The tech pages have been buzzing with gaming news in recent weeks, thanks to new consoles from Microsoft and Sony. But if you're not a loyal fan, which one should you choose?
These five factors — and some simple truths the manufacturers probably don't want you to know — could sway your buying decision.
The Power of the Next Generation
November is the start of gadget season. If you're looking for a gift that's a little more exciting than one of those new tablets, but don't feel the need to invest in a full-spec PC gaming rig, consider one of the new consoles from Sony or Microsoft. They're perfect gaming, living-room friendly, media-playing devices.
Sony's PlayStation 4 is already out in the U.S., having sold a million on launch. Microsoft's Xbox One launches around the world this week, and reviews are pouring in. However, even though both feature PC technology from AMD, pack Blu-ray drives and expansive (well, 500GB) hard disks, there are some major differences that could sway the buyers in either direction.
- The PlayStation 4 looks small, sleek and stylish. The Xbox One looks like a big block in comparison. If you have limited space, then the Xbox and its power brick won't look half as neat as the PlayStation.
- The Xbox One provides an HDMI thru-connector, so you can run your cable or satellite box through one port and manage your service using the Xbox's voice instructions. You can swap between playing a game and watching TV at a moment's notice and pick up where you left off, which is pretty cool.
- You pay $100 more for the Xbox One with a Kinect 2 controller, which offers motion sensing (and handles the voice controls). This could be a huge feature in coming years, but for now it is a costly extra with limited utility (Sony's less-powerful Eye Camera is a $60 extra).
- Xbox One runs with a Windows 8-style interface and operating system. This makes it a familiar sight to PC users (many of whom still dislike Windows 8's new look) and detracts from the simplicity of a game console.
- Internet Explorer on Xbox One is a far better browser than Sony's PlayStation offering, a factor if you plan to view websites on the big screen. The Xbox also comes with Skype built-in and SkyDrive cloud storage.
If you want a bonus category, consider portable gaming. Most PlayStation 4 games can be played remotely on the PlayStation Vita portable console, at home via Wi-Fi (ideal if someone else wants the TV) or elsewhere over 4G. Microsoft offers a second-screen app called SmartGlass 2.0 for tablets and smartphones, but because it does not have physical controls or buttons, you can't use it to play games.
Some Things Haven't Changed
Despite much saber rattling, most existing Sony PlayStation and Xbox users will likely to stick to the machine and exclusive games with which they are familiar if they opt to upgrade. And after a decade of competition, the two consoles have shared ideas and flaws between them. Therefore, the new offerings are a more of a level playing field than the manufacturers want you to think.
For example, each company's early generations started out as singular, closed devices, and later opened up to media content apps and social media services. Expect that to continue with the new devices, with improved content sharing features to make gaming more of a social and spectator experience. But there are some things that you won't see in the brochures.
- Both devices systems are a little bit broken or incomplete at launch. Multiple patches and upgrades will be the story of owning either of them as functionality is fixed, improved and added over time.
- The launch games aren't that good. Most sites are giving middling review scores to the new games for both consoles. If you don't have to buy one, why not wait a bit until the offering improves?
- Sony used to have a major advantage with PlayStation Plus, a subscription service offering free games month-by-month. Microsoft's launch of Games With Gold is intended to counter that, but is somewhat less refined.
- Perhaps the best all-new game for either console is Titanfall (pictured below), but it won't be out until next spring. Until then there is a mix of upgraded last generation games to enjoy, and a raft of smaller indie titles
- Backward compatibility is no longer an option. On both previous consoles, there was some feature to run games from the previous generation. All of that nostalgia has been ripped up for the new devices, so if you have hundreds of games from previous generations, you'll either have a very crowded shelf, or need to trade them in.
A lot of coverage was given to failures of PlayStation 4 consoles at launch, with faulty HDMI connectors, hard drives problems and other issues. Sony reports less than 0.4% of its million sold are affected, so don't think there's a major issue. Microsoft will perhaps suffer less due to its more industrial-sized design.
So, there are plenty of reasons for and against both consoles. Your personal preferences and needs could see you going in one direction or the other. Or you may think consoles are dead in the tablet age. Either way, let us know how you think this monster marketing battle will play out over the holiday season.