Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are constantly evolving — both consoles have gotten slimmer designs, new features and, naturally, lots of big games since they first launched. The Xbox One has tons of entertainment apps and can now play a bunch of Xbox 360 games, while the PS4 has continued to double-down on its user-friendly interface and neat sharing features. There are even spruced-up versions of both systems that offer things like HDR video playback and 4K gaming.
More importantly, the Xbox One and PS4 both have tons of great games, and are both available for just $299. But which console should you choose? We've put the Xbox One and PS4 up against each other in a seven-round brawl to determine which system is strongest.
Both PS4 and Xbox One play many of this generation's best titles, from third-party blockbusters such as Fallout 4, The Division and The Witcher 3, to beloved indies such as Shovel Knight and Rocket League. So who has the better first-party lineup? That really depends on your tastes.
Microsoft's Halo 5: Guardians
Microsoft's flagship titles include Halo 5, Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive and the Forza and Gears of War series, while the PS4's catalog is headlined by the likes of Uncharted 4, Bloodborne, Until Dawn and God of War. Most sports games come to both systems, though Sony's MLB: The Show series is exclusive to PlayStation. PS4 has a slightly healthier fighting game lineup (Street Fighter V, King of Fighters XIV), though Microsoft's platform is the exclusive home to Killer Instinct.
It's worth keeping in mind that you won't necessarily need an Xbox One to play Microsoft's biggest upcoming first-party games. As part of its new Play Anywhere initiative, you'll be able to buy games such as Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 once and play them on Xbox One and on Windows 10. While this is a great value, those who have a decent gaming PC arguably have no reason to buy an Xbox One.
If you have a massive library of Xbox 360 games, however, the Xbox One might be a better buy for you. More than 100 Xbox 360 games are currently playable on Microsoft's new console, including Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and the entire Gears of War series, and Microsoft has been adding support for new 360 titles on a near-weekly basis.
You can play older games on PS4, but not without paying up. A small selection of digital PS2 classics are available on Sony's new console for about $15 a pop, each scaled up to 1080p with earnable trophies and support for features such as Share Play and Remote Play.
The PS4 plays PS3 games via PlayStation Now, which allows you to stream a small library of last-gen titles (including hits from the Batman: Arkham, Assassin's Creed and Uncharted series) from the cloud for $20 a month, or on an a la carte basis. In contrast, Xbox One is the exclusive home of EA Access, which lets you play an ever-growing library of EA games for $30 a year or $5 a month.
Winner: Draw. The Xbox One plays two generations' worth of Xbox games, but the PS4 has more hit games that you can only play on a console.
When you're looking at the launch versions of both systems, the PS4 is the clear winner in the looks department. The console's slimmer, lighter design is more travel-friendly and will slide more easily into your entertainment center, whereas the Xbox One is chunkier and relies on an annoying external power brick.
However, both systems look a bit different now. The new PS4 Slim is somehow thinner and a bit curvier, though it's ditched its optical audio port for high-end gaming headsets. Sony's upcoming 4K-gaming-ready PS4 Pro, on the other hand, has a chunkier, hamburger-like design.
Photo: Sam Rutherford / Tom's Guide
The new Xbox One S seems to tackle every criticism of the older model, with a white, vastly slimmed-down design that ditches the external brick. It also features 4K Blu-ray/streaming video support as well as up to 2TB of storage.
Both consoles start with 500GB of storage, but are easy to expand. Xbox One owners can plug just about any USB 3.0 external hard drive into their Xbox One, while PS4 gamers will have to open up their console to swap in a new 2.5-inch or SATA drive.
As with games, each system's controller is a matter of preference. The Xbox One controller feels a bit more substantial, while the skinny, ergonomic DualShock 4 will feel familiar to any longtime PlayStation gamer. The PS4 controller is the only one that supports micro USB charging right out of the box — Xbox One owners will need to rely on AA batteries or buy a $25 charging kit.
PS4 will be the first console to offer virtual reality when PlayStation VR launches this October for $399. There's currently no equivalent for Xbox One, though Microsoft's upcoming Project Scorpio console is designed to be powerful enough for VR experiences.
Winner: PS4. Sony's console is more attractive, packs a more feature-rich controller and currently is the only of the two to support virtual reality.
Performance and Graphics
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.
While games generally look and play great on both systems, PS4 has the edge in terms of resolution. For example, according to IGN's database, games such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Shadow of Mordor all run at full 1080p on PS4, while Xbox One gamers have to settle for 900p on those titles. If getting the best possible crispness for most games is a priority, PS4 comes out on top.
However, the performance conversation is quickly getting more complicated. The $399 PS4 Pro (launching on Nov. 10) will offer a beefed-up GPU that allows for 4K gaming. Microsoft will answer next year with Project Scorpio, a 4K-ready console that's expected to be even more powerful than the Pro (and probably more expensive).
Folks with HDR-ready TVs should also consider High Dynamic Range support, which allows for richer colors and better brightness. The Xbox One S supports HDR gaming, but only for select first-party games such as Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4. The PS4 Pro will support a range of HDR-ready games when it launches in November, and you can make any PS4 HDR-ready by downloading the latest 4.0 software update.
Winner: PS4. Games look stunning on both systems, but PS4 offers better resolution for many titles, and will soon offer a 4K-gaming-ready iteration.
The Xbox One's Windows 10-powered interface is fairly intuitive, with large app icons, shortcuts for getting to your games quickly, and a guide that offers a quick button tap to let you see your friends and notifications. You can snap select apps to the right side of the screen while you game — something useful for when you want to watch football while playing some Halo.
The PS4 interface is similarly slick and 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. And the PS4-exclusive Share Play feature lets you give control of your game to an online friend for up to 60 minutes, so long as that person has Plus.
Both consoles can broadcast gameplay directly to Twitch, though only PS4 can stream to YouTube. PS4 players can share their screenshots and videos to Facebook and Twitter, whereas Xbox owners are limited to the latter network.
Both systems also permit off-TV play, for those times the family is hogging the living room. Sony's Remote Play feature lets you stream PS4 games to a PlayStation Vita handheld, select Xperia devices, or your PC and Mac. Xbox One players, on the other hand, can stream their games to their Windows 10 laptops or tablets.
Winner: PS4. Sony's system continues to have more-intuitive options for broadcasting gameplay and sharing with friends.
For sheer options, Xbox One is the superior entertainment machine. One of the system's key distinguishing features is its ability to transmit your cable box's TV signal, allowing you to quickly switch between playing a game and watching a show. It can also snap your TV feed to the top right of the screen so you can do both at once.
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 Game Time. Xbox One adds 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 the myriad 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 $40 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. The service is currently limited to select cities, however.
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 and adapter handy.
The upgraded Xbox One S and PS4 Pro can both stream 4K content, but the Xbox One S is the only current console that plays 4K Blu-rays.
PS4 is the only one of the two to offer the biggest music service out there: Spotify. The Xbox One supports background music playback, but you'll have to rely on apps such as Pandora and Groove Music.
Winner: Xbox One. PS4 has Spotify and PlayStation Vue, but the Xbox One offers a 4K Blu-ray option and more ways to enjoy TV, with or without a cable subscription.
Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold ($60 yearly, $10 monthly) and Sony's PlayStation Plus ($60 yearly, $10 monthly) online services are both required for you to play any game's online multiplayer mode, and both come with their fair share of extra goodies.
PlayStation Plus members get two free games per PlayStation console per month, while Microsoft's Games with Gold provides the same service for Xbox gamers. Both programs have given away everything from new indie games to older blockbusters from franchises like Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear Solid.
The value of each of these free-game programs largely depends on the hardware you own; PlayStation Plus covers PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, while Games with Gold applies to Xbox One and Xbox 360. Xbox One has a slight edge here, as all Xbox 360 Games with Gold games are backward-compatible. The free games offered by 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 10GB of cloud storage, whereas all your Xbox One saves are backed up to the cloud regardless of whether you have Xbox Live Gold.
Even more important than free games and cloud storage is online stability, an area in which Xbox Live's reputation is better. The PlayStation Network has suffered some prettyinfamous outages, including a few recent ones that occurred after Sony hiked the annual price up to $60.
Winner: Xbox Live. Xbox Live is more stable, has better cloud storage, and gives Xbox One players more to play every month.
Both the Xbox One S and the PS4 Slim start at $299, and both come in a variety of bundles that let you get hits such as Halo 5 and Uncharted 4 right out of the box. However, while Sony seems to be phasing out the launch PS4, Microsoft is still selling the original Xbox One for just $249.
Still, value and price aren't always the same thing. In November, Sony is launching the $399 PS4 Pro, which will be the only console to offer 4K gaming. At the same time, the $299 Xbox One S is the only system that can handle 4K Blu-rays, so it really comes down to what kind of content you care about most.
Winner: Xbox One. The $299 Xbox One S doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player, and the older $249 Xbox One is your cheapest entry point into modern console gaming.
The Xbox One is our overall top pick, but only by a hair. While the Xbox One's rich entertainment features, better network stability and backward compatibility give it a slight edge, there's a lot to like about the PS4's excellent lineup of exclusives, sleeker design and overall user-friendliness.
Xbox will continue to be the home of Halo, Gears of War and Forza, just as PlayStation will host 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 Xbox One is our current favorite.