Next-generation gaming consoles compete at E3 conference
From Microsoft gathering an arguably more impressive stable of exclusive games, to Sony revealing the lack of restrictions on PS4 games and a $100 lower price -- to Microsoft now doing a complete 180 on its DRM policies, this next console launch may be one of the most exciting and brutal yet.
And I can't wait to comfortably watch from the sidelines, praising Thor I'm not in either of their shoes.
Editors' note (June 19, 4:15 p.m. PT): This story has been updated and expanded since its original publication.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 house very similar silicon inside their respective bodies, with a few key differences.
According to an exhaustive analysis by Digital Foundry, the biggest difference between the two systems' hardware is the type of RAM each uses. The PlayStation 4 uses 8GB GDDR5 RAM, while all signs point to the Xbox One using 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The GDDR5 RAM used in the PlayStation 4 is the same type of RAM used by most PC video cards and is optimized for graphical throughput.
Richard Leadbetter at Digital Foundry speculates that the PS4's GPU could have as much as 50 percent more raw graphical computational power than the one in the Xbox One. That, coupled with its faster graphics memory, may translate into prettier games on the PS4.
Judging from the demos shown at both Microsoft's and Sony's press conferences, it's difficult to say which system displayed more impressive real-time graphics. Both Final Fantasy XV (or is it Final Fantasy Versus XIII?) and The Order displayed incredibly impressive real-time cut-scenes on the PS4.
Possibly better than anything I saw on the Xbox One during Microsoft's press conference, but it's hard to say for sure having not actually played any of the games and having so far only seen them from hundreds of feet away on giant, but not nearly giant enough, screens.
Once I've had some hands-on time with plenty of games this week, I'll do another update on this post.
Check out the chart below for more details on the consoles' hardware.
|Xbox One||PlayStation 4|
|Availability||November 2013||Holiday 2013|
|Hard drive||Built-in (500GB)||Built-in (500GB)|
|Motion control||New Kinect (bundled)||Move controller|
|CPU||8-core x86 AMD||8-core x86 AMD|
|RAM||8GB DDR3||8GB GDDR5|
|Wireless||Yes (802.11n w/Wi-Fi Direct)||Yes (802.11n)|
|HDMI||Yes (in and out)||Yes|
|Suspend/resume game support||Yes||Yes|
|Native gameplay sharing (video)||Yes||Yes|
|Real-time gameplay steaming||Yes (Twitch)||Yes (Ustream)|
To state the obvious: each company's lineup of first-party (self-published) games will be exclusive to its own console. So, as usual, any new Halo, Gears of War, or Fable titles will remain Xbox only, while future Uncharted, Killzone, or Ratchet and Clank games will only appear on PlayStation.
At its E3 press conference, Microsoft showed many exclusive first-party titles. Key games included Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, Quantum Break, Project Spark, Titanfall, and Forza 5. The company also pledged that all DLC (add-on downloadable content) for Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts would debut first on the Xbox One.
Ryse: Son of Rome: Xbox One
Key exclusive PlayStation 4 titles shown include Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, Knack, The Order, The Dark Sorcerer, and 10 new indie titles.
If I had to pick which console has the strongest lineup of exclusive games, the Xbox One would be my choice. The exclusive games shown just felt more exciting than what Sony demoed.
However, the true value of these exclusive titles will depend on how well each plays, so look for further impressions later this week. We'll try to spend as much one-on-one time as possible with each game.
The handheld controllers of the PS4 and the Xbox One are evolutionary descendants of the versions found on each respective platform.
The Sony DualShock 4 differentiates itself with a clickable touch pad on the front -- giving developers an additional option when designing games, although we've yet to see it in actual application.
The DualShock 4's body includes a "light bar" in the front that enables motion control functionality with the PS4's Eye camera to track the position and identify where the controller is and, if need be, actually adjust the split-screen orientation during multiplayer couch gaming. The Xbox One will accomplish this with assistance from Kinect, as it automatically tracks who's holding which controller. The DualShock 4 also includes the social-focused Share button, a built-in speaker, and a headphone jack.
The Xbox One uses Wi-Fi Direct to connect its controller, whereas the PlayStation 4 relies on Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. On paper, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR's theoretical 3Mbps maximum speed is clearly outclassed by Wi-Fi Direct's 250Mbps theoretical throughput. However, whether this will result in any tangible difference remains to be seen. In the Xbox One's case, the extra bandwidth could end up being important if Microsoft chooses to release add-ons, like a microphone for voice chat, and an updated version of its keyboard pad. It will be interesting to see which wireless standard delivers more efficient battery life.
While we have yet to touch the DualShock 4, CNET's Josh Lowensohn got some very brief hands-on time with the Xbox One game pad.
Motion and voice control
Every Xbox One unit will come bundled with a second-generation Kinect. While the PS4 will be compatible with Sony's Move controller and new stereo camera, it has yet to announce any plans to bundle them with the system.
The new version of Kinect will offer a wider field of view, better tracking of individuals (limited finger tracking is now included), and the ability to track more overall bodies. And (frighteningly!) also determine your current heart rate.
The first Kinect never really made a strong impression with hard-core gamers, and it's too early to tell just how developers will make use of the second generation's upgraded features, but since every Xbox One owner will have one, its functionality advantages will be much more integrated into your overall Xbox experience.
The device will always be on and simply stating "Xbox on" will power up your entire system and sign you into your account based on facial recognition. Not to be outdone, Sony says its camera will have similar facial recognition functionality.
More than any other next-generation feature, it's the ability to navigate your entire interface simply with the sound of your voice that feels the most futuristic to me. And by "futuristic" I mean, this is the kind of stuff I envisioned we'd see by this time when I was a kid. Interfaces that bring us one step closer to a holodeck.
Right now it's too early to tell which motion/camera solution will be best, but Kinect may at least be the most ubiquitous. That may inspire more developers to utilize more of its enticing offerings in games.
Microsoft's first Xbox One event in May was clearly focused on communicating that the Xbox One would be much more than simply a box to play video games on, and began its presentation demoing how the system would integrate with your television.
The Xbox One will allow you to switch from game to TV show, to the Web, to a movie, to Skype, easily and smoothly (without switching inputs), with just the sound of your voice. You'll also have the ability to multitask, running games and other apps simultaneously.
The Xbox One will not replace your cable box, but will instead allow you to plug your cable box into it, bypassing your cable company's interface, giving you control of live TV through your Xbox One. You'll even be able to create your own personalized "channel" with the shows and services you choose.
Football fans will see deeper integration with NFL on the Xbox One; however, details on how exactly this will work are few. Look for Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming services to make a return from the 360; whether they remain behind Xbox Gold's pay wall has yet to be addressed by Microsoft.
The PS4 will not want for services like streaming video, but live TV integration is not currently on the table. You will see streaming video through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Redbox Instant, MLB.TV, and Sony's own Video Unlimited Service, which hosts more than 150,000 movies and TV shows to rent or own. Other services like Music Unlimited, Crackle, and Flixster will also be available on the the PS4.
Sony also announced that it's currently working on "cutting-edge," exclusive PS4 programming "developed with gamers in mind." But the company didn't provide much more detail than that.
Community and social
During the PS4 reveal back in February, Sony was clearly putting out different messaging compared with what had come before. While PSN has seen vast improvements (especially if you're a Plus member) in its offerings as of late, you'd be hard-pressed to compare it favorably with the Xbox Live community experience.
For PS4, Sony is targeting deep integration into its service. It wants you connected all the time (though neither console-maker requires it; see below). Things like live video chat and Facebook will be natively integrated. When your friends purchase a new game, you'll know, and you'll be able to play new games before they've even finished downloading.
However, the biggest change is the addition of the Share button on the PS4's controller.
Through this button, gamers can broadcast live gameplay, take screenshots, or share videos of their latest gaming triumphs. Your friends will post comments to your screen while they watch you play. If a player is stuck in a particularly difficult section of a game, he can call in an online friend to literally take over his controls. Frustration successfully circumvented, despite a possible bruised ego on the sharer's part.
That's a feature I'll probably never use (see aforementioned tender ego), but I can easily recognize how incredibly cool and useful this could be for many players out there.
With Remote Play you can stream your PS4 game onto a PlayStation Vita. I'm unsure if this will be available for every game, but it does make the PS Vita much more enticing. To me, at least.
Microsoft for its part, has increased its Xbox Live friends list limit from 100 to "all" of them, and achievements are getting a big overhaul. It writes on its Xbox One site that the new achievement system will have "richer detail and span across your games and experiences."
Other Xbox One social features include built-in Skype, the ability to track Xbox Live trends, and see what your friends are playing or watching most. With Smart Match you can look for multiplayer games while spending your time in other apps.
Game DVR automatically records the last few seconds of your gameplay and allows you to upload video of your latest triumph for others to see. The Xbox One fully integrates Twitch's live-streaming capabilities. Xbox Live Gold subscribers will be able to not only live stream their own gameplay -- with the option to add voice or video to the stream with Kinect -- but also watch streams of others as well.
SmartGlass will also be more tightly integrated into the Xbox One.
The Xbox One will launch in November for $499 and the PS4 is coming before the holidays for $399. That's a pretty substantial difference, especially given that each system comes with a full 500GB hard drive.
Spec-for-spec, it would appear that the PS4 clearly offers more value, but that's before taking Xbox One's bundled Kinect sensor into account. However, if you couldn't give a Kinectimal's butt about Microsoft's all-seeing eye, then I'd imagine that if the choice were strictly price-based, then it's probably not a difficult one to make.
Finally getting our hands on the PlayStation 4
Used games and 'always on'
Thanks to a recent decision by Microsoft, the Xbox One will no longer require periodic online check-ins in order to play games. Microsoft says that a one-time connection will be required during the Xbox One's initial setup, however.
Sony had previously announced at E3 that the PS4 would also not require an Internet connection to play games, but hasn't yet commented on whether a connection would be required for its initial setup.
So yes, users of both systems will be able to play games for as long as the user likes without connecting to the Internet; however, with plenty of games like The Division, Titanfall, and Destiny including deeply-rooted Internet features or being multiplayer-only, many of the most sought-after experiences on these consoles will at the very least be suitably enhanced with an Internet connection.
Neither Sony nor Microsoft will restrict game lending, trade-ins, renting, selling, or any action that mirrors what you can currently do with your PS3 and Xbox 360 games. However, third-party publishers can still choose to restrict these actions as they choose.
Later this year
Look to CNET for our continuing coverage of both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 leading up to each new system's respective launches. Though we don't have all the details just yet, what has been revealed thus far is incredibly exciting, at least for someone (me) who's been gaming for some 35 years now.
I'm anticipating two incredibly impressive systems to launch this year. I hope I'm not disappointed.