PS4 vs. Xbox One: Round 1 to Sony

Now that the Xbox One and PS4 have been reviewed, it's time to break down the scorecard and see why CNET gave the higher mark to the PS4.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
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David Carnoy
7 min read
The Xbox One and PS4 square off (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

The products are out, the reviews are in, so we now ask, who's the winner?

Well, here at CNET, the answer today is the PlayStation 4, though not by much. Both products received 3.5 stars from our reviewer Jeff Bakalar. However, the PS4 received the higher overall score, beating the Xbox One 7.5 to 7.0 in our expanded ratings system (if you didn't know we had an expanded ratings system, roll your cursor over the stars and you'll see what I mean).

That 3.5 stars is a pretty good score -- and we think both systems have a lot of commendable features and strong specs -- but it also reflects a feeling around the office that there isn't a tremendous urgency to run out and buy either console in their current unfinished states.

Still, we didn't arbitrarily award the PS4 an edge in the ratings. We had our reasons and for those of you who don't have the time -- or the attention span -- to read through a couple of very long reviews, here's a more condensed version of why the PS4 ended up with the higher marks.

The PS4 is smaller than the Xbox One, even though it has its power supply integrated into the unit. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design (Xbox One rating -- 7.0, PS4 rating -- 8.0)
Design encompasses both the design of the hardware and the designs of the user interfaces or software. The PS4 has the edge in both. From a hardware standpoint, the most noticeable difference is that the PS4's power supply is integrated into the box while the Xbox One, like the 360 before it, still has a chunky external power brick. This is remarkable considering the PS4 is smaller than the Xbox One.

The PS4 controller is also superior. It has a built-in rechargeable battery (that's an optional accessory for Xbox One controllers, though some people prefer using standard alkaline batteries), doubles as a motion controller (replaces the Move), has a built-in speaker and headphone jack, as well as a share button that offers quick links to social media sites (you can easily share your game clips). It's also worth mentioning that the PS4 can now recharge the controller when in standby mode.

As for the user interfaces, which one you like better is a little bit in the eye of the beholder. The PS4's UI is an upgrade from the PS3's and supports such features as multitasking, as well as incorporating a broadcasting hub. The Xbox One has a very slick interface -- we've even called it dazzling -- but you can occasionally end up feeling slightly lost (it's a criticism that's also been leveled at Windows 8). Part of this has to do with the tight integration of the Kinect and the melding of voice commands with button pushes (the interface encourages you to use your voice). It doesn't always work as smoothly as it ideally would. For instance, Xbox One doesn't always respond to your voice commands, which leaves you repeating those commands, followed by a derogatory comment or two.

The PS4's controller (right) is superior to the Xbox One's (click image to enlarge).

Ecosystem (Xbox One rating -- 6.0, PS4 rating -- 6.0)
Neither system is knocking it out of the park with its launch titles or integrated apps (HBO Go, for example, is missing from both, but coming to the Xbox One by spring 2014). But the Xbox One has the edge in terms of exclusive titles. The PS4 has Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack, which is geared more to casual gamers, while the Xbox One has Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Forza Motorsport 5. There are some downloadable titles unique to each system, but none of the launch exclusives blew us away. Some of the best games, such as FIFA 14 and NBA 2K14, are available on both consoles.

One big knock on both consoles is that they currently lack any backward compatibility with previous-generation games. That's a bigger issue than it was with the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3, which offered such a big jumps in gaming performance that you didn't want to bother with older titles (the original PS3 was backward compatible, and the Xbox 360 played about half of the original Xbox titles). Many of the more recent Xbox 360 and PS3 games aren't that far off graphically from their next-gen counterparts. It'd also be nice to be able to play Xbox Arcade and PSN titles you bought on your "old" systems.

Sony's Gaikai streaming service should help address this next year, but the company has been largely mum on details. And Xbox One could certainly release digital versions of popular "classic" 360 games at some point, but that's just fanboy hopefulness for now.

Features (Xbox One rating -- 8.0, PS4 rating -- 7.0)
Xbox One is called the One for a reason. As Matthew Moskovciak says in his deep dive into the Xbox One as a living room device, Microsoft wants to bring all your living room entertainment -- cable TV, gaming, and streaming-video -- to a single user interface with the help of a sophisticated second-generation Kinect camera/motion sensor and video pass-through functionality that's included with every $499 Xbox One. "That's a stark contrast to Sony's gaming-centric PS4, which has jettisoned -- at least at its launch -- many of the living room features that endeared it home theater enthusiasts, including support for DLNA, CDs, MP3s, JPEGs and any type of digital video file," Moskovciak says.

While the PS4 has some impressive new features, including PS Vita remote play (it works surprisingly well), the aforementioned game broadcasting (other users can watch you playing) and clip sharing, and a $59.99 camera of its own for augmented reality games and facial-recognition sign-in, the Xbox One has a seemingly more robust feature set that seems more next-gen or "futuristic." The concept of instantly switching between playing a game and watching TV -- or even watching TV while playing a game (in a PIP mode) -- is appealing.

The only problem is that Microsoft still has some work to do on the software.

"After living with the Xbox One for a few days," Matthew Moskovciak says, "it's clear that Microsoft has a bold, all-encompassing vision for its do-everything living room box that feels different than anything that's come before. But it's also clear that the vision just doesn't match the current reality, where everything feels just a half-step (or in some cases, a full step) away from where you'd want it to be."

The PS4 is not immune from criticism on the features front. It should read files from USB drives like the PS3 does and offer support for DNLA streaming (the Xbox One apparently does offer a form of DNLA streaming, though it's a bit complicated to set up). And the PS4 should play 3D Blu-rays like the PS3 does (the Xbox One also currently doesn't support 3D playback).

Xbox One offers a more robust feature set, highlighted by its OneGuide TV overlay feature. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance (Xbox One rating -- 7.0, PS4 rating -- 8.0)
Comparing the chips inside the two consoles, the PS4 appears to have a slight performance edge (Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts have received the most scrutiny), but expect most games look almost identical on each console.

Where the Xbox One's performance score took the more significant hit in our review was when it came to controlling and navigating the system. The fact is it only recognized voice commands about 75 percent of the time, which created some frustration. That should improve, but for now it's a problem.

Value (Xbox One rating -- 6.0, PS4 rating -- 7.0) The PS4 has the advantage of being $100 less expensive than the Xbox One, which includes the Kinect. When you add in the PlayStation Camera ($59.99), which arguably enhances the PS4 experience but isn't a necessary component, that brings the PS4's total cost closer to the Xbox One's. But the only problem is you basically can't do anything with the Xbox One without an Xbox Live gold membership, which costs $60 a year. That brings the Xbox One's real cost of ownership to $560 with a $60-a-year fee tacked on.

Sony now requires you to buy a PlayStation Plus account ($50 a year) if you want to do any online gaming. But you can use apps such as Netflix without buying a PS Plus account. At launch, Sony is throwing in a free trial month along with a $10 store credit and a few game freebies.

In the end, if the Xbox TV overlay feature (OneGuide) and all the futuristic Kinect stuff worked swimmingly -- and without certain restrictions, such as lack of DVR support -- it'd be easier to say those extras merited spending the extra $100 on the system along with the $60 Xbox Live yearly fee. Until Microsoft works out the kinks -- and I think it will -- the PS4 gets the higher value score.

Watch this: Sony PS4 vs. Microsoft Xbox One

... but this is just the first battle in a long war
Of course, as both camps will attest, these are the early days, and you can expect improvements to both consoles. Round 1 may have gone to Sony, but there are many more rounds to come. As we did with the software and hardware updates on the PS3 and Xbox 360, we'll constantly be updating these reviews -- and the ratings -- as major upgrades occur.

Check out CNET's full review of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and our Xbox One vs. PS4 feature.