The next generation of gaming consoles is finally here, with two new consoles hitting store shelves within two weeks of each other: Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both of them will be on shelves worldwide by the end of this month, and both of them are worthy enough to own a spot in your living room with their enhanced entertainment offerings and cutting edge game mechanics. But they’re a big investment — up to $500 for the console alone — so how do you know which one to choose?
The first one available is the PlayStation 4 — which will arrive in the U.S. on Friday and worldwide on November 22nd.
While Microsoft has been keeping the Xbox One under wraps outside of its review copies (going so far as to ban Xbox Live members who mistakenly received a unit in the mail early, according to Business Insider), Sony has been happy to show off its latest creation and even tear it down for Wired.
I mean, just take a look at this silly unboxing video, an official production that has major overtures to the unveiling of electronic band Daft Punk’s latest album, Random Access Memories:
That said, showing off the console doesn’t really reveal much about the details. While the PlayStation 4 is the cheaper console at $399, that doesn’t make it an automatic buy compared to the Xbox One. If you’re only planning to buy one next-generation system, this short list will give a better idea as to the unique features, both physical and content-wise, that make the PS4 what it is.
Here’s what to expect if you choose the PlayStation 4:
1. A smaller console, no camera included
In addition to having a price tag that is $100 cheaper, the PS4 is a considerably slimmer, smaller console overall. At 10.8″ by 12″ by 2.09″, it is less cumbersome than the much bigger Xbox One and even smaller than the Playstation 3 Slim.
But it’s also absent the bells and whistles of the Xbox One, including its proprietary PlayStation 4 Camera — it’ll run another $60 to get the peripheral. And, even when purchased, don’t expect the elegance of the Xbox Kinect: While it has some interesting features like facial recognition and gestures built-in, it’s a “nice to have” peripheral versus an integral piece to the overall console.
2. Super fast RAM, CPU and GPU
Despite its small size, the PS4 has some fairly impressive guts. Eight gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM allows the console to handle high memory transfers without overheating. This is the workhorse that allows the system to download memory-rich games from the PS3 or high-end video outputs from the PlayStation network.
Speaking of movies, the AMD Jaguar CPU and Radeon Graphics Engine work together to produce 1.82 teraflops of graphic memory per second. This means that the system’s graphics can be pushed to the maximum — allowing for both 3D Blu-Ray playback and true 3D game graphics — without overheating. While the Xbox One is rumored to also support higher graphic outputs, according to Engadget, only PS4 will have 3D fully available at launch.
Sony has also promised 4K gaming and video in the years to come, which doubles down on the company’s commitment to bringing cutting-edge video coding tech to its consoles.
3. A removable hard drive
While the PS4 comes with two USB ports, it doesn’t formally support external hard drives. That’s alright, though, because the 500 GB hard drive in the console can be removed and replaced easily. While it requires some extra tinkering, the console will work with any 5400 RPM SATA 2 hard drive that doesn’t exceed 9 millimeters of thickness.
It’s a bit of a pain for the casual owner, but tinkerers will likely enjoy popping open their PS4 and replacing the guts to make for a sleeker, more powerful hard drive expansion.
4. Power user features
Although both Microsoft and Sony have tipped their hats to so-called “core” gamers, the PlayStation 4 offers a few more features for power users.
First, the system comes with a free-to-use Game DVR, which automatically uploads play sessions to PSN or Twitch.tv. While the Xbox One comes with similar features, they’re only usable for Xbox Live Gold subscribers — a small difference that does add up to a considerable cost over time.
Additionally, the PS4 rewards players for having more devices in the Sony family. For example, the console will support direct remote play via the PS Vita, similar to the way the Wii U is able to execute game portability to its proprietary tablet. In addition, the release of the $99 PS Vita TV will allow for direct streaming of PS4 games, enabling gamers to play across multiple televisions in one house without moving the console around. Sony credits Remote Play to its acquisition of Gaikai — and no doubt it’s working to ensure that streaming remotely won’t cause lag or frozen games.
Finally, the all-important backwards compatibility issue. Neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One support physical previous-generation games. However, Sony is allowing certain games that were previously purchased digitally for other platforms to be downloaded onto the PS4 for free, and it has quite the promise in its back pocket with its aforementioned Gaikai technology. The odds of PS3 games making a digital debut for the PS4 aren’t a sure thing, but it’s not the solid “no” that is coming from Microsoft’s camp.
5. Indie-focused exclusives
Let’s face it: unless you love shooting, racing or sports, you won’t find much to love in the way of both console’s day-one exclusives. Sony does offer DriveClub and exclusive content for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag , but Sony’s indie offerings are a bright spot in its launch.
In addition to a launch list of indie games previously made available on PlayStation 3 — Flow and Flower by indie developers Thatgamecompany, and Contrast from Compulsion Games, among others — there are plenty of exclusive games that Sony has commissioned or secured first release rights to. Resogun is a side-scrolling shooter that is a standout in the launch crowd, and it was developed specifically for PlayStation for by indie developer Housemarque The list of indie games gets better heading into the next year: PlayStation 4 will have much-lauded indie game The Binding of Isaac in a new, console-friendly package, as well as fellow E3 showcase games Don’t Starve, Transistor, and The Witness.
The PlayStation 4 is setting itself up to be rich with high-end indie titles, which will make for great counter-programming to mainstream offerings that often fit narrow gaming preferences. While Sony’s partnerships with Naughty Dog and Media Molecule ensure that there will be exciting console games to be had in the future, a steady stream of indies is a good way to keep content moving.
6. Free-to-Play offerings
Perhaps even more enticing than indie games is the variety of free-to-play games available for PS4 at launch — some with timed exclusives and others that are only found on PS4. Free-to-Play games hadn’t really caught on with previous generation’s consoles (aside from promotional gimmicks to revive older games), so having a few launch titles like Warframe that are free-to-play is impressive.
Stay tuned for next week’s look into the Xbox One’s offerings, as well as a detailed look at both consoles from an entertainment perspective by my colleague, Janko Roettgers.