The Xbox One versus PS4 battle rages on in 2021, as the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 remain out of stock at most retailers. These last-generation consoles won’t deliver the best gaming performance possible, but thanks to a large library of exclusive games and backward compatibility, they’re still a solid option. Plus, they both double as Blu-ray players and streaming devices.
The eighth console generation saw stiff competition from Microsoft and Sony. The Xbox One started the generation from behind, with Microsoft undoing a series of consumer-unfriendly decisions to make its platform more accessible. The PS4, on the other hand, launched to near-universal acclaim and maintained a lead over Microsoft for the majority of the generation. As the eighth generation closes, however, it’s clear Microsoft made up at least a little bit of ground.
From performance to exclusives to online services, here’s how the PS4 and Xbox One stack up.
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 only 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. The PS4 targets 1080p as a resolution, while the Xbox One usually falls short: Around 900p.
It depends on the game, though. Some multiplatform titles run worse on one system or the other, while other games have visual features reduced or disabled, such as shadows and reflections. Most games run better on PS4, but we recommend looking up side-by-side comparisons for games you’re most interested in playing.
There isn’t much of a difference in frame rate, however. For games targeting 60 frames per second, the PS4 has a slight edge. Most games on these machines, however, target 30 fps. There are rare exceptions, but most games hit that 30 fps mark on either system, usually downgrading resolution or visual features, not frame rate.
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 fps, consistently outperforming Sony’s premium console. The PS4 Pro, on the other hand, is more like a supercharged PS4. It delivers better performance overall, but not nearly on the level of the Xbox One X.
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 $180. Unless you’re the hardest of 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 nearing the end of life for 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. The PS4 supports internal storage expansion, too.
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
After more than seven 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, Ghosts of Tsushima, and The Last of Us Part II, and its third-party partners also develop exclusives such as Detroit: Become Human and the Nioh series.
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, Microsoft has Halo Infinite, while Sony has titles like Horizon Forbidden West and Kena: Bridge of Spirits, both of which are also set to land on the PlayStation 5. 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. Recent landmark titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077 are available on both systems, as well as their next-gen counterparts. 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 (e.g., Fallout 4). That’s not all; each month, Xbox Live Gold members will receive a free Xbox 360 or original Xbox game as part of Microsoft’s Games With Gold program.
PlayStation Now is the only option for playing previous Sony titles on PS4. The problem is that you have to stream them. PS Now allows you to download PS4 and select few PS2 games, but you need to stream PS3 games. If you’re gunning for some seventh-generation nostalgia, Xbox is the best option. You can play 360 exclusives like Lost Odyssey and Fable 2 easily.
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 a year. PS Plus now includes the PS Plus Collection, too. This collection allows you to download and play a select number of the best PS4 games, but it’s currently only available to PS5 owners.
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.
The big deal for Xbox, though, is Game Pass. For $15 per month, Game Pass Ultimate offers a library of over 100 games across Xbox, PC, and Android (via streaming). As you can see in our roundup of the best games on Xbox Game Pass, almost all of the titles in the library are excellent, from AAA titles like Doom Eternal to indie hits like The Messenger. Game Pass even includes EA Play now, offering most of EA’s library with the service for no extra charge.
Plus, all-new Microsoft titles launch day and date on Game Pass, allowing you to play the newest games without forking over $60. So far, no one, not even Sony, has challenged Microsoft with its Game Pass service. For now, at least, it’s the best value in gaming, offering a packed library of titles that would normally cost thousands of dollars.
Sony has a slight counter to Game Pass in the form of PlayStation Now. As mentioned, it lets you stream PS2, PS3, and PS4 to your console for $10 per month or $60 per year. Sony changed the service shortly after launching, allowing subscribers to download most PS4 games on the service, as well as a list of PS2 games. Unfortunately, you can’t download any PS3 games.
As our best games on PS Now roundup shows, there are some solid titles available, and the library is even larger than Game Pass. A lot of the library is filler, though. You can blindly pick from the Game Pass library, and there’s a good chance you’ll download a game you enjoy. That’s not the case with PS Now. Outside of standout titles like Final Fantasy XV and Horizon Zero Dawn, most are unexciting.
Microsoft and Sony are equal in terms of the services they offer, but it’s clear the Xbox platform is more robust. Game Pass is a clear effort to push gaming to a subscription model, while PS Now feels like a stint in cloud gaming that Sony can’t figure out how to rebrand.
Winner: Xbox One
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 in to 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 virtual reality (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 the PSVR, and as the list of compatible games grows, so too will the value of the VR set itself. You’ll need the PlayStation camera, but 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.
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
The original Xbox One is discontinued, as are the Xbox One X and Xbox One S All-Digital edition. Out of the console family, the Xbox One S is the only one that Microsoft is still shipping to retailers. Reports suggest Sony is following close behind, possibly discontinuing every model except the 500GB PS4 Slim design. Sony has already taken this step in Japan, so other regions should follow shortly.
With the new console generation already kicking, you should see fewer new consoles from both companies over the next several months. Still, you can find the Xbox One S new for $300. If you’re shopping pre-owned, the One S runs closer to $250, while the original Xbox One is around $200. Although the One and One S are identical in terms of performance, we’d recommend the newer console. The original Xbox One had numerous issues. Plus, Microsoft still offers the Xbox One S through its Xbox All Access program.
The beefier Xbox One X is more expensive in some cases, with pre-owned prices ranging anywhere from $200 to $350. Many retailers sold Xbox One X bundles for $300 during the 2020 holiday season, bundling the console with a game like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Although the Xbox One X is technically out of production, it’s possible that retailers still have a few of these bundles kicking around.
The PS4 and its slim variants retail for $300, if you can find them in stock. Most pre-owned systems run from $200 to $250 depending on the storage and condition, though some reach closer to $280. The PS4 Pro retails for $400, with pre-owned models ranging from $300 to $380.
Every console variation from Microsoft and Sony is normalizing at around $300 as of 2021. The PS4 Pro is slightly more expensive, while the Xbox One S is slightly less expensive, but they all range around that $300 mark. The base consoles are equal on their new price, with a slight edge going to Microsoft in the pre-owned market. The more interesting discussion is between the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.
The Xbox One X is a more powerful console than the PS4 Pro, and as of 2021, it’s cheaper. You’re unlikely to find either of these systems brand new, and the Xbox One X is anywhere from $50 to $150 cheaper than the PS4 Pro on the pre-owned market.
Winner: Xbox One
Media and streaming
The Xbox One and PS4 both support media playback through a USB drive or DLNA server, and they both include the standard array of streaming apps available on any multimedia device (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime). For streaming or playback from a USB drive, the Xbox One and PS4 are equal.
There’s a little more going on outside of the services available, though. Between the base consoles, the Xbox One has an edge. The base PS4 is limited to 1080p while the base Xbox One supports a max resolution of 1440p. Although most streaming apps don’t support 1440p, there’s an important one that does: YouTube. It’s a small edge, but an edge nonetheless. The mid-generation updates from both manufacturers can output up to 4K resolution, as can the Xbox One S. The PS4 Slim is still limited to 1080p.
The Xbox One has a few more things going on outside of streaming. For one, it includes an HDMI passthrough, allowing you to hook an existing box from a TV provider into the Xbox One. You can also use the HDMI port to hook up a third-party tuner or antenna to watch local stations in the United States or Canada.
If you’re a fan of physical media, the Xbox One has you covered. All of the PS4 revisions, including the Pro, have a Blu-ray drive, as does the base Xbox One. All other revisions of the Xbox One, however, include a 4K Blu-ray drive. Even in 2021, 4K Blu-ray players start at around $150, making the inexpensive Xbox One S an excellent value.
Winner: Xbox One
After a slow start, the past several years have seen the release of several acclaimed PS4 exclusives, including recent titles such as Spider-Man: Miles Morales and The Last of Us Part II. The future of the PS4, however, looks a bit grimmer. Obviously, Sony will continue to support the PS4 for the foreseeable future, though, at some point, more titles will likely land on the PS5 as opposed to the PS4. Many forthcoming games will launch for both systems, at least for the next year or two, but it’s hard to predict how long first- and third-party studios will continue to develop games for the PS4, especially once the PS5 is more readily available.
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 alive and well, 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.
Like the PS4, however, the Xbox One will eventually be phased out in favor of its next-gen counterpart, the Xbox Series X. Upcoming games are more limited than they are on PS4, but players can look forward to Halo Infinite, at the very least.
Overall winner: PlayStation 4
While both consoles certainly offer a lot, we have to give an edge to the 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 gaming machine.
Sony has also shown stronger support for independent developers so far, and both the current and future game lineups look better for PS4 than for Xbox One, even with the release of the PS5. Most AAA games these days are released for both consoles, sure, but the PS4’s list of exclusives easily trumps the Xbox’s. That said, if you’re looking for a future-proof purchase, consider the PS5 or Xbox Series X.
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