We're coming up on an entire year since Sony and Microsoft both released their latest video game consoles, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. That's a perfect time to reevaluate where each console stands and -- more importantly -- how their respective game lineups shake out.
When they were first released, we gave the edge to the PS4 over the Xbox One. And at this point in time, the PS4 is still looking good. It continues to improve thanks to regular system firmware updates and a consistent stream of console-exclusive independent games. Exclusive AAA-titles are more infrequent, but the PS4 has some promising titles coming down the pike, including Bloodborne and The Order 1886, both scheduled to arrive in February.
A year ago we recommended holding off on the new-generation gaming systems. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 are still compelling bargains, but as 2015 progresses, you'll start to see major titles (such as those listed above) only available on the newest consoles. With that in mind, we now think PS4 and Xbox One are finally ready for your living room.
To be clear: the PS4 and the Xbox One are very closely matched. Both offer a growing library of third-party games -- mainstays like the Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and Madden series, as well as newer titles like Destiny. And both double as full-service entertainment systems, with built-in Blu-ray players and streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus.
But even with Microsoft's tempting holiday-only price cut on the Xbox One, we're still partial to the PlayStation 4. Our reasoning is below -- along with a few caveats where we'd like to see the PS4 improve.
Editors' note, November 17, 2014: We've reformatted and updated our review of the PS4 so that we can make updates more often and keep up with the constant evolution of the console. As of this update, we've also raised the rating of the PS4 from 3.5 to 4 stars. This review includes firmware version 2.02.
PS4 consoles and bundles
No matter how you purchase a PS4, it'll ship with an HDMI cable, a DualShock 4 wireless controller, a USB charging cable and an earbud headset for game chat. The standard console goes for $400. It seems like at almost any given time a PS4 bundle is being offered by Sony or another retailer. These usually provide the best overall value if you're looking to get started from scratch. Currently, the only one offered is a white PS4 with the Destiny game for $450, but you might find other retailer-specific bundles (or holiday deals, where a store will throw in a game for free).
Major PS4 exclusive games (available now or soon):
- Infamous: Second Son
- Killzone: Shadow Fall
- LittleBigPlanet 3 (November 18)
Major PS4 exclusive games due by the end of 2015:
- The Order: 1886
- Uncharted 4
- Deep Down
- Let it Die
- Ratchet and Clank reboot
The PlayStation ecosystem includes various products that all share functionality. For example, the PS Vita can stream PS4 games. The PlayStation TV (PSTV) can also stream PS4 games as well as play Vita games and legacy PlayStation titles. Select phones from Sony's Xperia line can also stream gameplay from the PlayStation 4.
Firmware version 2.00/2.01/2.02
The latest PS4 firmware (released October 28, 2014) introduces various new features to the console. Here are the major improvements:
- Players can now upload video captures straight to YouTube (in addition to Facebook)
- Music can now be played during gameplay from a USB drive
- The main interface now supports themes
- New voice commands are available and can be activated through the PlayStation Camera or an attached headset
- Players can now pause and resume downloads (instead of just having to cancel and restart them)
- Share Play: Now PS4 owners can "host" a play session and "hand off" the game controller for up to 60 minutes to one of their friends on the PlayStation Network. At the end of the session players can simply restart. Share Play can also work with co-op games that let two players engage at the same time. Share Play works with any PS4 game and only the host player needs a copy of the game and a PlayStation Plus membership.
Here are the areas where the PS4 excels -- and where it has an edge over the Xbox One:
Compared with Xbox Live's Gold membership, PlayStation Plus still makes it out as the better overall value. The Instant Game Collection titles that come with the subscription can be played across various PlayStation platforms and the quality of these titles tends to be higher. You need PlayStation Plus to play online, and it also offers discounts, exclusive betas and demos, cloud save storage, game trials and automatic system updates.
PlayStation Plus is $50, £40 or AU$70 a year, while Xbox Live Gold is $60, £40 or AU$85 per year, although you may be able to get discounted vouchers from retailers.