For the video game aficionados out there, the “console wars” are a tradition as old as time – or at least as old as gaming itself. Every generation brings about a series of combatants, all of which battle for years in an effort to make it to the top of the heap. Years ago we had the Super Nintendo versus the Sega Genesis, followed by the PlayStation versus the Nintendo 64. Since the release of the original Xbox, the primary decision in the minds of most gamers has been “who put out a better console this time, Sony or Microsoft?”
Though the PlayStation 2 was the clear winner over the original Xbox in terms of lifetime sales alone, things were not so clear with the PlayStation 3 versus the Xbox 360. Many would argue that Microsoft came out on top that time, due to some particularly ill-timed stumbles on Sony’s side early on.
Though the eighth generation of gaming officially began in 2012 with the release of the Wii U, it was the release of both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One in November of 2013 that really kicked things into high gear. As always, it’s important for any financially conscious gamer to look at things from as many angles as possible to determine which console is the best suited for their interests, their gaming habits and (most essentially) their hard-earned money.
The State of Things Today
No discussion of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One would be complete without touching on the multiple versions of each console that are currently available. This generation of gaming seems to have brought about a curious (and often frustrating) trend – while early adopters get to say that they got in on the ground floor of a gaming revolution, that means little when both Sony and Microsoft later revise and refresh their hardware to include performance improvements and other features that leave those early iterations in the dust.
Since its original release, the PlayStation 4 has been replaced by not one but two different versions – the PlayStation 4 Slim and the PlayStation 4 Pro, both of which are currently available. The PlayStation 4 Slim is essentially this generation’s version of the PlayStation 3 Slim and PlayStation 2 Slim before it. It includes a significantly smaller form factor than the launch version of the console (to the tune of 40% smaller), offers a matte finish in the top of the unit (as opposed to the two-tone finish of the release version) and makes other cosmetic modifications (like the removal of an optical audio port that was very rarely used in an HDMI-based world anyway).
The PlayStation 4 Pro, on the other hand, is where things get complicated. Perhaps its best to think of it like a PlayStation 4.5 – a “stop gap” release designed both to hold off the next generation of consoles for as long as possible but still include some important features that the original release lacked. It includes support for 4K rendering, includes a more powerful GPU with 4.2 teraflops of processing capability, offers support for checkerboard rendering and more.
While Sony has made it clear to developers that games designed for the PlayStation 4 Pro must also work on the PlayStation 4 Slim (or on the launch version of the console), games that are labeled PlayStation 4 “Enhanced” offer support for better graphics, higher resolutions, HDR support with improved colors and motion and more. If you’re an early adopter that wants to gain access to these features, you essentially have to buy your console all over again.
The Xbox One S, on the other hand, is essentially Microsoft’s stab at a PlayStation 4 Pro-style console revision in the middle of the current generation. It actually combines some of the ideas behind the PlayStation 4 Slim and Pro models into one unit. None of this is to say that Microsoft is copying Sony – when trying to figure out which PlayStation console is the equivalent of the Xbox One S, it’s just easier to say “both.”
The Xbox One S also features a form factor that is about 40% smaller than the original design. The console now features the physical eject and power buttons that the original release lacked. Other cosmetic modifications were also included – like the fact that the console no longer has an external power supply, no longer includes a proprietary port for Kinect users and curiously moves the location of certain buttons to the front of the console.
The biggest “under the hood” change is that the Xbox One S now supports 4K resolution video across the board. Whether you’re using a streaming service like Netflix that offers 4K video, are slowly building an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc home video collector or just want to upscale your existing games into 4K, the Xbox One can do all of this and more. Additional CPU and GPU enhancements were made to support features like HDR with superior colors.
As is customary with this generation of gaming, the price you’ll pay for either an Xbox One S or a PlayStation 4 will vary depending on exactly which bundle you’re talking about. An Xbox One S console with one game and a 500GB hard drive has a retail price of $299.99, but can commonly be found online for roughly $249. If you’d like to kick things up to a 1TB hard drive, you can expect to pay $349.99 – a suggested retail price that is commonly offered for about $299.99 at most online retailers.
Things on the PlayStation side of the spectrum are understandably more complicated because you’re dealing with two consoles, but in the end work out to be nearly identical – to an extent. The suggested retail price of a 500GB PlayStation 4 Slim with one game is $299.99 – something that you can usually find between $247 and $249 online.
When you open the discussion up to the PlayStation 4 Pro, however, Sony’s console is legitimately more expensive. The suggested retail price of the PlayStation 4 Pro with a 1TB hard drive is $399.99. Because the console is still so new, it’s uncommon to really find any significant discounts – though always shop around to see what specials retailers have in store.
Note that additional bundles are available that affect the price wildly. “Two item” bundles are also standard for both consoles, which usually include one game and an accessory like a controller.
If you were trying to declare a winner between the two consoles based on price alone, the answer would be a resounding (and confusing) “it depends.” In terms of the Xbox One S versus the PlayStation 4 Slim, things really are just about even – it’s essentially a total wash. When you talk about the Xbox One S versus the PlayStation 4 Pro, and when you also consider that the Xbox One S supports 4K Blu-ray home video discs and the PlayStation 4 Pro doesn’t, Microsoft’s console is the clear winner.
But again – price isn’t everything. There are a wide range of additional factors that you need to heavily consider when making your decision.
This is arguably the most important factor for nearly every gamer when breaking down the differences between any two consoles. As is customary, a huge number of different games are available on both systems. Whether you’re interested in the non-stop ultraviolence of “Doom” or are looking to invest hundreds of hours of your time into something like “Fallout 4,” you really can’t go wrong either way.
Where the two consoles understandably differ, however, is one of exclusives. Many believe that Sony is the leader in these terms this generation with first party titles like “Uncharted 4” and “The Last Guardian.” Microsoft is certainly no slouch, however, having released many hugely popular titles like “Gears of War 4” and “Halo 5.”
In terms of backwards compatibility, something that both fans of nostalgia and those who looking at gaming consoles as an investment are concerned with, things get interesting. Technically, the PlayStation 4 is backwards compatible with every prior version of the PlayStation… if you’re willing to buy your games all over again. You can purchase PlayStation Digital Classics from the PSN store that update games to support new features like “Share Play” and trophies, but you’re going to have to buy them again for about $10 to $15 each – regardless of whether you still have your old discs laying around or not. The PlayStation 4 also offers you to stream PlayStation 3 games via PlayStation Now, which again will cost you.
The Xbox One S doesn’t support every Xbox 360 game, but it does support most of the big ones. Additional support for older titles is added all the time.
As with most things, this will largely come down to a question of your own personal taste. In terms of exclusive titles, both consoles have a great deal to offer in nearly every category – though many of Sony’s first party titles are getting a bit more buzz these days. If backwards compatibility is a major concern for you, this isn’t even a question – the Xbox One S is the clear victor, UNLESS you’ve got a ton of money laying around that you aren’t sure what to do with and are willing to buy all of your favorite games yet again.
Unless you happen to be a lucky launch adopter, one of your primary concerns when buying any console is “how long is it going to be before this one gets replaced, too?” As it seems to be a running theme with this generation, the answer to this question is definitely “it’s complicated.”
At a press conference in E3 in 2016, Microsoft announced that it was working on yet another as-of-yet-untitled refresh of the Xbox One that is currently referred to as “Project Scorpio.” It will be a high-end model with many hardware upgrades (like an eight-core APU, 6 teraflops of computing hardware, virtual reality support and much more) that Microsoft has already dubbed “the most powerful console of all time.”
This, in essence, would be the Microsoft equivalent of the PlayStation 4 Pro – though if Microsoft’s PR department is to be believed, it will be decidedly more powerful.
In terms of the next generation of consoles, this is also a tricky question to answer. Up until the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360, most hardware generations lasted about five or six years. With the power on display for both of those two consoles, the transition into the PlayStation 4/Xbox One S-era lasted more than six years. Things are expected to go even longer this time thanks to streaming support for older titles, constant hardware refreshes and more.
All of that is a long way of saying that nobody can really tell you at this point when a PlayStation 5 or new Xbox will be released… but it will likely be sooner rather than later. Both of the major players in the current generation came out in 2013 and if things continue even to a 7 year cycle, one might expect new hardware to hit the streets sometime in the fall of 2020. This really isn’t as far off as one might think.
Declaring a winner between the Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 is more difficult than it has been in previous generations due to the huge number of factors at play. First off, which version of which console are you talking about? If you compare the Xbox One S to the PlayStation 4 Pro, the PlayStation 4 Pro is a fairly clear winner. Unless, of course, you’re concerned with turning your console into a home entertainment hub, at which point the Xbox One S has a clear advantage in that it plays UHD video discs and Sony’s console does not.
Likewise, it’s also important to remember that “under-the-hood” power and performance doesn’t mean as much as it used to. Back in the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days, power mattered a great deal – it meant that certain games looked and felt vastly different from one console to the next and also led to both consoles having vastly different libraries. These days, things are much more similar even though the consoles themselves are fairly different. When you take exclusives out of the discussion, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between most games unless you had each console up and running side-by-side.
If you do limit your discussion to exclusives, many would argue that Sony is leading the pack… but this will mostly come down to a matter of personal taste. You might be more of a “Halo 5” gamer, or you might like something more deliberate like “Uncharted 4.” It’s going to come down to what you’re looking for.
In the end, you really can’t go wrong with either console – they both have a great deal to offer nearly all types of people, proving to be a worthy investment both from gaming and home entertainment perspectives. The Xbox One S has a few additional features (again – the importance of UHD playback cannot be overstated enough, especially if you have a 4K TV) that cause it to pull out ahead in nearly every category (except lifetime sales). Microsoft’s upcoming refresh may cement that “on paper” victory even further, but at this time it largely remains to be seen.