Ah, now we can finally compare the two. Pretty much. With Microsoft's Xbox One cat out of the bag, at last both it and that other yes-it's-been-announced-but-no-we-don't-know-every-detail console, the PlayStation 4, can be put under our powerful, analytical virtual microscopes.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions on both sides, but that won't stop us from diving headfirst into what we actually do know.
Editors' note (May 23, 12:52 a.m. PT): This story has been extensively updated and expanded since its original publication.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 house very similar silicon inside their respective bodies, with a few key differences.
According to an exhaustive analysis by Digital Foundry, the biggest difference between the two system's hardware is the type of RAM each uses. The PlayStation 4 uses 8GB GDDR5 RAM, while all signs point to the Xbox One using 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The GDDR5 RAM used in the PlayStation 4 is the same type of RAM used by most PC video cards and is optimized for graphical throughput.
Richard Leadbetter at Digital Foundry speculates that the PS4's GPU may have as much as 50 percent more raw graphical computational power than the one in the Xbox One. That, coupled with its faster graphics memory, may translate into prettier games on the PS4.
However, we can't say for sure just yet. We've not played any actual games on either system, so until E3 in a few weeks, all we can do is speculate on whether the next Halo game will look as good as the next version of Killzone.
Check out the chart below for more details on the consoles' hardware.
|Xbox One||PlayStation 4|
|Hard drive||Built-in (500GB)||Built-in ("very large")|
|Motion control||New Kinect (bundled)||Move controller|
|CPU||8-core x86 AMD||8-core x86 AMD|
|Wireless||Yes (802.11n w/Wi-Fi Direct)||Yes (802.11n)|
|HDMI||Yes (in and out)||Yes|
|Suspend/resume game support||Yes||Yes|
|Native gameplay sharing (video)||Yes||Yes|
As I'm certain many hard-core gamers will attest, not much was said about games during the hardware-centric Xbox One event. By contrast, Sony's February launch event for the PlayStation 4 was somewhat more software focused.
To state the obvious: each company's lineup of first-party (self-published) games will be exclusive to its own console. So, as usual, any new Halo, Gears of War, or Fable titles will remain Xbox only, while future Uncharted, Killzone, or Ratchet and Clank games will only appear on PlayStation.
To that end, Microsoft announced that we'd see at least 15 first-party games on the Xbox One within its first year, 8 of which will be new franchises (a quick demo of Forza 5 was shown to whet the appetite). The company also pledged that all DLC (add-on downloadable content) for Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts would debut first on the Xbox One.
EA also showed up to show off its new sports games engine, Ignite, with demos of its popular sports games in tow, but I fully expect those same games to appear on Sony's console.
Of course, Sony has the aforementioned Killzone franchise, and at its event in February of this year, the company showed off other PS4-only first-party titles like Infamous: Second Son and Knack. Sony touted Diablo III making its way to the PS3 and PS4, which would mark the first time that dungeon slash franchise made its way from the PC/Mac gaming realm to home consoles -- but it was unclear if it would be an exclusive or not.
Most other third-party PlayStation 4 games shown so far will also be coming to the Xbox One.
Right now it's a bit early to get an accurate picture of what the exclusive games Stratego map looks like. Again, E3 should give us a better idea of which pieces are where on the board.
The handheld controllers of the PS4 and the Xbox One are evolutionary descendants of the versions found on each respective platform.
The Sony DualShock 4 differentiates itself with a clickable touch pad on the front -- giving developers an additional option when designing games, although we've yet to see it in actual application.
The DualShock 4's body includes a "light bar" in the front that enables motion control functionality with the PS4's Eye camera to track the position and identify where the controller is and, if need be, actually adjust the split-screen orientation during multiplayer couch gaming. The Xbox One will accomplish this with assistance from Kinect, as it automatically tracks who's holding which controller. The DualShock 4 also includes the social-focused Share button, a built-in speaker, and a headphone jack.
The Xbox One uses Wi-Fi Direct to connect its controller, while the PlayStation 4 relies on Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. On paper, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR's theoretical 3Mbps maximum speed is clearly outclassed by Wi-Fi Direct's 250Mbps theoretical throughput. However, whether this will result in any tangible difference remains to be seen. In the Xbox One's case, the extra bandwidth could end up being important if Microsoft chooses to release add-ons, like a microphone for voice chat, and an updated version of its keyboard pad. It will be interesting to see which wireless standard delivers more efficient battery life.
While we have yet to touch the DualShock 4, CNET's Josh Lowensohn got some very brief hands-on time with the Xbox One game pad.
We take a look at the Xbox One (pictures)See all photos
Motion and voice control
Every Xbox One unit will come bundled with a
The new version of Kinect will offer a wider field of view, better tracking of individuals (limited finger tracking is now included), and the ability to track more overall bodies. And (frighteningly!) also determine your current heart rate.
The first Kinect never really made a strong impression with hard-core gamers, and it's too early to tell just how developers will make use of the second generation's upgraded features, but since every Xbox One owner will have one, its functionality advantages will be much more integrated into your overall Xbox experience.
The device will always be on and simply stating, "Xbox on," will power up your entire system and sign you into your account based on facial recognition. Not to be outdone, Sony says its camera will have similar facial recognition functionality.
More than any other next-generation feature, it's the ability to navigate your entire interface simply with the sound of your voice that feels the most futuristic to me. And by "futuristic" I mean, this is the kind of stuff I envisioned we'd see by this time when I was a kid. Interfaces that bring us one step closer to a holodeck.
Right now it's too early to tell which motion/camera solution will be best, but Kinect may at least be the most ubiquitous. That may inspire more developers to utilize more of its enticing offerings in games.
Microsoft's event on Tuesday was clearly focused on communicating that the Xbox One would be much more than simply a box to play video games on, and began its presentation demoing how the system would integrate with your television.
The Xbox One will allow you to switch from game to TV show, to the Web, to a movie, to Skype, easily and smoothly (without switching inputs), with just the sound of your voice. You'll also have the ability to multitask, running games and other apps simultaneously.
The Xbox One will not replace your cable box, but will instead allow you to plug your cable box into it, bypassing your cable company's interface, giving you control of live TV through your Xbox One. You'll even be able to create your own personalized "channel" with the shows and services you choose.
Football fans will see deeper integration with NFL on the Xbox One; however, details on how exactly this will work are few. Look for Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming services to make a return from the 360; whether they remain behind Xbox Gold's pay wall has yet to be addressed by Microsoft.
The PS4 will not want for services like streaming video, but live TV integration is not currently on the table. I'd love to write more about Sony's nongaming entertainment plans, but frankly, the company has so far been fairly quiet in this regard.
Community and social
During the PS4 reveal back in February, Sony was clearly putting out different messages compared with what had come before. While PSN has seen vast improvements (especially if you're a Plus member) in its offerings as of late, you'd be hard-pressed to compare it favorably with the Xbox Live community experience.
For PS4, Sony is targeting deep integration into its service. It wants you connected all the time. Things like live video chat and Facebook will be natively integrated. When your friends purchase a new game, you'll know, and you'll be able to play new games before they've even finished downloading.
However, the biggest change is the addition of the Share button on the PS4's controller.
Through this button, gamers can broadcast live gameplay, take screenshots, or share videos of their latest gaming triumphs. Your friends will post comments to your screen while they watch you play. If a player is stuck in a particularly difficult section of a game, he can call in an online friend to literally take over his controls. Frustration successfully circumvented, despite a possible bruised ego on the sharer's part.
That's a feature I'll probably never use (see aforementioned tender ego), but I can easily recognize how incredibly cool and useful this could be for many players out there.
With Remote Play you can stream your PS4 game onto a
Though Microsoft hasn't gone into as much detail for these types of features on the Xbox One, it's certainly not resting on its social laurels. Xbox One users will be able to access the last few minutes of gameplay, edit it into a video, and share via social networks and Xbox Live.
Microsoft has also increased its Xbox Live friends list limit from 100 to 1,000, and achievements are getting a big overhaul. It writes on its Xbox One site that the new achievement system will have "richer detail and span across your games and experiences."
Other Xbox One social features include built-in Skype, the ability to track Xbox Live trends, and see what your friends are playing or watching most. With Smart Match you can look for multiplayer games while spending your time in other apps. SmartGlass will also be more tightly integrated into the Xbox One.
Live from Microsoft's Xbox One reveal (pictures)See all photos
Admittedly, this all sounds very cool in concept, but is a little difficult to discuss without more details. I just hope that both Microsoft and Sony allow users to easily opt out of sharing so much info if they're not into the whole social-network thing.
By this point (if you've gotten this far) I'm sure you're thinking: "Wow, he really doesn't know much about these systems and this mostly feels like speculation." And you'd be mostly right. There is a venerable lack of concrete info, but hopefully by E3...well, you know how the rest of that sentence goes.
Pricing is just another one of those details we have zero concrete information on. Some rumors point to a $499 price for the Xbox One base system, with a subsidized $299 price if you sign up for Xbox Live. That honestly feels a bit too expensive to me. Console manufacturers have traditionally sold their hardware at a loss, making it up on software, but with the advent of microtransactions, maybe that model is due for a change. Still, I'm predicting a lower initial price for both it and the PS4, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.
There are still plenty of unanswered pricing questions for each system's respective services. Will we see a new Xbox Live pricing structure? How much will Sony charge for PSN memberships? How much will new games cost? Will digital versions be discounted? Will Microsoft ditch its points currency system? Just how often will each console have to connect to the Internet? Ah, questions! Questions that need answering!
As for backward compatibility, Microsoft says no, Sony says not immediately, but probably in the future.
There's also the issue of how this coming generation will deal with used games. Game publishers have been very vocal about the used games market cutting into their bottom lines. Sony has yet to detail how it will handle used games on the PS4, but Microsoft was pointedly askedto address this issue.
Though not ready to fully reveal its used games strategy, group program manager for Xbox Incubation, Jeff Henshaw, says, "Xbox One will support the reselling and used game market for Xbox One games. We have not announced details about exactly how it's going to work, or how licenses are going to be exchanged."
Henshaw went on to say, "What we have announced is that a used game ecosystem will be supported, so people can breathe easy. They will be able to get used games." Interesting, but without actual details, maybe not wholly satisfying for many gamers who only buy games used. We expect to know more later this year.
Later this year
Look to CNET for our continuing coverage of both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 leading up to E3 2013 on June 10 and through each new system's respective launches. Though we don't have all the details just yet, what has been revealed thus far is incredibly exciting, at least for someone (me) who's been gaming for some 35 years now.
I'm anticipating two incredibly impressive systems to launch this year. I hope I'm not disappointed.