Sony PlayStation 4 hands-on
Now, in a bout eight years in the making, two titans will fight for the heavyweight game console championship of the world!
In this corner, in the green and white shorts, weighing in at a massive 15.2 pounds and hailing from Redmond, Wash., in the USA, the Microsoft Xbox One!
In this corner, in the blue, black, and white shorts, weighing in at a svelte 9 pounds and hailing from Minato City, Tokyo, in Japan, the Sony PlayStation 4!
Ladies and gentlemen: Let's get ready to rumblllle!!!
Update November 21, 2013: CNET has now reviewed both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. We're in the process of updating this story to reflect what we've learned about both consoles; in the meantime, read PS4 vs. Xbox One: Round 1 to Sony.
Price: Advantage Sony
The PlayStation 4 costs $399. It launched on November 15 in the US, followed by November 29 in Europe and Australia, December for much of Asia, and February 22 for Japan.
The Xbox One is priced at $499. It will launch on November 22 in most countries worldwide.
The Xbox will run you $100 more up front, and likely even more over time. You'll need an Xbox Live Gold subscription, listed at $60/year, to use most online extras, from Netflix to gameplay video sharing. Sony's equivalent subscription service, PlayStation Plus, is required only for multiplayer gaming and online saves. It's also cheaper at $50/year.
The boxes: Aside from Kinect, more similar than different
The most obvious reason for the price difference is that every Xbox One includes a dedicated Kinect sensor for motion control and other functions. The PS4's somewhat similar PlayStation Camera is optional ($59).
Beyond the Xbox's larger size and weight, their design is actually pretty similar to each other. The black, glossy-and-matte PS4 is a raked-back rectangle that you can opt to stand on its side. The black, glossy-and-matte Xbox looks more, well, boxy, like a futuristic piece of AV equipment, and it needs to stay horizontal.
Internal hardware: PS4 more powerful (on paper, at least)
The actual consoles house very similar silicon, both with power akin to a current mid- to high-end gaming PC, but do show a few key differences.
According to an exhaustive analysis by Digital Foundry, the biggest difference between the two systems' hardware is the type of RAM each uses. The PlayStation 4 uses 8GB GDDR5 RAM, while all signs point to the Xbox One using 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The GDDR5 RAM used in the PlayStation 4 is the same type of RAM used by most PC video cards and is optimized for graphical throughput. Digital Foundry speculates that the PS4's GPU could have as much as 50 percent more raw graphical computational power than the one in the Xbox One.
That difference, coupled with the fact that the PS4 runs some early games at higher native resolutions than the Xbox One, might seem to make the PS4 a better gaming machine. But not necessarily. As we wrote in our PS4 review:
You might read about the PS4's specs trumping that of the Xbox One's, but it's important to keep in mind how that translates into actual results. Remember that the PS3 was originally poised to be a massive powerhouse over the Xbox 360, but in reality didn't perform much better. You could even make the argument that most multiplatform games played smoother and looked better on the Xbox 360.
So while the PS4 may have quicker RAM, a faster GPU, and higher native resolution (1080p), we just don't know how those numbers will pan out when it comes to raw results and performance.
Check out the chart below for more basic details on how the consoles compare.
|Xbox One||PlayStation 4|
|US availability||November 22, 2013||November 15, 2013|
|Dimensions (WDH inches)||13.5 x 10.4 x 3.2||10.8 x 12 x 2|
|Weight||15.2 pounds||9.2 pounds|
|Hard drive||Built-in, nonremoveable (500GB)||Built-in, removeable (500GB)|
|Motion control||New Kinect (bundled)||PlayStation Camera ($60)|
|CPU||8-core x86 AMD||8-core x86 AMD|
|RAM||8GB DDR3||8GB GDDR5|
|Wireless||Yes (802.11n w/Wi-Fi Direct)||Yes (802.11n)|
|HDMI||Yes (in and out)||Yes|
|Analog video outputs||No||No|
|External storage support||Yes, USB||No|
|Power supply||External brick||Internal|
|Can also stand vertically||No||Yes|
|IR remote support||Yes||No|
|Suspend/resume game support||Yes||Yes|
|Gameplay sharing/DVR (video)||Yes||Yes|
|Real-time gameplay streaming||Yes||Yes|
Games: Exclusives, launch titles, and (lack of) backward compatability
As usual, each company's lineup of first-party (self-published) games will be exclusive to its own console. So any new Halo, Gears of War, or Fable titles will remain Xbox only, while future Uncharted, Killzone, or Ratchet and Clank games will only appear on PlayStation.
Quite a few Xbox One exclusive titles will be available at launch, including Crimson Dragon, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Forza 5. The company also pledged that all DLC (add-on downloadable content) for Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts would debut first on the Xbox One. Xbox One exclusives announced so far, but not available at launch, include Killer Instinct, Quantum Break, Project Spark, and Titanfall.
Ryse: Son of Rome: Xbox One
Key PlayStation 4 exclusives available at launch include Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, and a few indie titles. PS4 exclusives announced so far, but not available at launch, include Infamous: Second Son, The Order, and The Dark Sorcerer.
Neither lineup of exclusives boasts immediate, must-have titles, which is one reason why it might make sense to wait on buying a new console.
Most of the games that will be available when the consoles first launch are not exclusives. They include heavy hitters Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Madden NFL 25, and NBA 2K14 -- all of which are available for both next-generation consoles, as well as for the older Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles.
Neither new console is backward compatible, so the PS4 won't play PS3 games, and the Xbox One won't play Xbox 360 games. On the other hand, many games include the ability to "upgrade" to the next-generation version for a small fee, typically $10. Here's how it works for PlayStation games.
Controllers: Evolutionary upgrades
The handheld controllers of the PS4 and the Xbox One are evolutionary descendants of the versions found on each respective platform.
The Sony DualShock 4 differentiates itself with a clickable touch pad on the front -- giving developers an additional option when designing games. The body includes a "light bar" in the front that enables motion control functionality with the PS4's camera to track the position and identify where the controller is and, if need be, actually adjust the split-screen orientation during multiplayer couch gaming. It also includes the social-focused Share button, a built-in speaker, and a headphone jack.
Our PS4 review lauded the DualShock 4 controller as "near-perfect," adding:
It felt absolutely wonderful and addresses nearly all of the shortcomings of the DualShock3 (the predecessor controller that shipped with the PlayStation 3). Unlike the slippery dome coverings of the DualShock3's sticks, the two analog sticks on the new controller have smaller embossed faces that make for much easier control.
The L1, L2, R1, and R2 buttons have all received redesigns as well, but no button on the pad seems to have benefited more than the L2 and R2 triggers. These now extend out and feel much more comfortable to pull
The Xbox One's controller received a less-extensive redesign and more of an overall refinement; Microsoft claims more than 40 "technical and design innovations." They include textured thumbsticks, a more cross-shaped, pleasingly clicky D-pad, and new labels and functions for the longtime start and back buttons. Here's an early-hands-on enumerating a bunch of the changes, and below you'll find a more recent, feel-based evaluation. Summary? "A little smoother."
The Xbox One uses Wi-Fi Direct to connect its controller, whereas the PlayStation 4 relies on Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. On paper, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR's theoretical 3Mbps maximum speed is clearly outclassed by Wi-Fi Direct's 250Mbps theoretical throughput. However, whether this will result in any tangible difference, particularly for battery life, remains to be seen.
Each system includes one controller; additional controllers for both systems cost $59 each.
Motion and voice control: Bundled vs. optional
In an audacious move for something still primarily sold as a game console, the Xbox One and its bundled second-generation Kinect put alternate control schemes and interactions front and center. The PS4 keeps voice and gesture control optional.
The new version of Kinect will offer a wider field of view than its predecessor, better tracking of individuals (limited finger tracking is now included), and the ability to track more overall bodies. And (frighteningly!) also determine your current heart rate. Yes tinfoil hat people, Kinect can be deactivated, but on the other hand it promises to be integral to the Xbox experience.
The first Kinect never really made a strong impression with hard-core gamers. It's too early to tell just how developers will make use of the second generation's upgraded features, but since every Xbox One owner will have one, it's safe to say there will be more games that take advantage of voice and gestures.
For nongaming uses, the new Kinect offers more obvious potential benefits. The device is designed to always be on (though you can deactivate it), and simply stating "Xbox on" will power up your entire system and sign you in to your account based on facial recognition. Voice commands to the integrated One Guide, designed to replace your cable box's program guide, enable fast searches -- which already work well on the original Kinect. The Skype (owned by Microsoft) experience is also far upgraded; the camera can digitally zoom in on and follow a speaker around the room, for example.
Not to be outdone, Sony says its separate, optional PlayStation Camera ($59) will also have facial recognition functionality, allow voice commands, and sense the controllers of multiple players around the room -- in addition to standard motion control for gaming.
Right now it's too early to tell which motion/camera solution will be best, but Kinect will at least be the most ubiquitous, and likely more sophisticated. That may inspire more developers to utilize more of its enticing offerings in games and beyond.
Nongaming entertainment: Advantage Xbox
Ever since the first Xbox One event in May, Microsoft has clearly focused on communicating that the Xbox One would be much more than simply a box with which to play video games. In contrast, most of Sony's demos have focused on gaming and little else.
The Xbox One will allow you to switch from game to TV show, to the Web, to a movie, to Skype, easily and smoothly (without switching inputs), with just a voice command. You'll also have the ability to multitask, running games and other apps simultaneously, with one of them in a picture-in-picture window. Microsoft calls this feature Snap, and in our hands-on demo it worked beautifully. One snag, however, is that audio from both windows was mixed together.
The Xbox One can't quite replace your cable box, but it tries. It gets rid of your cable company's program grid interface for Microsoft's slick, quick OneGuide, giving you control of live TV channel selection. You'll even be able to create your own personalized "channel" with the shows and services you choose, and an "App channel" feature integrates content from streaming services like Hulu Plus and Xbox Videos right into OneGuide.
On the hardware side, this integration is accomplished via the Xbox's One's HDMI input, allowing the console to overlay graphics atop and otherwise manipulate TV programming. Cable box control happens through relatively kludgy IR commands, however, and DVR control is spotty. The One doesn't "know" what shows are stored on your DVR, for example, and it can't schedule recordings from the OneGuide.
The PS4, meanwhile, has no "one box to rule them all" aspirations. Its nongaming chops are little better than those of the PS3, at least at launch, and in some ways they're worse. Sony did announce that it's currently working on "cutting-edge," exclusive PS4 programming "developed with gamers in mind." But the company didn't provide much more detail than that.
Of course each console will support numerous entertainment apps, including heavy hitters Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus, at launch. Notably YouTube isn't yet announced for either console, and while HBO Go is "coming soon" for the Xbox One, it's not announced for the PS4. According to our in-depth comparison, the Xbox One has a slight advantage in the sheer number of apps supported, at least in the early days.
On the other hand you'll need an Xbox Live Gold subscription ($60/year) to use third-party apps like Netflix on the Xbox One. Using those apps on the PS4 doesn't require PlayStation Plus membership (though that's required for online multiplayer gaming).
Both consoles will play DVDs and Blu-ray discs, but neither will play 3D Blu-rays at launch. Only the Xbox One can play back audio CDs -- for some bizarre reason the PS4 can't, even though the PS3 can. (Sony has recently indicated that CD playback may be added in a future firmware update.)
The PS3 was also an excellent media server client, playing MP3s and allowing you to stream video, photo, and music files from connected servers or PCs in the home, typically via DLNA. The PS4, according to Sony, does none of these things. Meanwhile, the Xbox One is compatible for streaming video, music, and photo playback -- as long as the server is Play To compatible.
For now, at least, neither next-gen console is as versatile a media streamer as its predecessor, but the Xbox One has the advantage. More than many other differences, these are subject to change. Even Sony's own FAQ says, after informing us that MP3s aren't supported: "We appreciate your feedback and are exploring possibilities."
Community and social: Sony pushes an extra button
One of the major differences between the Xbox One/PS4 and previous consoles is the embrace of new social aspects, including gameplay recording and sharing.
For the PS4, things like live video chat and Facebook will be natively integrated. When your friends purchase a new game, you'll know, and you'll be able to play new games before they've even finished downloading.
Once again, here's our PS4 review:
Live items are built in everywhere you look, and social features are present at every corner, especially when it comes to your friends list. Your account can be tied to your Facebook and Twitter profiles and have the option of posting on your behalf depending on your settings. Your friends list will actually be made up of your friends' real names if they approve your friend request.
However, the biggest change is the addition of the Share button on the PS4's controller.
Through this button, gamers can broadcast live gameplay, take screenshots, or share videos of their latest gaming triumphs. Your friends will post comments to your screen while they watch you play. If a player is stuck in a particularly difficult section of a game, he can call in an online friend to literally take over his controls. Frustration successfully circumvented, despite a possible bruised ego on the sharer's part.
The PS4 constantly, automatically records the last 15 minutes of gameplay, and live streams can be of unlimited length. At launch, players can share game video on Facebook, game screenshots via Facebook and Twitter, and gameplay live streams via Ustream and Twitch (YouTube isn't supported at launch). With Remote Play you can also stream your PS4 game onto a PlayStation Vita.
Although its controller doesn't have the dedicated Share button, the Xbox One also offers a Game DVR that automatically records the last few seconds of your gameplay. Using Upload Studio, gamers can "curate, edit, share, and publish" videos of gameplay directly from the machine. The Xbox One fully integrates Twitch's live-streaming capabilities. Xbox Live Gold subscribers will be able to not only live stream their own gameplay -- with the option to add voice or video to the stream with Kinect -- but also watch streams of others as well.
Microsoft has increased its Xbox Live friends list limit from 100 to "all" of them, and achievements are getting a big overhaul. The new achievement system will have "richer detail and span across your games and experiences."
Other Xbox One social features include built-in Skype, the ability to track Xbox Live trends, and see what your friends are playing or watching most. With Smart Match you can look for multiplayer games while spending your time in other apps.
SmartGlass will also be more tightly integrated into the Xbox One.
Used games and 'always on': No real differences anymore
Thanks to a 180 reversal by Microsoft back in June, the Xbox One will no longer require periodic online check-ins in order to play games. Microsoft says that a one-time connection will be all but required during the Xbox One's initial setup, however.
Sony has always said the PS4 would also not require an Internet connection to play games. An Internet connection won't be required for its initial setup, but you will need to connect if you want the major feature additions available in system update 1.50, available on launch day.
So yes, users of both systems will be able to play games for as long as the user likes without connecting to the Internet; however, with plenty of games like The Division, Titanfall, and Destiny including deeply-rooted Internet features or being multiplayer-only, many of the most sought-after experiences on these consoles will at the very least be suitably enhanced with an Internet connection.
Neither Sony nor Microsoft will restrict game lending, trade-ins, renting, selling, or any action that mirrors what you can currently do with your PS3 and Xbox 360 games. However, third-party publishers can still choose to restrict these actions as they choose.
Which one is better?
There's no way to really tell until we can review both systems, and even then both will evolve and change significantly. In the meantime, however, our overall impression is that the more expensive Xbox One offers more-compelling nongaming features and generally feels more futuristic, whereas the cheaper PS4 seems like a more straightforward gaming device.
As usual, we expect most owners of current-generation consoles to stay within the family: PS3 owners are more likely to get a PS4, and Xbox 360 owners will typically opt for an Xbox One. Over the years each company has developed a stable of exclusive franchises like Halo and Uncharted that keep fans coming back for more.
Whether either console offers enough to get people to switch sides is up to the judges. We don't think this bout will be won by a knockout.