On Friday, Sony launched the $399 PlayStation 4, the second device in the so-called eighth generation of video game consoles (the Nintendo Wii U was the first). The reviews were pretty good. So were the early sales figures. But how does the PS4 hold up to the $499 Microsoft Xbox One, which hits shelves later this week? Let's go to the scorecards.
The opening shot
The Xbox One "is still very much a gaming device, but it's more than that: it's a sprawling, ambitious attempt to be the most important thing in your living room for the next decade," writes the team at The Verge. "Microsoft wants a reason to put the Xbox controller in the hands of everyone in your household; to be the first thing you see when you turn your TV on."
"The nicest description most Polygon staff could manage for the Xbox One's silhouette is 'inoffensive' – there's no sugarcoating the console's lack of visual flair... The console lacks the profile and space-saving considerations of the PlayStation 4 – or even the original Xbox 360," writes the Polygon crew. "Not only is the console larger than the original Xbox 360, but the new Kinect sensor is larger than the first one. Even the massive power brick from the last generation makes a not-so-welcome return."
"The Xbox 360 controller was already very, very good, but it had a glaring fault or two," notes Greg Kumparak of TechCrunch. "Its directional pad was, for lack of a better word, 'mushy,' and it only got worse with age and use. The analog sticks lacked any real texture for your thumbs to grip on to, especially when the gaming got tense and the ol’ mitts got sweaty. The Xbox One controller is essentially a 360 controller refined, scrubbed of its flaws. The names of some buttons have changed, sure – but functionally, it’s a finely polished version of its predecessor."
"The Xbox One's dashboard is an obvious evolution from the latest version of the Xbox 360's UI, but it's also very much its own entity," writes Eric Limer of Gizmodo. "The tiles on the Xbox one are far more starkly Windows 8 than anything on the 360. It's a change that's fresh, but not alienating. "From the moment the Xbox One wakes up, everything is right at your fingertips. Apps, games, notifications, and yeah, a couple of 'featured items' that Microsoft would be more than happy for you to purchase. The whole thing can feel a little busy, but it's easy to pick up and use."
The ability to watch TV
"By including an HDMI input on the Xbox One, Microsoft is encouraging users to plug their other set-top devices in through the system so they can receive messages and game invites and do other things while watching TV or using other devices," writes Kyle Orland of Ars Technica. "The passthrough works great with no noticeable lag at all; I was able to play Wii U and PlayStation 4 games through my Xbox One without even noticing there was anything in the way (you can even have one person play a game on the Xbox while another plays on another system snapped to the side, as long as the second player doesn't mind squinting a bit)."
The launch line-up
Among the games to launch alongside the Xbox One are Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Forza Motorsport 5. "None of these games are groundbreaking in terms of sheer artistry," writes Yannick LeJacq of NBC News. "But they're clearly designed to be crowd-pleasers, and they hit all the right marks to make gamers happy. They look incredible on the Xbox One, but what makes them even more compelling is how they use the console's unique hardware in intriguing ways – particularly the Kinect."
"After a couple weeks of testing in a couple of different rooms, I'd say the Xbox One's Kinect works about... 80-85% of the time," writes Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku. "Not a terrible percentage, but not enough to call consistent, either. The camera mishears me frequently enough to be annoying. Each time I have to repeat myself—'Xbox. Xbox. Xbox go to Skype'—I'm that much closer to just ditching it and picking up the controller."
"To be sure, there is a definite extra patina of shininess to the graphics on Xbox One games compared to what was possible on previous consoles," writes Mr. Orland of Ars Technica. "It's most apparent in the lighting effects, especially in games like Forza Motorsport 5, where the sun comes over a hill like a blinding nova or reflects off your driver to cast his translucent reflection on the windshield. The move to 60 frames per second without a dip in visual quality also helps games like these. You can see it in an extra coat of detail on things like the ice crystals in a cave in Crimson Dragon or the contours and jiggles of faces and bodies of the motion-captured actors in Ryse."
The final word
"However you decide to control [it], the Xbox One is a versatile, powerful machine that should be able to deliver inventive high-definition games for a long time," writes Lou Kesten of the Associated Press. "Between it and the PlayStation 4, the new generation of gaming is off to a roaring start."