to the top right of the screen to do both at once.
If you have Kinect, you can flip through channels via voice commands and see what shows are trending via the OneGuide app. I've personally experienced occasional moments of display lag when watching TV through my Xbox One, but I appreciate being able to switch between games and TV without reaching for my television remote.
Other than that, both PS4 and Xbox One cover most of the essential popular streaming services. Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video are available on both systems, as are more niche apps such as WWE Network, Crunchyroll and NBA GameTime. Xbox One has exclusive access to network apps like HBO Go, Fox Now, CW and Comedy Central, and you can even stream media from any DLNA-enabled device in your home.
Even if you're not using their myriad of channel-specific apps, both the Xbox One and the PS4 have made it easier to cut the cord. PS4 now offers Sony's own PlayStation Vue online TV service (starting at $50 a month), which features lots of major cable channels, such as MTV and Nickelodeon; a slick interface; and a nearly limitless DVR. You also get local affiliate channels, which means you can enjoy prime-time hits, as well as local news and sports. However, the service is currently limited to Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.
Xbox One owners have access to Sling TV, a similar online TV service that offers top networks such as ESPN and AMC for $20 a month, with add-on packages that bring in the likes of EPIX and HBO. Even if you don't have cable or Sling, Xbox One now has the ability to receive basic over-the-air live TV, as long as you have a separate antenna handy.
While Xbox One has a slight lead on the TV front, the PS4 is the only console of the two to offer the most popular music service out there: Spotify. Xbox One does offer apps like Pandora and its own Xbox Music, but Spotify's PlayStation app has the unique ability to keep playing in the background and blend seamlessly with whatever game you're playing.
Winner: Xbox One. PS4 has Spotify and PlayStation Vue, but the Xbox One offers more ways to enjoy TV, with or without a cable subscription.
Xbox Live Gold vs. PlayStation Plus
Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold ($60 yearly, $10 monthly) and Sony's PlayStation Plus ($50 yearly, $10 monthly) online services are still in play for the new generation. Both services are required for you to play any game's online multiplayer, and both come with their fair share of free goodies.
PlayStation Plus members get two free games per PlayStation console a month, with Injustice: Gods Among Us, Strider and Resogun being some of the more notable PS4 freebies given away over the past year. Microsoft has mimicked this program with Games with Gold, which gives Gold subscribers one free Xbox One game and two free Xbox 360 games per month.
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Games with Gold has given away popular titles such as Guacamelee! and Super Time Force, and has even offered indies like Chariot and Volgarr the Viking for free upon their releases. The value of each of these free game programs is largely dependent on the hardware you own; PlayStation Plus covers PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, while Games with Gold applies to Xbox One and Xbox 360. The free games offered in either service will remain in your library for as long as you're subscribed to Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus.
Both services offer frequent discounts on digital games, and both provide cloud storage in different capacities. PlayStation Plus provides 3GB of cloud storage, whereas all Xbox One saves are backed up to the cloud regardless of whether you have Xbox Live Gold.
Winner: PS4. While Xbox Live has superior cloud storage, the more affordable PlayStation Plus gives you a wider range of free games for your dollar.
Last year, many people bought a $400 PlayStation 4 for the sole reason that it was an entire Benjamin cheaper than the $500 Xbox One. Now that Xbox One has dropped all the way to $350, things are not as cut and dry.
In 2014, Microsoft introduced a $350 configuration of the Xbox One that nixed the formerly mandatory Kinect camera and makes for a more apples-to-apples comparison with the core PlayStation 4 config. The $350 Xbox One comes in a few flavors: a Master Chief Collection bundle that ships in black and limited-edition white, as well as a standard black bundle that comes with Assassin's Creed Unity and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
Microsoft also offers a $400 version of the Xbox One, which comes with a 1TB hard drive, a new matte finish, a revamped controller with a built-in 3.5mm headset port, and for a limited time, a copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The added storage is perhaps the biggest upgrade, as you'll get twice as much hard drive space for the same price as a 500GB PS4.
If you do want the Kinect camera, you can still buy the original $500 package.
The $400 PS4 now packs The Last of Us Remastered by default, giving you immediate access to one of the most popular and critically acclaimed games of this generation. If special-edition systems are your thing, you can check out the $450 Batman: Arkham Knight bundle, which will ship in snazzy silver this June.
Both PS4 and Xbox One come with their mandatory peripherals, including a controller, headset and HDMI cord. Sony's console is the only one of the two to pack a controller charging cable, though.
Winner: Xbox One. Xbox One is currently your cheapest gateway to current-gen gaming, and it can come bundled with some pretty solid free games. It also offers twice the storage space for the same price as a PS4.
At E3 2015, Microsoft announced two features coming soon to the Xbox One. First is backwards compatibility with many Xbox 360 games. That's in beta now, and scheduled for a full release later this fall. This feature adds a considerable number of games to the Xbox One's catalog, although it does not support games that required the original Xbox 360 Kinect, or multi-disc games such as Final Fantasy XIII or Lost Odyssey.
The second feature is a new controller, called the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and priced at a staggering $150, scheduled for this October. The controller features four new paddles mounted on the back of the controller, along with adjustable, super-sensitive triggers and a modular design that lets you switch out the D-pad and the analog sticks. Better yet, almost every button can be assigned to a function of your choice, and the resulting profile can then be saved to the cloud or to the controller itself.
In the other camp, Sony aims to release its Morpheus VR headset sometime in 2016. The Morpheus' price has yet to be announced, but VR could be a killer feature for the PS4 because Microsoft has made no mention of bringing VR to the Xbox One. (Remember, the HoloLens is augmented, not virtual, reality, and Microsoft's partnership with Oculus covers only Windows 10 on PCs.) At E3 2015, Sony showcased a number of games specifically tailored to the Morpheus; while many were still in various stages of development, Sony's VR headset looks to have a wealth of content ready for its release next year.
We'll revisit this discussion once all the new features are final and ready for the public, so stay tuned for an updated score.
Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One are both consoles we'd recommend without hesitation, but the PS4 is the more complete package for gamers right now. In addition to offering the ability to play more games at full 1080p, PS4's intuitive Share menu and feature-rich controller make it the more user-friendly console in terms of both software and hardware.
Still, you'll have to consider more than nuts and bolts when choosing between these consoles. Xbox One is the more affordable of the two systems, while PS4's excellent Remote Play function and exclusive Spotify app make it well worth its price. Microsoft's system still offers the most ways to watch TV, but we wouldn't count out Sony's alluring PlayStation Vue service as it rolls out to more cities.
Xbox will continue to be the home of Halo, Gears of War and Forza, just as PlayStation will for Uncharted, God of War and Infamous, so your choice might come down to your favorite exclusives. Your decision also might be as simple as which platform your friends are already playing on, because, let's face it — nobody wants to play Destiny alone.
Both Xbox One and PS4 have a healthy lineup of stellar games, making anyone who buys either of these consoles the real winner. But overall, the PS4 is our top pick.
Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. When he's not writing about games, PCs and iOS, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+