Which console is better, the Xbox One or PS4? If you buy your console purely for exclusive game franchises, the decision is probably fairly easy. If you go purely on price, the decision is very easy: the PS4 is R3 300, while the Xbox One is a hefty R4 000. If you’re a discerning buyer who prefers to make a decision based on a console’s hardware, software, and usage policies (internet connectivity, used games, DRM), the decision is a lot more complex. With E3 now out of the way, and release dates and prices mostly set in stone, we now have a very good idea of how both consoles shape up against each other. As speculated, both consoles have very similar hardware specs. The CPUs are virtually identical, they both have a GPU that’s derived from the Radeon 7000 series, and overall memory bandwidth is comparable between the two systems. On the software and policy side of things, the Xbox One and PS4 were initially very different, with the Xbox One requiring an always-on internet connection — but now, following Microsoft’s massive policy reversal, both consoles are essentially very similar. The Xbox One, with an HDMI input and mandatory Kinect, is more of a living room media center, but ultimately both the Xbox One and PS4 are both just higher-powered versions of their predecessors, with lots of new, internet-oriented functionality (social, streaming, etc.) added to the mix. For full details of of how the Xbox One and PS4 specs compare, and how they both compare to gaming PCs, read on.
From Microsoft’s mouth, we know that the Xbox One (formerly known as the Xbox 720) has an 8-core AMD CPU with 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB hard drive, HDMI in/out, USB 3.0, and Gigabit Ethernet. For more detailed specs, we must look towards the latest info from the games development sector, which has been programming Xbox One games since last year and thus has intimate knowledge of the hardware. The latest leaks suggest that the Xbox One will have an 8-core 64-bit x86 Jaguar AMD CPU @ 1.6GHz, coupled with a GPU that’s very close to the Radeon HD 7790. The Xbox One will have 68GB/sec of bandwidth between the CPU/GPU and RAM, the GPU will have 102GB/s of bandwidth to a local 32MB SRAM cache, and another 30GB/s of bandwidth to gamepads, Kinect, and other peripherals. The PS4, in comparison, has an 8-core Jaguar AMD CPU, with a GPU that’s around the same level as the Radeon 7870 (which is significantly more powerful than the 7790). The PS4 has 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, providing 176GB/s of bandwidth to both the CPU and GPU. The Xbox One mostly ameliorates this difference with 32MB of high-speed SRAM on the GPU, but it will be a more complex architecture to take advantage of. In both consoles, the CPU and GPU will be on the same die (an AMD APU). Just as the PS4 has 8GB of high-speed memory that is shared by the CPU and GPU, the Xbox One, by virtue of being based on the same APU heterogeneous system architecture (HSA), will probably be the same. In short, while there are small hardware differences between the consoles, they will ultimately have very similar performance characteristics. The PS4, with its one, big block of fast RAM, and bigger GPU, probably has the edge. Connectivity-wise, the Xbox One definitely has more sockets — in particular, the PS4 lacks an HDMI in. This means that the PS4 can’t be used as a media center in the same way as the Xbox One, though the PS4 will still have lots of streaming content, I’m sure. It’s a little bit harder to compare the Xbox One’s Kinect 2.0 with the PlayStation 4 Eye. From what we know so far, the Xbox One sounds like it has the edge on movement tracking and gesture controls — and more importantly, the Xbox One will ship with Kinect 2.0 by default. Whereas Microsoft seems to be aiming for voice and gesture controls to be the norm on the Xbox One, gamepads are still the primary input device on the PS4. Finally, the last piece of hardware that we can compare between the Xbox One and PS4 is the gamepad. As we have already covered in some detail, the PS4′s DualShock 4 controller is really quite spectacular. There’s built-in movement tracking, so the console can track who’s holding each controller, a built-in speaker (like the Wiimote), and a multitouch touchpad. The Xbox One gamepad, in comparison, is basically just a refined version of the Xbox 360 gamepad. The only new feature seems to be Impulse Triggers — which are normal triggers, but with a rumble function built in. The PS4 controller definitely seems to have a richer feature set, but in practice the most important thing will be which controller you prefer to hold. In comparison to a modern PC, you can probably guess how the Xbox One and PS4 compare. There’s no direct comparison for the 8-core Jaguar CPU — AMD’s own parts based on the Jaguar core, Kabini and Temash, are quad-core parts destined for ultrathins and tablets. From leaked benchmarks, the Jaguar core is around 10% faster than its predecessor (Bobcat). A dual-core Brazos (Bobcat core) about 10 times slower than the latest Ivy Bridge parts, in a very naive comparison. So, all in all, an 8-core Jaguar might manage about half the performance of a current-gen Core i7. The GPU comparison is easier: The Radeon 7790 is a $150 card. In short, then, today’s PCs will stomp all over the Xbox One (and PS4) in terms of raw computation power. In terms of gamepads and other peripherals, the Kinect 2.0 will also come to the PC (though Microsoft hasn’t given a timeline yet) — and, presumably, as with the Xbox 360, you should be able to use the Xbox One gamepad with your PC. With some hacking, you should be able to use the PS4′s gamepad with your PC, too.
Software and policies
With the hardware being virtually identical, the software will be the key differentiator between the Xbox One and PS4. By software, we mean the operating system, utilities, apps, and anything that isn’t hardware. When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One, it required mandatory game installs, a connection to the internet, and publishers had the option of disabling the resale of their games. Following a huge outcry from gamers, Microsoft has now reversed these policies entirely; the Xbox One will now operate in exactly the same way as the Xbox 360, but with updated hardware and software. Neither the Xbox One or PS4 will feature any kind of game DRM or require an internet connection (though the Xbox One will require an internet connection just once, when you first set it up). In essence, this means that the Xbox One and PS4 are fundamentally very similar consoles when it comes to actual gaming. Eighth-generation consoles are much more than gaming machines, though. By virtue of its close relation to Windows 8, the Xbox One will probably have more apps (Skype!) and utilities than the PS4, and it also shares Windows 8′s ability to split-screen games, movies, and apps (you can make a Skype call while you watch a movie or play a game). You will still be able to watch Netflix on both consoles. By virtue of its HDMI in/passthrough, the Xbox One will have some interesting companion apps for your favorite live TV shows and sports, while the PS4 is limited to streaming. Both consoles will have second-screen functionality through your smartphone or tablet (or PS Vita in the case of the PS4). Both consoles will allow you to capture, share, and live stream your gameplay. Both consoles look like they will feature deep ties to their own built-in social networks, and third-parties such as Facebook and Twitter. Gaikai is coming to both the PS3 and PS4, allowing you to stream game demos from the cloud — but not until 2014. Overall, the Xbox One has the edge on the PS4 if you’re looking for more of an all-in-one living room box, but it’s a fairly close call. If you like the idea of talking and gesturing to your console, or if you’re into live sports in a big way, the Xbox One wins by a long shot. If you’re looking for a console that’s more of a purist’s gaming machine, the PS4 is probably the console for you.