livingroom_battle

Even if, like me, you’re not much of a gamer, you’ve probably heard about the recent announcements from Sony and Microsoft regarding their next-gen consoles. It’s hard to navigate social media without running into one rant or another either praising one to the high heavens or proclaiming the other as a certain catalyst for the apocalypse. And even if you’re not a gamer, this should interest you to some degree. The Xbox 360 and PS3 competed for living room supremacy, both wanting to be the center of your TV watching world. PS3 had the distinction of being the first Blu-ray player released in North America after the delay of Sony’s flagship standalone player the BDP-S1. In fact, it’s Blu-ray and DVD playback capability drew movie lovers in from the start. The 360 tried to get in on this game with an HD-DVD add on drive, and did moderately well with it until Blu-ray came out on top in the format war. Xbox turned to streaming and locked up an exclusive deal with Netflix to offer it’s instant streaming service through the Xbox 360. This forever changed the way we think about consoles.

Now we stand on the precipice, with new versions of the Playstation and the Xbox, dubbed PS4 and Xbox One respectively, both due to hit the market later this year. But which one should you choose and why? Allow us to break it down for you.

HARDWARE: What’s under the hood?

Xbox One

Xbox One
8 core CPU based on the AMD Jaguar chip with proprietary graphics
8GB of DDR3 RAM
500GB hard drive (unknown speed/type)
Blu-ray/DVD optical drive
HDMI 1.4 input and output / USB 3.0 ports / 802.11n with Wi-Fi Direct / Gigabit Ethernet
Kinect sensor (720p webcam for Skype etc)

Playstation 4

PS4
8 core CPU based on the AMD Jaguar chip
AMD Radeon based GPU
8GB of DDR5 RAM
500GB hard drive (unknown speed/type)
Blu-ray/DVD optical drive
HDMI 1.4 output / 2 x USB 3.0 ports / 802.11n Wi-Fi / Gigabit Ethernet / Bluetooth 2.1 / analog AV output / optical audio output
PSEye (720p webcam) available as an add-on for $60 USD

So what does it all mean, Basil? Well, based on the specs we have now, it basically means that the two machines are pretty comparable as far as the hardware is concerned. The PS4 may have a very slight leg up on the Xbox One as a result of it’s faster DDR5 RAM which is the system memory used for launching games and applications. Faster access to RAM could/should lead to a faster user experience though how much faster is a guessing game. Otherwise the systems are very similar. The Xbox One uses Wi-Fi Direct to connect to controllers (there are 3 separate Wi-Fi radios ensuring you stay connected to the Internet as well as your controller) while the PS4 connects over Bluetooth. The PS4 has those legacy outputs in case you go visit Grandma and need to use RCA cables to hook up to her ancient tube TV. And the Xbox has that pesky HDMI input port. But we’ll talk about what that’s used for later on.

SOFTWARE: What kinds of things can it run?

Streaming Services

First lets talk about gaming. The PS3 has had a bit of leg up in the world of online and multiplayer gaming in that it was free to sign up for and use it’s PSN service. Xbox, on the other hand, has charged a fee for access to Xbox Live. This is changing on the next-gen consoles, with Playstation going to a fee model for what it’s calling Playstation Plus, charging less than $5 a month according to a slide in their presentation which probably means $4.99 a month. While Microsoft has yet to announce new pricing for the Xbox One’s Live service, the current version of Live retails for $59.99 a year making the two services comparable costs. It’s worth nothing that the new versions will have new features like cloud game saves and access to new betas.

In the streaming video world, the 360 has been the one with the leg up. While apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video are available for both current-gen consoles, Xbox also has apps for HBO Go and ESPN streaming services. These are apps people want access to and while it’s possible that new versions could be released for the PS4, right now Xbox has the lead in video streaming.

Both next-gen consoles will have updated UI’s featuring mutlti-tasking and gameplay video sharing capabilities. While the PS4 will rely on the controller and a bundled single ear mono headset for communication, the Xbox One’s new Kinect sensor will allow gesture and voice-based control. One of the most interesting things that Microsoft demoed was the ability to watch and control live TV. Voice commands like “watch HBO” or ” switch to ESPN” brought up the desired channels. While watching ESPN, users can view live fantasy sports data in a sidebar pane that slides in from the right side of the screen. It was really amazing to watch, and then we found out how it was accomplished. Remember that HDMI input from earlier?

Instead of installing a CableCARD slot to be able to tune TV directly, Microsoft wants you to hook your set-top box up to the Xbox One. So you’d take an HDMI cable and run it from the output on your set-top box to the HDMI input on the Xbox and then run another cable from the HDMI output of the Xbox to the HDMI input on your TV or A/V receiver. Then the Xbox just overlays the incoming video before sending it out to to your TV. The channel changing is done with the use of an IR blaster. Most remote controls in your living room use IR, or infrared, to communicate. It’s just a beam of light at a frequency that humans can’t see, but since it’s a beam it requires line of sight. This is why you can’t turn up the volume on your TV when your dog is in the way. An IR blaster compensate for line of sight by having you position it directly over the IR sensor of the device you want to control. So they’ll be this little disc included with the Xbox (or possibly sold separately) with a long wire on it that you’ll need to plug into the Xbox and then position the disc over the top of the IR sensor on your set-top box. Then when you say “watch ESPN” the Xbox will interpret that command, convert it to IR code and send the code to the IR blaster which will send it to the sensor on your set-top box which will change the channel. The obvious problem here is there are multiple points of failure and the looming sense that it will take forever to actually see ESPN. While it was almost instantaneous at the presentation, this setup screams delays and lag.

We’ll have to wait and see a real-world setup to see just how much lag we’re talking, but some lag seems inevitable.  As cool as it looked, there are plenty of reasons to be wary.

GAMES: Which console has the best launch titles?

Bungie's Destiny

Bungie’s Destiny

The PS4 has a few goodies in store for early adopters, titles like Blizzard’s PC behemoth Diablo III, first-person shooters like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Bungie’s long-gestating sci-fi game Destiny, a new Final Fantasy title, an integrated hacking and action game called Watch_Dogs and console exclusives like Infamous: Second Son and The Witness. On the Xbox One side of things, there’s obviously a new Halo game coming for the system though not ready for launch, as well as other console exclusives like Dead Rising 3, a reboot of the classic SNES game Killer Instinct, Ryse: Son of Rome, Quantum Break from the makers of Max Payne and exclusive Ultimate Team content for the Xbox One version of FIFA 2014.

So what looks good for movie lovers? Destiny looks really interesting, it’s a post-apocalyptic world featuring the last city on earth that’s walled off from the wasteland around them and features a nice sci-fi plot surrounding a mysterious sphere in the sky. Infamous: Second Son also pretty much looks like Chronicle: The Game, so if you dug that film and it’s Seattle setting, you may want to be on the lookout for the game. Dead Rising 3 is the latest in the zombie survival franchise, though there’s an interesting weapon creation system in the game where you can combine weapons with tape to form mutli-use items like taping a flashlight to your pistol or taping a handsaw to a sledgehammer. I’m assuming you use duct tape and a lot of it, but regardless that’s a damn cool idea. And then there’s Ryse: Son of Rome for you 300 and Spartacus fans.

It’s worth mentioning that neither console is backwards compatible so that stack of 360 or PS3 games you have are coasters as far as the Xbox One and PS4 are concerned.

RESTRICTIONS: What can you not do?

There’s been a lot made of rumors that Microsoft would not be allowing used games on it’s new Xbox One console, so much so that Sony gave Microsoft a huge middle finger with a short, snarky PSA style video about how to share games on the PS4. The news that Sony would be allowing used games was like a dagger to Microsoft’s heart. While there’s been some back and forth regarding a Sony press release claiming they were leaving DRM restrictions up to game developers, the same press release made it clear that Sony had no intention of supporting DRM on the PS4 console itself. At this point it’s hard to tell exactly what Microsoft’s policy towards used games will entail, but it seems like they’re much more interested in working with game companies to implement restrictions through the console. Microsoft also announced that the Xbox One would need to connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours to authenticate gameplay whereas Sony has no such restrictions for the PS4.

STYLE: Does it look good?

Style

Sony’s PS4 looks a bit like the PS2 slim that came out after the initial release of the PS2. The PS2 slim stood upright like the PS4 does and had a similar hard line design. Microsoft’s Xbox One lays flat and is all black with smooth lines and just a bit of matte silver around the slot-loading Blu-ray drive. Everyone will have their personal preference, but I like the look of the Xbox One better myself.

COST: How much are we talking here?

Retail pricing for the PS4 comes in at $399 while the Xbox One’s MSRP is $499. Both are less than the $599 I paid for the 60GB PS3 on launch day back in 2007. Xbox One is set to launch on November 30th with the PS4 hitting a month later.

THE REST OF THE FIELD: How does it compare to similar products?

There are plenty of boxes available to movie lovers these days. Roku, Apple TV, and smart Blu-ray players all offer many of the same features that can be found in the next-gen consoles discussed above. But how do they stack up? As far as streaming services go, Roku is the only one that offers HBO Go like the 360 does. Apple TV can tout its iTunes integration and smart Blu-ray players can access Netflix and Hulu services while also playing back your Blu-ray discs. But both next gen consoles can do Blu-ray and streaming and are beefier machines than smart Blu-ray players designed to do those things and switch between them faster. The user experience is likely to be better with a next-gen console. And hey, it plays games too! Is that worth a premium of a few hundred dollars? That’s a decision you’ll have to make.

I should mention one other option here and that’s building your own PC. I realize that may sound daunting to some, but essentially these next-gen consoles are just computers with a fancy GUI and many of the games available are also available for PC. For $400-$500 you could build a decent HTPC or home theater PC, a PC designed to sit in your living room, that can stream anything including ESPN and HBO Go through a browser, that could playback Blu-ray discs with the purchase of a Blu-ray drive, and that could play PC games. You can even connect Xbox 360 controllers to Windows PCs for gameplay control. It’s probably not for everyone, and there plenty of options that could drive the price up well beyond that of an Xbox or a Playstation, but it’s an option that’s at least worth considering.

CONCLUSION: Which one should you get?

If I had to pick one of these consoles to spend my hard earned dollars on, it would be the PS4. The lower cost and at least perceived lack of restrictions outweighs the possibility of better streaming options and a better styling for me. But there’s plenty of points in the pro column for the Xbox One as well. Ultimately, either console would work well for a movie fan, in fact, strictly for movies and streaming the Xbox One may well be the better option. Hopefully this guide has given you enough info to make that decision for yourself.


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