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Xbox One and PlayStation 4: Facial recognition shootout

Both the Xbox One Kinect and PlayStation 4 cameras can log you in on sight, but which next-gen console does it better?

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The list of similarities between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 is long. Both systems were released in the same month after years of development, both offer many of the same appsand games, and both can use proprietary camera technology to log users in via facial recognition.

One big difference is that the Xbox One includes the Kinect camera in its $499 purchase price, whereas the PlayStation camera is an additional $59, on top of the $399 console.

Of course, neither of these systems is intended to secure your account -- this isn't a form of biometric security. It's more a convenient way to easily log in to different user accounts, as well as a cool show-off feature to impress your friends.

Adding a hat threw off the PlayStation camera.

PlayStation 4
On the PlayStation 4, users must create "face data" by offering different angles of one's head to the camera in a predetermined order. You can repeat the process later, in a different room, with different lights, or other variables, to give the system more data to work with.

In initial testing, the PS4 recognized me easily, just after I stepped into the view of the PlayStation camera. So far, so good.

But, lacking any other registered faces, the PS4 also started logging other people in as me, basically anyone who looked even slightly similar, including people as disparate as David Carnoy and CNET's How-To writer Dan Graziano.

We later created face data for Grazanio and Joe Kaminski, who works in the CNET Labs. After that, the system correctly identified each of us, even if we all jumped in front of the camera at once.

Wearing a hat proved especially tricky for the PS4. When I stood side by side with David Katzmaier in front of the PlayStation camera, the system identified him as "Dan Ackerman," and didn't recognize me at all.

The Xbox One Kinect camera had trouble recognizing me without my glasses.

Xbox One
With a camera system that is not only included by default, but also more sensitive and powerful (at least on paper), the facial recognition log-in is intended as the primary way users get access to their custom dashboards and profiles on the Xbox One.

The setup process is much simpler, with no posing or moving around to different spots in the room, a time-consuming process required by the original Xbox 360 Kinect. Once I created/imported my Xbox Live profile, the system recognized me almost every time I got near it, even when just casually walking past, greeting me with an onscreen welcome message. That added me to the list of recognized players at the very top of the main dashboard screen, but to actually log in, I would have to take the controller and hit the home button.

The main difference between the two systems is that the Xbox One is always keeping an eye out for known users, and it experienced none of the false positives we saw with the PS4.

Wearing a hat was no problem for the Xbox One, but when I removed my eyeglasses, I was recategorized as a "guest" until I put them back on.

Surprisingly, going clean-shaven didn't faze either console.

No beard, no problem
For one last test, I went all the way and shaved my trademark graying hipster stubble, to see if the game consoles could recognize me clean-shaven. To my surprise, both systems logged me in immediately. Apparently facial hair is easier to account for than eyeglasses or a hat. The takeaway: if you're worried about entering a mustache-growing contest for fear it will interfere with gaming, you're in the clear.

Putting the console cameras to the test
How successful were both facial recognition systems when we put them to the test by creating a profile, then trying to log in under a series of changing variables? The results are below.

Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 facial recognition test

Xbox One PlayStation 4
Standard facial recognition Pass Pass
No eyeglasses Fail Pass
Wearing a hat Pass Fail
Clean-shaven Pass Pass

The cameras used by both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are imperfect, but considering the ease of use and the overall success rate when used without our tricky variables, it's a big step forward over the proto-version of this feature that was eventually shoehorned into the previous generation of consoles.

The ability to sign in to your next-gen game console just by standing (or sitting) in front of it is one of those clever show-off features that will impress friends and family, and once you get used to it, it's hard to imagine logging in any other way. Just remember to take off your hat first.