Dispatch From the Trenches: Xbox One vs. Playstation 4

It’s been just over two months since Australia saw the launch of the next generation of gaming consoles. Each camp was surrounded by a thick insulative layer of marketing guff. The fanboy encampments on both sides were busily lobbing tech-spec bombs from their comment-trolling holes.

At that time, neither marketer nor fanboy really knew exactly what we were dealing with. No one had any proper hands-on time with either of them. So now—two months on—we’ve all had a chance to properly experience these new consoles on a daily basis.

I thought it prudent to take a look again and offer a new, informed opinion.

Xbox One

I owned a PS3 by accident.

Previous-gen, I was an Xbox 360 person hands-down. It’s where my friends were, it had the titles I played the most and it was a purchase made almost entirely on the basis I was a Halo-loving nut on the original Xbox in my early twenties.

I did own a PS3 too, but it made its way into my living room almost by accident. It ended up arriving as a free bonus for a Sony Bravia TV I purchased at the time. Co-incidentally, around the same time as the post-PS3-launch-sales-slump. Right when they couldn’t understand why a $700-$999 console wasn’t selling.

Hmm, that is weird.

I’m glad I had it though; it let me enjoy some awesome exclusive titles like The Last Of Us and Journey. Titles that I may not have gotten to without it there. In the end though, it was always second-fiddle to my Xbox 360.

It was strange then that just before the launch all of my friends were ready to jump ship to the PS4. The Sony marketing wheels had spun and done so well. At the same time, Microsoft’s seemingly never-ending train wreck helped quite substantially, constantly-changing features and not explaining them in a way even their own staff could understand.

The whole thing reminded me of Dr John Hewson trying to explain the GST applied to a birthday cake for those old enough to remember:

In turn, it wasn’t too difficult to understand why my friends were keen to join camp PS4.

Playstation 4 Coming to Australia November 29th

I remained loyal, to a degree. I ordered a PS4 in order to play with my real friends but also ordered an Xbox One. I was scorned by the PS3’s awful user interface and thumb-bumping DualShock controller and unconvinced with what I’d seen that anything was likely to change with the PS4.

User Interface

User interface is a good place to start with the new consoles.

The Xbox One largely inherits not only from its predecessor but Microsoft’s Metro interface in Windows 8 and Windows Phone. It’s slightly different from the 360 in that the colour scheme has been changed and the blocks remain on a solid background but for the majority it’s an intuitive model that isn’t a stretch for any user updating to new gen.

The added addition/ball-and-chain of Kinect also gives you the ability to navigate the UI controller-less either by voice (which I find remarkably responsive), or a wave of the hand (which I find universally awful).

It surprises me just how often I prefer to navigate by barking at my TV than using the close-by controller. With the Xbox 360 and original Kinect it was a bad gimmick; this feels completely different. Perhaps it’s because every application is required to be adherent to Kinect’s voice functions. Or could be this: the voice commands actually work.

The PS4 was Sony’s chance for a do-over. An opportunity to fix past indiscretions that were the cross-media bar and start anew. It would be nice to say that they did. It really would’ve. The reality?

This is just as awful, if not worse.

I can’t stand the interface. The only thing it does well? It leaves a tile front-and-centre of the games/apps you’ve recently launched to restart them when you come back. That’s about the only positive thing I can say.

The access to settings, activities (like currently downloading items) and anything that isn’t launching the last two applications you accessed is a perpetual nightmare of drill-downs and sub-menu navigation that I will forever loathe.

Whilst the Xbox One’s UI still holds favour, its touted US-centric feature set begins to fall short here in Australia rather rapidly. Its much-vaunted single-media-device “One” moniker is ruled useless on our fair shores. Its ability to control US pay TV boxes via HDMI pass-thru and IR blasting remote commands is completely wasted on us for now.

You can still plug any HDMI input and command your Xbox to “watch TV”. It’s essentially pressing the “INPUT” button on your Xbox to display your TV signal, Apple TV or even PS4. But, you don’t get the ability to control those devices. as they’re not on the Xbox One’s play-nice list.

Not even the lauded Foxtel service is available for the Xbox One yet. Foxtel representatives are stating the new device has had too many internal changes to make the migration straight forward.

Hopes lie squarely on Foxtel’s IQ DVR being adopted into the Xbox One fold, boosted by the fact it’s the same hardware used by larger UK cable-TV players like Sky & Virgin. Microsoft have eluded to adopting those services sooner rather than later, so hopefully it won’t be too far off.

The PS4 of course, has none of this. It was never meant to.

Sony said they were building a machine for gamers and gaming, not a media hub. Still, that didn’t stop them popping their music and movie services into the menu front and centre and removing one of the PS3’s best features — the ability to stream content from any DLNA device.

Since launch, Sony have publicly stated they’re looking for a way of restoring the media-server capabilities previously found in the PS3, but there’s been no word on when.

The reality is that both of these are game consoles and the majority of those purchasing them in Australia are gamers. That gaming experience should be the focus of anyone’s attention at this point and yet is largely the most overlooked.

Gaming Experiences

The experiences are largely the same. The triple-A titles are made up of identical catalogues, with a sprinkling of launch properties thrown into the mix (like Killzone for the PS4 or Forza for Xbox One).

Both camps have not included any form of backwards compatibility, so you can expect 2014 to be the year of cross platform & generational re-releases.

We’ve already got the Tomb Raider reboot earmarked, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag spans every console known to man. Hell, Call of Duty: Ghosts was available to buy for next-gen the same day it launched for 360 & PS4. That date happened to be a full month before either next-gen console was released!

So what is going to make one console stand apart from the other gaming-wise?

Exclusives will play a large part, just as they did the generation before.

Microsoft is putting a lot of eggs in the Titanfall basket, hoping it will be the Halo of the new generation. A system-seller. A title that leaves no doubt in the mind of gamers:  this is the game I have to play, and I need an Xbox One to play it.

Sony has their own system sellers too. But they’re covering their butts a little more. Not only by introducing new game properties like 1886 but ensuring we all know about sequel releases in big name money-earners like Uncharted and Infamous.

The reality is, as an Australian console gamer there are no glaring reasons to buy one over the other at the moment.

It comes down to your personal taste. Personal taste in exclusive titles, personal taste in controller (they’re largely the same as last generation – although the new PS4 DualShock 4 is a huge improvement), personal taste in that my friends all own one over the other and that’s whom I enjoy gaming with.

Beyond the PS4 having a slight tech advantage, the only valid point I can make is that the Xbox One costs fifty bucks more for better voice controls.

I’ll summarise my thoughts up in a list, because everyone on the internet loves a list, and let’s be honest; most of you will read that before the rest of the article anyway. So without further ado:

Raj’s top 5 reasons to buy an Xbox One

1) The interface: Even though it is based on Windows 8’s UI, that is still better than the PS4’s. Seriously Sony, just throw a bunch of money at an Apple employee and fix that already.
2) The controller: The bumpers have moved but the offset thumb-sticks and their new ridged inverted handles are awesome, not to mention the independent rumble system that Forza makes fantastic use of.
3) Kinect: No, not because of the fact it can track up to 6 people in the same room. I still haven’t seen a game that uses physical movement tracking to any useful or fun degree.

No, it’s the voice control that I love. I’ll rarely pick up the controller unless I’m going to play a game and even then it’s not until the last moment. I turn the Xbox on, launch the game all before I’ve even sat down. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much better this is over the 360 and the original Kinect.

4) Titanfall: It’s hard to say you should buy a console based on a game that isn’t out yet but if you’ve watched a trailer or heard from someone who’s actually played it you’ll see just how crazy excited they are for it. Could it be the next Halo?
5) The promise of the “One” experience: Yes, like most new tech it’s very US centric but the idea of the Xbox One being your one hub for entertainment in the lounge room is a very real possibility when those extra features do make it all the way to `Straya. It’s an exciting possibility that can’t be ignored.

Raj’s top 5 reasons to buy a PS4

1) Price: It’s cheaper. You can’t really argue with that.
2) Real name support: This is the best feature of the PS4 and the PSN. Instead of having a friends list filled with their random nicknames I can actually see who people are by their real names! Yes you have to authorise that to happen, but it’s such a better way of interacting online. Well done Sony!
3) Tech specs: It’s beefier than the Xbox One. Technically, it has more gigawatts of flux capacitor in it, but not by much. Devs are locking Xbox One cross platform games at lower frame rates or resolutions as per CoD: Ghosts saga.
4) Available games & indie: Sony has consistently talked up their relationship with indie developers and the PS4. With titles shown off to come like Jonathan Blow’s upcoming The Witness as well as currently free titles (with PSPlus) like Resogun & Don’t Starve they look to have a brighter future here.
5) Size: The PS4 is about 70% the physical size of the Xbox One, add to that the Kinect sensor and it’s almost half the size!

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

With its uniquely Australian voice Reckoner is committed to offering a “no-holds-barred” approach to its writing. Beholden to no one but its audience. Reckoner’s goal is to remain completely transparent and honour the trust it’s built with its faithful readership.

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