With Electronic Entertainment Expo 2013 underway in Los Angeles, the console wars are once again upon us. Both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 will be launching in November, making them the must-have gifts for this year's holiday season. So, the inevitable question arises: Which one is right for your living room?
What's already become clear is that Xbox One has been designed to be more than a standard gaming console. It ships with a Kinect 2 in the box, which appears to deliver on everything the original didn't: snappy responsiveness, much more granularity (it can register even slight finger movements), and the flexibility to work under almost all lighting conditions. It recognizes you when you walk into the room, and allows you to video chat on Skype. Xbox One is also a multimedia behemoth: in addition to Kinect-powered voice activation for all your movies, music and TV, it has deals in place with the likes of ESPN and HBO Go, along with full cable-box integration.
While the PS4 will be equipped to stream your movies and music (both systems also use Blu-ray drives and support 4K-resolution television sets), Sony has focused almost exclusively on the gaming capabilities of its console. PS4 looks to have the edge in terms of raw horsepower (something due at least partially to the fact that the Xbox One will be doing double duty to support its multimedia capabilities), and has some 140 games currently in development. It will also allow for indie game developers to self-publish their games on the console, whereas Microsoft requires indies to find a publishing partner to get their games onto Xbox One. Both consoles make use of new controllers: the new Xbox pad has more motors for more sophisticated rumble, while Sony's integrates better triggers and a capacitive touchpad. Upon initial testing, both are excellent.
Exclusive games so far were relatively few and far between. Xbox One will be the only home to the next Halo game (which it showed in teaser form), as well as the mutiplayer shooter from the creators of the Call of Duty series, dubbed Titanfall. Sony showed off new entries into the Killzone and Infamous franchises, along with the intriguing steampunk action game The Order: 1886. Big titles like Destiny (from the original Halo creators, Bungie), Metal Gear Solid 5 and the open-world cyberpunk opus Watch Dogs will be available on both platforms, despite what the console makers' vague rhetoric might imply. Call of Duty: Ghosts, NBA 2K14, and the rest of the big hitters will all be multiplatform as well; as game development costs continue to rise, fewer publishers can afford to ignore millions of potential sales.
Microsoft announced during the lead-up to E3 that the Xbox One will be "always on" and require that players "check in" online at least once every 24 hours to access their game collection. It also announced that game purchases will be tied to their original owner, essentially preventing players from buying and selling used Xbox One games, or even trading those games with their friends. Sony seized upon this opportunity at E3, and the week's most raucous round of applause came when it announced that PS4 users will be free to buy, sell and trade games as they so desire, and that there will be no online authentication required. Where Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with existing Xbox 360 games, Sony announced that it will support select titles from its PS3 library through a streaming service that will launch in 2014. And then there's pricing: PS4 will launch at $399, $100 less than the Xbox One's $499 price tag (though that figures includes Kinect 2).
Sony has positioned itself as the gamer-friendly, developer-friendly console, while Microsoft has framed Xbox One as the all-singing, all-dancing set-top box. Which one suits your living room depends mainly on what you want from your games console. If it's tech you're after, the Xbox One has plenty to offer. But if your answer is mainly, well, games, then PS4 may be the one for you.