Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are constantly evolving; each is adding new features and exclusive titles in a bid to take over your living room. The Xbox One offers a wealth of entertainment options, plays a bunch of Xbox 360 games and will soon support 4K video, while the PS4's excellent sharing capabilities make it easy for you 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 at $299 and $349, respectively, it has 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, 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 current iterations 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, Microsoft seems to be tackling those criticisms with the upcoming Xbox One S, a white, vastly slimmed-down redesign of Microsoft's console that ditches the external brick. It also features 4K Blu-ray/streaming video support as well as up to 2TB of storage, both of which you won't find in the current PS4. Sony is working on its own 4K-capable PS4, code-named "PlayStation Neo," though there's no word on when to expect it.
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.
Xbox owners do have lots of choice, however. The $150 Elite Wireless Controller features sturdy grips and swappable components, and you can order your own custom-colored standard pad for $79 over at the Xbox Design Lab.
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. 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. If getting the best possible crispness for most games is a priority, PS4 comes out on top.
The performance conversation will be much more complicated next year, when Microsoft releases Project Scorpio: a mega-powerful Xbox One built to handle 4K and virtual-reality gaming. Sony is also expected to launch its long-rumored "Neo" console within the year, though it's unclear just how big of a leap the system will be from the current PS4.
Winner: PS4. Games look stunning on both systems, but PS4 offers better resolution for many titles.
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 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.
When the Xbox One S launches this summer, Microsoft's console will become the only one of the two to offer 4K video streaming and support for 4K Blu-rays. However, Sony's upcoming PlayStation Neo is expected to offer similar functionality.
PS4 is the only one of the two to offer the biggest music service out there: Spotify. The Xbox One will soon gain the ability to play music in the background of your games, but you'll likely be limited to apps such as Pandora and Groove Music.
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.
Both major consoles have fluctuated in price over the years, but the $299 Xbox One currently has an edge over the $349 PlayStation 4. The Xbox One and PS4 are both available in a variety of bundles and collector's packages, including a $399 Uncharted 4 PS4 and a $299 "Name Your Game" Xbox One bundle that offers your choice of Forza 6, Gears of War, Rise of the Tomb Raider or Rare Replay.
While both systems start with 500GB of storage, the upcoming Xbox One S will be the only one of the two to offer a 2TB option for $399. The PS4 currently maxes out at 1TB, and the only current U.S. model that offers that size is a hard-to-find Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 bundle.
Winner: Xbox One. With a $299 starting price and up to 2TB of storage, the Xbox One currently gives you more for your money.
The PlayStation 4 is our overall top pick, but only by a hair. While the Xbox One's rich entertainment features and backward compatibility make it a great buy, the PS4's excellent lineup of exclusives, sleeker design and overall user-friendliness give it the edge.
The $299 Xbox One is a bit more attainable than the $349 PS4, 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 PS4 is our current favorite.