Nothing can stop the next-gen hype train now that Microsoft and Sony have both unveiled their new home consoles. Sony showed off its PlayStation 4 in February, and Microsoft did the same yesterday with its Xbox One. We now know the basics about each device, and that gives us a chance to look at each system to decide which one is best prepared to win over gamers’ hearts this holiday and beyond.
First, let’s get some basics out of the way. We don’t know the price. We barely know about the games. Each company, and their partners, will certainly show more at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in early June. Until then, we’re simply working from the visions that Microsoft and Sony attempted to establish with their announcements.
Analyst Jesse Divinch, the vice president of insights at industry-analysis firm EEDAR, thinks it’s too early to tell.
“It’s always difficult to determine winners and losers off of highly choreographed presentations, but from other experiences, it is too close of a call to say one presentation was better than the other,” said Divinch. “From EEDAR’s view point, both were successful in demonstrating their platform’s core experience, and we believe that both Microsoft and Sony will realize market success at launch and through 2017. It’s too early to predict who will have a larger market share, but we are confident in saying that both will be profitable and viable platforms for third-party developers.”
Let’s look at the facts and then you can decide.
Hardware separated at birth
Microsoft has already lifted the curtain on the design for its new box. The PlayStation 4′s aesthetics are still under wraps. That doesn’t really matter, because gamers know that true beauty comes from within.
When it comes to internals, these two consoles are nearly identical. That’s because both are using the same AMD Jaguar accelerated processing unit that combines the computational and the graphical processing on to a single, streamlined chip.
Above: The Xbox One collection.
Both systems have eight cores running at around 1.6GHz, with 4MB of L2 cache. Things don’t diverge significantly until we look at the system memory. Again, both systems have 8GB of RAM, but the PS4 uses the speedier GDDR5 memory that can stream data at 5,500MHz, while Xbox One’s DDR3 RAM tops out at 2,133MHz.
That translates into a huge difference in the amount of memory each system can move at any one time. That gives the PlayStation 4 a clear edge in raw computing power – but it’s not as simple as that. Microsoft specifically designed Xbox One to offload computation into the fabled cloud.
“There are a growing number of transistors in the cloud that you can move the [computational] loads onto,” Microsoft software expert Boyd Multerer said in during an Xbox One panel. “I think it’s an inflection point. So — over time — your box gets more powerful. We move loads into the cloud to free up resources on the box.”
The idea is that Microsoft will continually get better at handling certain kinds of computations (artificial intelligence, for example) on its servers. This will open up One’s local hardware so it can process more detailed visuals and other kinds of data.
That’s the plan, anyhow. It is up to game developers to follow through with that.
Meanwhile, Sony’s Gaikai cloud service might be able to do the same thing, but it looks like it is attempting to unload entire game demos into the cloud rather than piecemeal portions each title.
In the end, these two machines are a pair of powerful PC-based gaming rigs that should produce high-quality graphics.
Gaming or multimedia features
If PlayStation 4 is a slightly more powerful Xbox One — or Xbox One is a slightly slower PlayStation 4 — then what separates these devices?
The answer to that question is features: software, social capabilities, and more. These two companies presented varying takes on what a gaming console is. In fact, Microsoft made a big stride toward leaving behind the notion that Xbox is a gaming brand.
According to Microsoft, Xbox One is an all-in-one multimedia powerhouse. It will control your TV and your sports. It will connect you with your family with 1080p Skype calls. The software company is using its core competency, Windows, to flesh out Xbox One’s features. It wants to do everything you consider entertainment — and while that might include games, it also includes a whole slate of other things as well.
To power all of this, Xbox One uses a “touch of windows,” as VentureBeat gadget guy Devindra Hardawar puts it, to quickly switch between live TV, applications, and games. The result is a speedy operating system that didn’t hesitate to immediately gratify the onstage presenter’s every need during Microsoft’s event.
Sony, on the other hand, focused the PlayStation 4 on games. Likewise, nearly all of its features attempt to improve the playing experience. Right at the top of that list is a new Share button on the DualShock 4 controller.
This is the company’s one-step solution to broadcasting livestreams of gameplay to websites like Ustream. It also enables players to send brag clips to friends and to social media sites like Twitter.
All of that doesn’t mean Sony won’t have a vast multimedia strategy for PlayStation 4, but it’s clear it thinks the key to success — at least at first — is through the heart of its core gaming audience.
The many unknowns
Then we have the controversies. If one thing set apart the PlayStation 4 announcement from the Xbox One announcement, it was that Sony was able to avoid upsetting fans while Microsoft inadvertently threw some rocks at a monster closet full of angry gamers.
Right now, we don’t know how Microsoft’s new console will handle used games. We don’t know the details of its online requirement. The company says the Xbox One requires the Internet, but it won’t detail what that means. It says it is designing the system to allow trade-in games, but it won’t tell us what that means, either.
On all of these hot-button issues, Microsoft first gave a confusing swarm of contradictory answers before falling back on one company line: “All policy decisions are still being finalized.”
Sony is better off, but not by much. Following its February event, the company stated that PS4 doesn’t require a constant Internet connection. The used games issue is far more muddled.
Sony worldwide studio head Shuhei Yoshida told Eurogamer that “used games can play on PS4.” When pressed on the issue, however, Sony told Game Informer: “We are just now announcing the basic vision and strategy for PS4, and we’ll have more information to share regarding used games later this year.”
That is a very ominous response. How hard is it to share a vision where all used games work all of the time? For Microsoft and Sony, apparently it is very difficult.
These unknowns are only a problem for now. It’s possible both companies will fully explain everything and we will happily greet the answers — or we’ll have something very specific to complain about.
So, who’s winning?
This is a pretty silly question. It depends on who you ask and what you want from a big box that sits alongside your television. Gamers are clearly excited with Sony’s laser-focused vision on core gaming experiences. Microsoft seems equally confident that it can conquer the world with nothing but Call of Duty: Ghosts (a multiplatform game) and some video functionality.
That might appeal to an audience outside of core gamer circles. But ask Nintendo how that strategy works out in the end.