PS4 or Xbox One: which to buy?

With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season days away, I’ve gotten questions from friends and colleagues about which current gen console to buy. I usually first point people toward Kotaku’s recent editorial on the subject; it’s well written and even handed. But I’ve got my own take that’s slightly different.

Let’s start by removing Nintendo’s Wii U from this debate. It’s got a superb outing of Nintendo first party games yet virtually no third party support. If you’re a big Nintendo fan and little from the other consoles interests you, then buy a Wii U (if you love Nintendo, you probably already have.) But for almost everyone else, especially if it’s your only console purchase, there’s just not enough game diversity.

That leaves the PS4 and Xbox One. First and foremost, both consoles are winners. Both have a decent library of quality games. Both refined their UI over the past year to make navigation fairly straightforward. Both are selling well enough to ensure wide game support for the future. Both are evenly priced. Frankly, given the general lack of exclusives this generation, I’d argue most buyers won’t regret their decision. Yet there are a few important, sometimes subtle differences that can sway you towards either Sony’s or Microsoft’s console.

Deal breakers

Be sure to test a console’s controller in person before buying either the PS4 or Xbox One. It’s an underrated difference that’s both very personal and idiosyncratic. Visit a friend that already has a current gen console, or any retailer with demo units set up. Play a game and run the buttons and sticks through a full range of motion. Most critics rightly point out both console’s controllers have excellent handling given their refinement over multiple generations. But there are differences, especially in the triggers and the asymmetrical analog stick placement on the Xbox.

Also, if you care about multiplayer, poll your friends on what current gen system they own or plan on buying. If it’s dominated by either Xbox or PlayStation players, that could have a strong influence on which system to choose.

Finally, exclusive games and content are on the wane, but If you’re a hard core fan of certain franchises, that can make your decision much easier. Obsessed with Halo or the Forza series? Go Xbox One. Can’t wait for the next Uncharted or baseball game? That’s only on the PS4.

Smaller differences

If the controller, your friends list, or the rare exclusive game don’t convince you which way to go, we get into far murkier territory. In short, those that regularly use their console for non-gaming activities may find the Xbox One more appealing. Sony’s strengths lie in raw hardware for games and games alone. To break that down in more detail, for the Xbox One:

  • Those who use a console for streaming, multimedia and other non-gaming activities will find more to love about the Xbox One. The PS4 has the usual streaming suspects like Netflix and Hulu, but the Xbox One adds Plex, DLNA, integration with Microsoft’s OneDrive for cloud storage, and much more. Granted, smartphones, tablets, and streaming boxes like the Roku or Apple TV can already provide much of this functionality. But jumping between apps on an Xbox One is fast, and if you want all of your media in one place, Microsoft’s latest has more to offer than the PS4.

  • Big cable TV watchers could easily find the Xbox One’s cable box integration compelling. Via the system’s “snap” UI you can watch TV alongside a game, and switch between live TV and other apps fluidly. But the integration is controversial; I know several that find the integration too cumbersome (e.g. , occasional signal lag, don’t want to boot up the full Xbox for just TV) and have since decoupled their cable box from the Xbox One.

For the PS4:

  • If graphics are one of your foremost concerns, many third party titles run slightly better on Sony’s console. Yet that advantage usually manifests in subtle ways, like a mildly higher resolution or more detailed textures and shadows. History suggests the gap should close as this console generation progresses, and many today can’t even notice the difference. Yet I still predict the PS4 will have a slight advantage in horsepower over the long run.

Future philosophies

If you’re still on the fence, I’ve noticed a small difference when it comes to the games Sony and Microsoft throw their weight behind (which may or may not match your own preferences):

  • Microsoft leans towards more toward traditional gaming genres like sports, shooters, and driving. If you look at Microsoft’s exclusives so far, they almost all fall within this territory. Content looks similar in 2015, including a potentially innovative “blockbuster” interactive movie experience like Quantum Break and Halo 5. With EA Access, sports fans can get a rotating set of EA Sports titles for a low subscription price; it’s exclusive to Xbox. Microsoft also has strong partnerships for timed DLC, bundles, and advertising on longer running franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

  • Sony’s taste can run slightly quirkier and more independent. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a more globally based audience, but Sony often invests in games that have a more of a niche following, or provide a twist on an existing genre. Yes, they’ve thrown a lot of money behind the huge Bungie shooter Destiny, but they’ve also supported (and have a timed exclusive with) the 90s adventure Grim Fandango. They’re also promoting a 2015 sequel to the cartoony, humorous Everybody’s Golf series. And while Microsoft’s ID@Xbox’s has been gaining traction, Sony has a deeper, more diverse relationship with indies. Many more indie titles are available for the PS4 than the Xbox One, a lead I don’t see evaporating in the near future.

Slight philosophical differences aside, most games are coming to both platforms, big or small, regardless of genre. And remember, virtually every difference noted above comes down to taste, not objective advantages. Some love their console for streaming ripped Blu-rays alongside their game sessions. Others prefer retro side scrollers by tiny studios. Some just want to play Call of Duty and NBA2K every year. There’s no one right answer; find what works best for you.