PS4 vs. Xbox One – Unboxing, Hardware, Interface and Graphics Review

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Yes I have had both for a week or so, and yes they are both powerful machines, but which one is better? Which one would I recommend? It may be too soon to create a final verdict, but here are my initial thoughts on both units, the pros, cons and what makes either machine outshine the other.

Unboxing

I ordered my Playstation 4 on Amazon and the Xbox One came via Best Buy, thanks to my lovely wife standing outside in the freezing weather for the midnight Day One launch sale.

Opening the PS4 box, you first realize that the unit is very svelte. It’s nicely designed with a very cool look. It’s also smaller and lighter than I thought it would be. The power button and disk eject button are a bit too hard to see and find, and they are also right next to each other, a design choice I would not have made. But the thing does look cool. It also sets up quickly, and uses the same cabling as the PS3, just a power cord (no brick!) and HDMI cable.

Before even opening the Xbox One box, just by lifting it, you get a sense of the heft. Where the Playstation 4 is slim with sleek lines, the Xbox is a big, heavy box that looks like a jet black PC. Since it comes with the Kinect motion and voice controller unit as well as a large power brick, there is a little more of a setup. My first instinct was, where am I going to fit this stuff in my entertainment center. But I managed to make room.

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Setup and Interface

The PS4 setup was pretty easy, just sync the controller and put in my PSN name and password. I was then off and rolling after downloading the latest update. The interface was clean, immediately accessible and understandable. I could quickly find settings to adjust, apps to download and the Playstation Store to download games. I could also see a scrolling list of all the activity of my PSN friends. Often it was a little too much activity, but I never felt like I had to scroll through it. The main drawback of the interface is that every app and game you install is blocked together on one long scrolling line. I could see in the future with many games and apps I would want some way to control and sort these things, and I am sure Sony will add some organization tools in a future update. I installed a few apps, such as Amazon, Netflix and Vudu and each had their own dedicated interface. Some look great like Netflix, and some like Amazon clearly have not been updated since it launched on the PS3.

Setting up the Xbox One was more involved, it just seemed to take quite a bit longer. Which makes sense because you are also setting up the Kinect. Speaking of the Kinect, I did try controlling the Xbox One using voice commands and found it hit or miss. Most of the time it worked, but when it did not, it was very frustrating. Not unlike using Apple’s Siri, when a command does not work, you try it again. Then you try it again only louder. Then it misinterprets what you are saying. Then you start to think, why don’t I just hit a button instead of struggling with voice commands? I feel like this will happen to a lot of Xbox One users. They’ll try it and when they hit a few speed bumps with voice commands not working, they’ll ditch it altogether. The problem is, Microsoft upped the price of the console by $100 and forced everyone to buy a Kinect along with the Xbox One, so ditching it so easily can be seen as a frustrating waste. I may give Kinect another try, since I have not even tried the hand motion commands. There is great technology there, I just don’t feel like wrestling with it.

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You can run your cable box into the Xbox One and see your live TV on the Xbox One screen. Not only is this pointless (who watches live TV in 2013?) but it’s again a lot of extra and pricey technology built in that perhaps many will not even use. Most people use a receiver to switch to different video inputs if they have a decent entertainment setup, Microsoft’s running the TV into the box would have been exciting ten years ago, but I don’t see the point today. Especially since it can’t function as a DVR and does not interact or control your existing DVR.

I installed some apps and was excited to see the YouTube app. Microsoft has a strict interface that apps adhere to (scrolling boxes) and I was sure that the YouTube app would look great on this next gen box. Unfortunately I was sad to see the horrible YouTube interface that the PS3 also uses. I played around with it for a few minutes and then gave up.

The actual Xbox One interface takes a lot of its design from Windows 8, which means its got miles of scrolling boxes, and it takes more clicks than usual to get anywhere. The interface does seem a bit more organized than the Xbox 360 version, but if this initial version seems a little cluttered, I can’t imagine what it will look like a year from now when so much more is added. Microsoft always slapped non-relevant ads in the Xbox 360 interface, and I anticipate that will happen more as the months roll on with the Xbox One. I also found the Xbox One interface a slight bit more sluggish than the PS4 interface. It is a lot speedier than the Xbox 360 one, but there is a slight bit of loading (represented by a spinning circle) going from section to section. Most won’t notice, and it is far from a deal breaker, but it’s not really what I would expect from a next gen powerhouse interface.

Controllers

The Xbox One controller has changed a bit, not much, but I think I prefer the Xbox 360 controller. Maybe I need to get used to it more, but the new controller feels slightly less comfy. It also has a slicker feel. It’s still grippy but the plastic is a little too smooth. Also the weight seems to be reduced a hair. Something about it seems off, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe I just need to get used to it. The Xbox 360 controller has been the gold standard of console controllers, so changes to that may take some adjustment time.

The PS4 controller on the other hand gets an almost total redesign, and for the better. Where the PS3 controller felt blocky, lightweight and caused hand fatigue, the PS4 one is super comfy, substantially weighty without being heavy, and feels amazingly natural in your hand. Seriously, Sony took just about every lacking aspect of the previous controller and improved it. Since Microsoft’s controllers are so good, I would say that the PS4 controller is now in the same league. Both controllers are usable, with the PS4 getting a slight edge so far.

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Hardware

There are many articles on the specs of the two machines, but the summary is that the PS4 is a more powerful machine that requires a bit more power to run. The Xbox One is a less powerful machine, but is much more energy efficient. The thinking is that Microsoft anticipates people will use the Xbox One as a digital hub that is on all the time. I’ll go over how wrong they are in a minute, but the problem with going with a less powerful, but lower power device is that Microsoft may not be able to keep up with the PS4’s resolution and frame rate.

Microsoft’s last console, the Xbox 360, regularly had games that were 720p but upscaled to 1080p, just to hit the performance of no dropped frames during gameplay. They’ve been snagged again (via resolutiongate) with the Xbox One. As Xbox One games came out around launch, several websites analyzed the games and found several were running below 1080 res and being upscaled. Microsoft responded “it’s about the games, not the resolution”, which makes little sense.

I would counter with “it’s not about the resolution, its about the anti-aliasing”. Anti-aliasing is a process where HD graphics are smoothed out to reduce jaggies. Jaggies don’t often occur in a full screen character giving a speech, but way in the background, you can often see jaggies along vertical lines in some games. Last gen was full of jaggies, but now that is outdated hardware. Basically you don’t see jaggies in “real life”, and if games want to create ultra-realism, they need to use anti-aliasing.

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Actually both systems should be able to get 1080p and 30 fps, but the better looking games going forward will use various forms of anti-aliasing. However this process takes more computing power, and here is where the PS4 could spring into the lead. Since the PS4 has more horsepower to apply anti-aliasing, the games, all things being equal, may end up looking better on that platform. It’s still early to tell, but we do have one new example: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag (my review is here). The game looks great on the Xbox One, but it looks amazing on the PS4. Why? Because the developer updated the game to add anti-aliasing. It now runs at 1080p, 30 fps and jaggies are just about nonexistent. This makes a huge difference to the look and feel of the game, and I have to say playing Black Flag on my PS4 looks very next gen. Trust me on this one, anti-aliasing will be a big topic and hot debate on both consoles in the coming months, once people get a taste of how it looks when done correctly.

Speaking of games, both consoles make games look great. Really great. From the sharpness of the textures to the vivid 1080p detail to the highly saturated colors, everything really pops on both devices. The first game I played was Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag and I was floored at how great it looked and how smoothly it performed. Also playing Need for Speed Rivals, Killer Instinct and others, it is a big step up from the PS3 and Xbox 360. When you stop to think about how launch games rarely scratch the surface of the potential of a new machine, we’ve got some pretty amazing gaming years ahead of us.

Conclusion

Who will win? Well both will do just fine. Both platforms have a built in fan base and both have enough momentum to keep rolling for years. Strictly as a gaming console, the PS4 does take a bit of a lead. At its core it’s a lean and powerful machine which is completely focused on games. Having a sleek device with a great controller, games look amazing and the controller is very much improved. Xbox One can play the gamer card just as hard, but the device is more expensive, includes the Kinect which is an expensive add on that not everyone wants, and its live TV based concept of being your digital hub seems a bit misguided. The Xbox One is too limited to be an actual entertainment room hub. It also has too much baggage, the Xbox brand being a gamer’s device for many years. If Microsoft thinks everyone, mom, sis and dad will be using the Xbox One like they do in the commercials, I think they may be in for a slight letdown. I appreciate Microsoft’s focus in wanting to take a bigger piece of the pie and make an all encompassing device, but it ends up trying to be everything to everyone, diluting its real strength, which is being an awesome gaming machine. Of course Microsoft has traditionally bypassed niches and went after the wider consumer market, to great success, so time will tell if their strategy pays off.

In the end it really is too soon to tell, consoles take a year or two to hit their stride, and these two are way too early in the game to make any definitive assessments. I have both devices, and will use both for the coming year, but so far I have to give the slight edge to the PS4. The Xbox One has a lot of features and has a great game line up, but the PS4 is more focused, and seems to be more powerful, with a clean interface and great controller. If I had to choose one over the other, I would head in that direction, but I can’t imagine anyone who would not be happy with either. These are two very amazing machines that we have yet to even see the enormous potential of.