The Great Debate: Xbox One, PS4, or Something Else Entirely?

With the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both launched, the pressing question is: Which one should you pick? Comparing stats on the two is the typical way websites tackle this issue. I'm not going to. If you've read anything about the two devices, you already know the following:

  • The PS4 is more powerful than the Xbox One.
  • The Xbox One has Kinect. Some people hate Kinect. Some people don't.
  • The PS4 is smaller and has a replaceable hard drive.
  • The Xbox One is quieter, and will eventually support external storage.
  • As of today, the Xbox One's menus and organization are nicer. It also supports MP3 playback. PS4 doesn't.
  • Games look almost identical between the two.

Rehashing this for the umpteenth time is about as interesting and dry as eating a bag cardboard, so let's hit the topic from a different angle. Let's assume that most games will look fairly similar, because that's what ended up happening in the past generation. Let's assume that major services, like Netflix, will come to both consoles. If we make that bet, what's left?

Xbox One - Meaningful Differentiation

Microsoft has made it clear that they view media integration a central goal. Right now, the Xbox One doesn't completely fit the bill, but it's getting there. The Xbox One also has the better long-term expandable storage options. Networking and content playback should be easy, provided Microsoft enables it. MS has talked up present and future integration with multiple companies. So here's the question: Do you want an Xbox that functions as the media center for your house / living room?

Right now, Sony's "Games first" methodology means that a lot of functionality, like DLNA, music playback, and the ability to read video or audio off a thumbstick got left out of the PS4. We know Microsoft intends to add some of it. So maybe you want to go the Xbox route.

More Horsepower for Devs and Consumers

On the other hand, Sony's big indie push has seen more quirky titles in the launch lineup for that system. The console does have more horsepower than its counterpart, and devs probably will find ways to use that to their advantage. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 largely ended in the same place, despite Cell's higher theoretical performance, that may not happen this time around. With both consoles built on well-understood x86 architectures, developers won't have to tie themselves in knots just to get Cell running at parity with the Xbox 360 -- which means more time to build better looking games on the platform.

So am I recommending the Xbox for multimedia users and the PS4 for gamers? No. It's not that simple.

Or Wait For The Device You Want

Delayed gratification is a lost art in America, but as a reviewer and analyst, I really hate the tendency of companies to push features and capabilities that don't practically exist as current selling points. For an example on the PC side of things, take AMD's new API, Mantle. I think Mantle looks like it could revolutionize gaming. It's a huge potential upside for AMD. But it's not here yet, which means if you're looking at buying an R9 290X or R9 290, you should buy those GPUs based on what they offer now, in current games, with DirectX 11 or OpenGL.

I feel the same way about consoles. And so I'm not going to recommend buying an Xbox One because you think Titanfall looks awesome, or a PS4 because you love the Infamous series and can't wait for Second Son. It's not that I think those games are going to be bad games, but that we don't know how these later exclusives will match up. Furthermore, holding off on buying now is one of the best possible way to communicate what kinds of games and features you want to see on the platform.

Buying a console now, or around the holidays, says you're happy with the product as it exists. When it comes to the PS4 and Xbox One, I can't make that recommendation yet. The games aren't there. The use-case isn't there. They're missing too many features. As far as the console I would like to own, Microsoft has a better chance of pulling it off. Personally? I want an Xbox One that supports local game streaming, so I can buy an ultrathin laptop with six years of battery life, hook a controller to it, and stream games across the network from my Xbone.

I want an Xbox Store that gives me access to the PC version of Xbox titles when I buy them through the Xbox Store and a second screen interactive experience I can push to any Windows device in my house. I want a platform that supports a full range of media file types, that allows for easy storage expansion via USB 3.0 (coming), and an Xbox One I can run Office on.

Yes, really. Not much, mind you -- but I want the ability to treat the Xbox One like a focused game machine that also has convenient PC features when I need them. I want a box that networks seamlessly with other Windows devices and has no trouble sharing data across a network. I want an Xbox I can attach to a Homegroup.

That's what I want. But it's not clear if that's the Xbox Microsoft (or Sony) will ever build. The company's long-term ability to integrate the PC and Xbox platforms has been fairly weak. Microsoft has done nothing in the past 18 months to make me think it has a chance in hell of actually executing this kind of vision. Most of the features I just named are things I want the console to do, not things Microsoft has ever claimed it will do.

Personally? I'd sink $400 or $500 into my own PC system, to improve its gaming functionality, if I had the money to burn. I might put the money aside for an Oculus Rift, to see if it matures into a system that's as nice as it could be. But if you're going to spend money on one of these boxes, and you aren't going to wait to see how the market matures, then I'd buy the PS4.


Because if gaming is what you care about more than any of the media services it lacks, it's a lot easier to build a system that does one thing -- gaming -- really well then a system that relies on bringing lots of disparate capabilities together into a cohesive whole. Between betting on MS to nail everything or Sony to nail one thing, I'd bet on Sony -- though our editorial team here is decidedly split on this and thinks the Xbox One offers more of a total platform solution. So the choice is fairly straight-forward.

Are you just a gamer hell-bent on performance or do you want your console to do more?