The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are both powerful machines, but there are subtle differences between the two. Each has extensive game libraries, but what about access to streaming services, backwards compatibility for older games, or platform exclusives? To determine which is the better console, we looked at factors like overall performance, controller design and cost, internal storage, and so on. In the end, we pick a winner.
Performance, controllers, ports & storage
Both systems can play many of the same games. Performance, though, is dependent on the console you’re using. The Slim PS4 is the more powerful machine, albeit slightly, with the ability to typically display games at a higher resolution. The difference isn’t always drastic, but on most TVs, PS4 titles will simply look better. There are some claims of the PS4 dropping frames on some games, and while it hasn’t been reported as a widespread issue — many games run at a smooth 30 or 60 frames per second without issue — it’s still worth keeping in mind.
The best course of action is to see how your favorite games perform on each before making your decision. Many gaming websites upload side-by-side graphics comparisons for big releases, which can give you an idea of what to expect.
If you’re investing in the more expensive PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One X consoles, however, Microsoft gains the edge. The Xbox One X is capable of running many games at a native 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, consistently outperforming Sony’s premium console.
In any case, these differences only apply to third-party games where the two versions can be compared side-by-side. First-party titles tend to take better advantage of the system they’re developed for, and therefore will look great regardless.
The standard Xbox One controller retains many of the core elements of the 360 controller, plus it adds two more rumble motors and loses the bulky battery pack on the back. It also has smaller thumb pads on the analog sticks, which some will find refreshing, others frustrating. Microsoft also released an “Elite” version of its controller, one that allows for numerous customization options and multiple triggers for different input variations. While the Elite controller is certainly exciting, it also costs a whopping $150. Unless you’re the hardest of the the hardcore, it’s likely not something you’ll need.
The DualShock 4, on the other hand, showcases vast improvements across the board when compared to the previous DualShock controllers. It’s bigger and comes outfitted with outward-curving triggers, along with a clickable touchpad on the front and a multifunctional lightbar. There’s even a little speaker in the controller that some games use very effectively. The embedded thumb pads are larger than the Xbox controller’s, though that’s simply in line with the controller itself. Overall, the PS4 controller feels a bit more hardy, and will fit most gamers’ hands better. It’s a slim margin of victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Ports and storage
Ports are a telling distinction between the Xbox One and PS4. Microsoft packed an IR Blaster and two HDMI inputs into the One, thus allowing you to connect the console to satellite boxes and cable TV. Considering Sony omitted these ports, it’s clear that Microsoft wants to win over a wider demographic of consumers. Both consoles do tout an Ethernet port, as well as two USB inputs, but only the PS4 comes with a camera port at this point. If you want to use Kinect on your Xbox One S or X, you’ll need an adapter that is now out of production.
Both consoles are available with 500GB or 1TB of storage space, which is enough to house a decent collection of games and other media. Still, 1TB of storage is the bare minimum for most desktop PCs, and nearly four years into the life cycle of these consoles, space can be at a premium if you’re downloading new games regularly. Luckily, both systems’ storage can easily be expanded via external hard drives.
Altogether, there’s little separating the Xbox One and PS4 in terms of connectivity and storage. The Xbox gets the win due to its wider selection of ports.
Winner: Xbox One
Game selection, backwards compatibility, online services, peripherals
After more than six years, both the Xbox One and PS4 have libraries with hundreds of games, and each console has its own set of exclusives. In many ways, this is one of the major selling points for choosing one console over the other. Though most third-party games are available on both systems, there are exceptions, and both Microsoft and Sony make deals to secure console exclusives now and then (though most Microsoft games these days are also available on PC).
If you’re looking to get a console for its exclusives, however, you will want to get the PlayStation 4. Sony’s own first-party studios release multiple great exclusives for the system each year, such as God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the MLB: The Show series, and its third-party partners also develop exclusives such as Detroit: Become Human and Nioh.
The Xbox One, meanwhile, has few noteworthy exclusive games each year. Aside from big series like Forza, Halo, and Gears of War, the exclusives we’ve seen for the Xbox One are lackluster. There are exceptions, such as Sunset Overdrive and the inventive pirate game Sea of Thieves, but these pale in comparison to what Sony offers its players.
Looking ahead, the PS4 has Ghost of Tsushima, Dreams, and The Last of Us Part II. Microsoft has Halo Infinite, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and potentially Gears of War Tactics As this console generation winds down, things seem to be evening out, but the PS4 has a sizable back catalog of exclusives that simply outmatch the offerings on Xbox One.
Most of the time, unless you’re a die-hard fan of a certain franchise or a particular exclusive catches your eye, you’ll be able to play the biggest games on either console. Landmark games such as The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 are available on both systems. But if you have to choose one for games alone, it’s an easy decision.
As was the case with the Xbox 360, the Xbox One offers backward compatibility for a select number of games, though that number has grown substantially since the feature debuted in 2015. If you insert an Xbox 360 game into the Xbox One, you’ll be able to download a digital version of said title. Some games are even available for purchase through Microsoft’s digital store, and a few games come bundled with a free digital copy of an older Xbox 360 game (i.e., Fallout 4). That’s not all; each month, Xbox Live Gold members will receive a free Xbox 360 game as part of Microsoft’s Games With Gold program.
When it comes to playing old games on the PS4, you currently only have one option: PlayStation Now. PSNow is a streaming service that allows you to play PS3 games (and even some older PS4 titles) for $20 a month, or $45 for three months. Unfortunately, depending upon your internet speed, game performance can be slow due to lag. The catalog isn’t comprehensive either, and even if you own a physical or digital copy of an older game, you’ll have to pay to play it. It was rumored that Sony planned to bring some PS1 and PS2 classics into the PSNow fold, but it has yet to happen. Simply put, you can’t insert an older PS disc in your PS4 and play it. If you need to scratch the retro PlayStation itch, you’ll probably want to keep those old consoles around.
Winner: Xbox One
Sony and Microsoft offer similar online services. Sony’s PlayStation Plus and Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold give users access to online gaming, free monthly games, discounts, and other special features for an annual fee. Both services clock in at $10 per month, or $60 for a year.
The Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, which includes select titles, allows gamers access to games on both their Xbox One and their Windows 10 PC at no additional charge.
PS4 users do have a few advantages of their own; PlayStation Now, mentioned above, allows gamers to stream a litany of PS3 titles from their PS4. It’s a cool service, though you’ll need a really good internet connection if you want the games to play smoothly.
One key feature does tip the scales into PlayStation’s favor, though — free games. Subscribers to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold both earn free games monthly, but the PlayStation selection has proven better over the years. That’s partly due to the PS4’s better exclusive title selection. Sony has offered some of the best games of this console generation, like Bloodborne, for free.
The Kinect was a useful launch peripheral for the Xbox One, but Microsoft has since discontinued the motion-sensing camera, leaving new Xbox One players with no good way to capture their face if they want to livestream a game. The PlayStation Camera, on the other hand, is a less robust device, but it’s still being produced and does the job nicely — you can even use it to sign into your profile.
Xbox gamers in possession of an Oculus Rift VR can stream any Xbox One game to the Oculus headset, and choose from one of three immersive VR environments: “Citadel,” “Retreat,” and “Dome.” It’s a pretty cool feature, allowing players to essentially game in IMAX, but there’s no additional Rift functionality. On the other hand, we were blown away by Sony’s PSVR when it released, and as the list of compatible games grows, so too will the value of the VR set itself. You’ll need the PlayStation camera; if you don’t already have one, you can get it bundled with PSVR and a game for around $300.
In any case, PSVR is surprisingly refined, and extremely fun. A cool “social screen” feature feeds the display from the headset to your TV, so people can see what you’re seeing. PSVR-compatible games are designed with the experience in mind, so it’s more than just a mammoth screen. Some games work better than others, but it’s absolutely an experience most PlayStation gamers will want to have.
User interface, media & apps, streaming
The PS4’s interface is designed to be accessible. It’s simple and anyone can figure it out. Though it can often get crowded as you build up your library, you can sort games into custom folders to ease the scrolling burden.
The Xbox One’s UI is a bit more complex, but it’s also more robust and functional. The interface is designed to work similarly to that of Windows 10, and though it may take some time to properly acclimate, the design is far more accessible and intuitive once you do.
Microsoft also updates the Xbox One interface regularly, adding features at the behest of the gaming community. While the PS4’s menu is simpler to navigate for newcomers, the Xbox simply has more features to help you find the games or apps you’re looking for.
Winner: Xbox One
Media interface & apps
Both the PS4 and Xbox One were built with more than simply gaming in mind. Microsoft has spoken time and time again regarding its bold vision for a world where the Xbox One is the only box in your living room, and believe it or not, the One is quickly achieving that vision. The One is now equal parts streaming box and gaming console, and unlike Sony’s next-gen counterpart, the system is designed to operate your cable box and record regular programming.
Both consoles feature the usual third-party subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, along with app offerings like Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Twitch, Ustream, and Crackle. While there was a long period where the Xbox store offered far more apps than its PlayStation counterpart, that has largely been remedied, and there are few — if any — apps that you can’t get on both consoles.
The Xbox naturally outputs uncompressed PCM audio data, while the PS4 supports DTS HD; there’s little difference (if any) in terms of audio quality. A recent update added bitstream pass-through support for the Xbox One, so connected AV receivers can now decode audio natively. This means newer, object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are now supported via Blu-ray disc audio while The PlayStation 4 has always supported bitstream pass-through.
The PS3 was — and remains — an excellent media device, one capable of streaming music and video from your PC and playing content directly off of a USB-connected device. The PS4 took a while to grow into its potential, but today it qualifies as a fully-fledged streaming console. Sony’s PlayStation Now service offers more than 100 PlayStation games for instant streaming, so long as you opt for either the $20 or $45 subscription.
Microsoft has taken a different approach to media streaming. The company optimized the Xbox One as a media device when it tore down the Xbox Live paywall, granting users free access to streaming services such as Netflix (although for apps like Netflix, you will still need a subscription to that particular service). If you’re a cable TV subscriber, you can even connect your cable to the console for greater functionality and performance. Previously, we crowned the Xbox victor here due to its cable integration, but the introduction of PS Now has evened the odds. When Project xCloud officially launches at a later date, that could change.
After a slow start, 2015 to 2017 saw the release of several acclaimed PS4 exclusives, and it looks like the future won’t be much different. From Ghost of Tsushima to The Last of Us: Part II, there are plenty of upcoming games you can only play on PlayStation 4, and Sony shows no signs of slowing down, even with the PS5 on the way.
Despite the PlayStation’s clear advantage when it comes to game libraries, Microsoft clearly has a long-term vision for the Xbox One. The Xbox Play Anywhere initiative is off to a good start, allowing gamers to switch seamlessly back and forth between their Xbox One and their Windows 10 PC. In the future, look for the program to expand, and for cross-platform play to become a more prominent feature. Project xCloud will also be supported on Xbox One in the future, alongside devices like phones and laptops.
Upcoming games are more limited than they are on PS4, but players can look forward to Halo Infinite and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, to name a few.
Overall Winner: PlayStation 4
While both consoles certainly offer a lot, we have to give an edge to Sony’s PlayStation 4. The Xbox One is better for non-gaming applications and content, but if that’s what you care most about, you can get those features in a Roku, Apple TV, or any number of other dedicated devices that will stream content for a fraction of the price. If you’re buying a PS4 or Xbox One, you want to play games, and in this case, Sony has built a better dedicated gaming machine.
Sony has shown stronger support for independent developers so far, and both the current and future game lineups look better for PS4 than for Xbox One. Most AAA games these days are released for both consoles, but the PS4’s list of exclusives easily trumps the Xbox’s.
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