Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are constantly evolving, each adding new features and exclusive titles in a bid to take over your living room. The Xbox One offers a wealth of entertainment options and now plays a bunch of Xbox 360 games, while the PS4's excellent sharing capabilities make it easy to show friends your favorite gameplay clips — and even virtually hand your companions the controller for a little while.
The Xbox One and PS4 have grown to have wide libraries of great games, and with both systems starting at $350, it's never been a better time to embrace gaming's latest generation. 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 and The Witcher 3 to charming indies such as Shovel Knight and Rocket League. Most sports games come to both systems, though Sony's MLB: The Show series is exclusive to PlayStation.
Microsoft's Halo 5: Guardians
Xbox One has a fairly strong emphasis on first-party exclusives, with big titles such as Halo 5: Guardians, Quantum Break and Forza Motorsport 6 headlining its current lineup. PS4's big first-party games include Bloodborne, Until Dawn and Uncharted 4, though Sony has also been pushing third-party titles such as the latest Call of Duty and Destiny games, both of which have PlayStation-exclusive content. Fighting-game fans can play only Street Fighter V and the upcoming King of Fighters XIV on PS4, though Microsoft's Killer Instinct is exclusive to Xbox.
Even though the two systems have similar libraries, Xbox One has one major ace in the hole: backward compatibility. 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 monthly 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.
Sony's wider ecosystem of games is tied together more tightly thanks to Cross Play, which lets you purchase select games once and play them across your PS4, PS3 and Vita platforms. Microsoft is slowly building a similar ecosystem across Xbox One and Windows 10 with games such as Quantum Break and Killer Instinct, which let you save your progress as you jump between Xbox and PC.
Winner: Xbox One. Both consoles have excellent game libraries, but Xbox One's robust first-party offerings and backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games give it an edge.
You shouldn't judge a game console solely on how sexy 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. Weighing 7 pounds and measuring 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.
Both consoles start with 500GB of storage, which will fill up fast considering how many games take up upward of 50GB on your hard drive. Fortunately, both consoles support expandable storage. Xbox One has the advantage in this department, as you can simply plug in any USB 3.0 external hard drive for more space. On PS4, you'll have to open up your console and swap in a new 2.5-inch or SATA drive.
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. For the hardcore crowd, Microsoft offers a $150 Elite Wireless Controller, which features built-in soft grips, swappable thumb sticks and d-pads, and fully remappable buttons.
PS4's cozy DualShock 4 controller has more special features than the standard Xbox One pad, with a front-facing touchpad, motion-control capabilities, 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 micro USB charging right out of the box, whereas you'll need a $25 charging kit for the same functionality on the original Xbox One controller.
The PS4 will be the first console to offer virtual reality, once Sony's PlayStation VR headset launches later this year for a still-unknown price. While Microsoft doesn't seem to be planning its own VR headset, the company's augmented-reality HoloLens headset may eventually beam Xbox One games to your wall.
Winner: PS4. Sony's new console is more attractive, with a controller that offers more functionality out of the box.
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. 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, 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. Metal Gear Solid V and Star Wars Battlefront run at only 720p on Xbox One, while PS4 handles those titles at 1080p and 900p, respectively.
However, smoothness and resolution don't necessarily go hand in hand. For example, 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 can the always-1080p PS4 version.
The difference between 1080p and 900p will matter to some gamers and not 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.
Interface and Streaming
The Xbox One's latest interface, dubbed the New Xbox One Experience, brings a completely revamped, Windows 10-powered look and feel to Microsoft's console. The Xbox One interface sports large icons for easier navigation, shortcuts for getting to your games quickly, and, perhaps most notably, features a new guide that lets you reach your friends, notifications and messages with a single button-tap. 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 or select Xperia devices, and will soon let you play your PS4 titles on 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.
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 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 Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, though Showtime, Epix, Fox Soccer Plus and Machinima are available through Vue nationwide via select packages.
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. Microsoft's console is getting a built-in DVR in 2016 via a software update, which will allow you to record over-the-air TV and watch your shows on Xbox or any Windows 10 device.
While Xbox One leads 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 Groove 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.
Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold ($60 yearly, $10 monthly) and Sony's PlayStation Plus ($50 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. You can generally game online on both consoles without many hiccups, but the PlayStation Network has suffered some pretty infamous outages.
Winner: Draw. PS4's online service offers a wider range of free games and can be had for cheaper, but Xbox One has better cloud storage and online stability.
The Xbox One and PS4 are now more attainable than ever, each starting at $349. Naturally, there is a plethora of special bundles available for either console, all aimed at gamers of different budgets and tastes.
The starting $349 Xbox One includes a 500GB hard drive and a controller and can come bundled with your choice of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition or the LEGO Movie Videogame. Paying $399 will get you a 1TB console, and you can get a $499 config that includes a Kinect camera and a handful of games. If you're especially hardcore, you can opt for the $499 Elite Bundle, which includes 1TB of storage, faster flash storage and Microsoft's modular Elite Wireless Controller (which is otherwise sold separately for $149).
Similarly, the starting $349 PS4 includes 500GB of storage and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. If you want a 1TB PS4, your only current option in the United States is to pick up the special $429 Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 edition of the PS4 that ships with a copy of the game.
Both systems ship with all of the peripherals you need to get started, though the fact that the default PS4 controller is rechargeable rather than battery-powered will save you some cash down the road.
Winner: Draw. With both consoles now starting at $349, the real winner of this round is your wallet.
Microsoft's Xbox One is our overall top pick, but only by a hair. While the PS4's superior hardware and sharing capabilities deliver a more user-friendly experience, the Xbox One's robust first-party game lineup, backward compatibility and rich entertainment options make it the more versatile box.
The two consoles are both available at an attainable $349, but there are plenty of other factors to consider when choosing between the two. The Xbox One still offers more ways to watch TV, but with its growing PlayStation Vue service and exclusive Spotify app, the PS4 has plenty of entertainment muscle.
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.