After nearly six years on shelves, Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 have evolved multiple times with sleeker designs, powerful 4K variants, new features and a steady stream of big new games. The Xbox One has tons of entertainment apps and can play a bunch of Xbox 360 and Xbox games, while the PS4 has continued to stand out by offering some of the finest exclusive games of the generation.
While Microsoft's Project Scarlett and Sony's PS5 are slated to arrive by the end of 2020, the PS4 and Xbox One still have plenty of life left in them. And with Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, you'll be able to score a PS4 or Xbox One for some of their lowest prices ever this holiday season. Here's how the PS4 and Xbox One stack up.
Both PS4 and Xbox One play many of this generation's best titles, from third-party blockbusters such as Red Dead Redemption 2, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2 and Mortal Kombat 11 to beloved indies like Celeste, Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. Battle royale titles like Apex Legends, Fortnite and PUBG are available on both systems, and highly anticipated third-party releases such as Watch Dogs Legion and Cyberpunk 2077 will come to both.
Still, PS4 is winning the exclusives war by a mile. Between big hits such as Uncharted 4, Marvel's Spider-Man, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and God of War, the PS4's exclusive offerings include some of the biggest and highest-rated AAA titles of this generation. The much-hyped Death Stranding has gotten mixed reviews, but PS4 owners still have The Last of Us II to look forward to May 29, 2020.
That's not to say the Xbox One is devoid of great first party games — titles such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, Halo 5, Ori and the Blind Forest and Sunset Overdrive are all major standouts. Xbox fans can also look forward to Ori and the Will of the Wisps as well as a brand-new Battletoads game by 2020.
There's also Halo: Infinite, which will come to both Xbox One and Project Scarlett in 2020. Microsoft also keeps scooping up top developers such as Double Fine and Ninja Theory, which should lead to some compelling exclusives in the coming years.
Most sports games come to both systems, though Sony's MLB: The Show series is exclusive to PlayStation. PS4 has a healthier fighting game lineup (Street Fighter V, Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator 2, King of Fighters XIV), though Microsoft's platform is the exclusive home to Killer Instinct.
Winner: PS4. Both systems play tons of great games, but Sony's system has more hit games that you can only play on a console.
Backwards Compatibility and Services
You don't necessarily need an Xbox One to play some of Microsoft's biggest first-party games. As part of Microsoft's Play Anywhere initiative, you can buy digital versions of games such as Sea of Thieves and Forza Motorsport 7 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 old Xbox games, however, the Xbox One might be a better buy for you. More than 400 Xbox 360 games are currently playable on Microsoft's new console, including Mass Effect, Splinter Cell: Conviction and the entire Gears of War series. The system even plays a handful of games from the original 2001 Xbox, including such classics as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Ninja Gaiden Black and Jade Empire.
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, each scaled up to 1080p with earnable trophies and support for features such as Share Play and Remote Play. While the PS4 lacks direct backwards compatibility with older PlayStation games, Sony has already confirmed that the next-gen PlayStation will support PS4 games when it revealed the first PS5 specs.
The PS4 plays PS3 games via PlayStation Now, which allows you to stream hundreds of last-gen titles (and a few PS4 games) from the cloud for $9.99 a month or $45 for three months in the US, £84.99 for a year in the UK. As of Sept. 2018, you can also download PS2 and PS4 titles from the service directly. PlayStation Now recently gained top PS4 hits such as God of War, Grand Theft Auto V, Uncharted 4 and Infamous Second Son, likely in a bid to better compete with Microsoft's red-hot Game Pass.
In contrast, Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass grants access to over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games that you can download for $10 (£7/AU$10) a month. Game Pass has truly become a game changer since it first launched, providing access to big titles such as Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5 at launch while also delivering AAA and indie hits such as Dishonored 2, Devil May Cry 5 and Hollow Knight.
Xbox One is also the exclusive home of EA Access, which lets you play an ever-growing library of EA games for $29.99 (£19.99/AU$39.99) a year or $4.99 (£3.99/AU$6.99) a month a month.
Xbox One has a much better track record when it comes to supporting cross-platform play, allowing you to play games like Minecraft, Fortnite, Ark: Survival Evolved, Rocket League and Astroneer with friends on other platforms such as Switch and PC. After years of fan demand, Sony finally jumped on the cross-platform train in 2018, with cross-platform betas currently available for Fortnite and Rocket League. Monster-hunting game Dauntless supports PS4-Xbox crossplay, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds will get crossplay between both consoles by the end of 2019.
Winner: Xbox One. Xbox One plays hundreds of Xbox 360 games, offers cross-play with PC and lets you binge on three generations' worth of games for a good price.
The PS4 Slim and Xbox One S are both impressively sleek, offering attractive designs that look great under a TV and can fit into a backpack without a problem. The newest PS4 has a slight edge in terms of sheer smallness, though it lacks an optical input for high-end gaming headsets.
Both consoles start with 500GB of storage that you can easily expand by connecting an external hard drive. PS4 owners also have the option of opening up their consoles to swap in a new 2.5-inch or SATA drive.
Each controller has its perks — the Xbox One pad has textured grips and can be customized via the Xbox Design Lab, while Sony's DualShock 4 is highly ergonomic and has a touchpad and reactive lightbar. 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.
Thanks to the $299 PlayStation VR headset, PS4 is the only of the two consoles to currently support virtual reality. The PSVR's game lineup has grown quite compelling over the years, too, headlined by such major titles as Tetris Effect, Resident Evil 7, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Moss.
There's currently no equivalent for Xbox One, and it doesn't look like Microsoft plans to bring VR to Xbox anytime soon.
Microsoft's console is currently the only of the two to support mouse and keyboard controls for gaming, with select titles such as Fortnite and Warframe supporting PC peripherals such as the Razer Turret.
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, the starting versions of both consoles 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, when it comes to the premium versions of both consoles, Xbox has an edge. The $499 Xbox One X plays many titles in native 4K, and has the most powerful overall specs of any console out there. The $399 PS4 Pro technically plays games in 4K, but the experience is oftentimes upscaled rather than true 4K. For a detailed look at how these consoles stack up, check out our Xbox One X vs. PS4 Pro face-off.
Folks with HDR-ready TVs should also consider High Dynamic Range support, which allows for richer colors and better brightness. The Xbox One X, Xbox One S, PS4 Pro and standard PS4 all support HDR, though the list of HDR-enabled games varies by console.
Winner: PS4. Games look stunning on both systems, but the stock PS4 offers better resolution for many titles.
After years of updates, the Xbox One interface has gone from sluggish and messy to snappy and highly customizable. Microsoft continues to roll out useful new features, such as the ability to gift games to friends, get instant tech support with Xbox Assist and even avoid those pesky notifications with Do Not Disturb mode. And thanks to the new Xbox Skill, you can even control your Xbox One with your voice using Alexa devices such as the Amazon Echo Dot.
Still, the PS4 menu simply feels better to navigate, and Sony's console is still king in terms of capturing gameplay moments and sharing them with friends. A quick tap of the DualShock 4's Share button 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. Xbox One gamers have the option of streaming to Microsoft's Mixer service.
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. The PS4 interface is slightly more user-friendly, and has better options for sharing gameplay with friends.
For sheer options, Xbox One is the superior entertainment machine. The system has the unique ability to transmit your cable box's TV signal, allowing you to quickly switch between playing a game and watching a show. The Xbox One S, Xbox One X and PS4 Pro can all stream 4K content, but only Microsoft's consoles can play 4K Blu-rays. However, the new Xbox One S All-Digital Edition has no disc drive at all, and is limited to 4K streaming.
The Xbox One is also the only console that features Kodi, a highly popular media server app that lets you access any movies, TV shows, images or songs you have stored on any of your devices around the house.
Other than that, both PS4 and Xbox One cover most entertainment essentials, from major apps like Netflix and Hulu to more niche stuff like WWE Network and Crunchyroll. PS4 and Xbox One both offer Spotify, which lets you rock out to tunes in the background of whatever you're playing. Xbox One features a few other notable music services such as SoundCloud, Pandora and Deezer.
Both consoles make it easy to cut cable. PS4 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.
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 has the ability to receive basic over-the-air live TV, as long as you have a separate antenna and adapter handy.
Winner: Xbox One. PS4 has PlayStation Vue, but the Xbox One offers a 4K Blu-ray option, better media apps and Dolby Atmos support.
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. Xbox owners also have the option of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($14 per month), which bundles together Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass for a modest discount.
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 (the program stopped supporting PS3 and Vita in March 2019) 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 100GB 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 pretty infamous outages, including a few recent ones that occurred after Sony hiked the annual price up to $60 (£49.99/AU$70).
Xbox Live has long allowed users to change their gamertags -- free for the first change, and $10 (£10/AU$15) for any change after that. Sony has finally followed suit as of April 2019, with same basic rules and pricing for its PSN name changes (though there are some caveats around potentially losing some online data).
Winner: Xbox Live. Xbox Live is more stable, has better cloud storage, and gives Xbox One players more to play every month.
The Xbox One S starts at $299 (£300/AU$399), putting it on par with the $299 (£300/AU$399) PS4 Slim. However, it's worth noting that both consoles go on sale all the time, and you can often find them both for as low as $200 (£200/AU$320). The One S doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player, so you're arguably getting the most tech for your money with that machine.
If you're on an extra-tight budget, you can opt for the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition ($249), which has no disc drive and includes Forza Horizon 3, Minecraft and Sea of Thieves. However, the standard Xbox One S drops to that price frequently, so you're probably better off waiting for a sale and getting the 4K Blu-ray drive for cheap -- especially if you don't want to rely entirely on digital downloads.
Microsoft has brought back the Xbox All Access program for Holiday 2019. This lets you lease an Xbox One S, Xbox One X or Xbox One S All-Digital Edition starting at $19.99 a month for 24 month. According to Microsoft, this program saves you more than $100 compared to purchasing the console and bundled games separately. All Access members can upgrade to the upcoming Project Scarlett console starting late 2020, though there's no word yet on how much the upgrade will cost.
If you want 4K gaming, Sony's PS4 Pro costs $399 (£399/AU$600), while the Xbox One X runs a hefty $499 (£499/AU$649). That's a pretty big price gap, though Microsoft's console offers a richer 4K gaming experience.
Winner: Xbox One. The $249 (£300/AU$399) Xbox One S is the cheapest console out there and doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player.