It's 'game on' for video gaming's two giants
It's time for Sony and Microsoft to get their game faces on.
Beginning Friday, a new video game battle begins between the two giant electronics companies that recalls the Great Gaming Console War of 2007. On one side is Sony's PlayStation 4, the successor to its moderately successful PlayStation 3. On the other is Microsoft's Xbox One, the followup to the blockbuster Xbox 360.
The PS4 launches Friday at $399 while the Xbox One is released one week later on Nov. 22 for $499.
Only the hardcore gamer would entertain buying both consoles. But for the rest, it will be tough to decipher which is the better or more appropriate console for your family.
Here is a breakdown of each system's specifications and the pros and cons to consider before committing to buying one.
Sony PlayStation 4 ($399)
Specifications • The system uses an AMD central processing unit as well as a separate graphics processor for its graphics. It also will be outfitted with 8 gigabytes of system memory, much more than the previous PS3.
It will come with a Blu-ray drive to play games as well as movies. It also will have USB ports, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and it will support the new, higher-resolution 4K video output (which is four times higher than HD) for the new 4K televisions. It will come with a built-in 500 gigabyte hard drive for game storage.
Controllers • The console is equipped with the new wireless DualShock 4 controller, which has a very similar button and dual-joystick layout as the PlayStation 3 controller before it. It also will have a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer.
But there will be some new features added to it. The controller will have a touchpad between the joysticks that allows you to manipulate gameplay with just the swipe of your fingers. There also is a blue-lit sensor on the front of the controller that when read by the optional PlayStation Eye camera can sense where the controller is and what it is doing. Finally, the controller has a "Share" button so players can record video of their game playing and instantly share it with friends.
The optional PlayStation 4 Eye camera, which is placed in front of the TV and pointed at the players, includes two separate lenses that can sense not only the controller but also the player's movements for additional gameplay. It also has built-in microphones for voice commands.
Services and features • For multiplayer games over the Internet, the PS4 uses the PlayStation Network (PSN), which also is the source to buy digital forms of games, movies and music. A PlayStation Plus premium subscription is necessary in order to play multiplayer games.
Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited are subscription services for songs and to buy and rent videos. There also will be integration with the Twitch live video game broadcast service so players can stream live video of their game play.
It will not be capable of playing older PlayStation games through the disc drive, but a future service will launch in which users can play older PS3 games by streaming the video to the console.
The PS4 will interface with Sony's portable PlayStation Vita handheld system for games that use two screens. Vita owners also will be able to play PS4 games by streaming the video from the home console to the Vita.
Pros • While both the PS4 and the Xbox One are very close in their actual hardware specifications and computing power, the PS4 will have an edge in graphics and overall system power. For one, the type of RAM or system memory the console uses is faster than what's used for the Xbox One.
It's also $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, and that could be the biggest deciding factor for most buyers.
Cons • But the cheaper price is because the Eye camera will be sold separately while the similar Kinect 2 camera for the Xbox One will come included with the system.
Reports also say that the console will not play MP3 songs or music CDs in the beginning and that subscribing to its Music Unlimited service will be the only way to play songs on it. Those features will be added with a future software update.
Major exclusive games at launch • "Killzone Shadowfall" (shooter), "Knack" (platformer).
Microsoft Xbox One ($499)
Specifications • The console also will run on an AMD core processor and graphics processor very similar in speed and power to the PS4's. It, too, will have 8 gigabytes of system memory, though slightly slower RAM than the PlayStation's. It also will have a 500-gigabyte harddrive to store games, Wi-Fi connectivity, USB ports and support 4K resolution. It will not support Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Controllers • The new Xbox One controller will be similar in look and feel to the older Xbox 360 controller. But this new version will now have trigger buttons with built-in force feedback so that you will feel resistance while pulling them for additional realism.
The big change here, however, is in the new Kinect 2 motion controller and camera. The Kinect 2 is a bar that will sit in front of the television that reads your body movement. It also has a microphone to listen to voice commands.
While the first Kinect camera for the Xbox 360 adequately did the job of tracking movement, think of the new controller as the original Kinect on steroids. It now sports a much higher-resolution camera for more detailed tracking, and it's much more accurate, even capable of reading your heartbeat. It also can listen to your voice constantly, including when it's in sleep mode so you can turn the console on with a vocal command.
Services and features • The Xbox One will be capable of multitasking, such as playing a game and pausing it to go to a television show. Or you can watch a show and then call up the Internet on one side of the screen. You also can hook up the console to your cable or satellite box and completely operate your TV viewing via voice command. Since Microsoft now owns Skype, you will also be able to conduct video conversations with others through the console.
It also will allow gamers to record their play sessions and upload the video to a network for others to watch. And there will be integration with Microsoft's Smart Glass technology, which allows gamers to use a tablet or smartphone's screen for additional game play features.
Microsoft will continue to use its robust Xbox Live network for multiplayer gaming and for purchasing digital games. It also will require a paid membership for online gaming.
The new console will not be able to play older Xbox 360 games.
Pros • Microsoft's plan is to make the Xbox One an all-in-one entertainment machine for the living room, so it will have much more functionality than just gaming, emphasizing television and movie watching and voice commands to navigate through the interface.
When it comes to multiplayer gaming, Microsoft may have the edge over Sony because more players tend to play online games such as "Call of Duty" on Xbox machines. That means they may move over to Microsoft's console more readily, and multiplayer gaming is only as good as which console your friends are using.
Cons • Reports are the Xbox One will be slightly less powerful than the PS4 despite their similar architectures. Proof is that the new "Call of Duty: Ghosts" for both consoles will run at a full 1,080 lines of horizontal resolution on the PS4 while it will run at 720 lines on the Xbox One and then upscaled to a faux 1,080 lines. It's a tiny difference, but Xbox fans are already noticing and complaining.
While the Kinect 2 will be good for navigating through the system either using your voice or hand gestures, it has yet to prove itself as a valuable gaming tool. We'll see if that changes with the new camera.
Major exclusive games at launch • "Dead Rising 3" (horror), "Ryse: Son of Rome" (third-person action), "Forza Motorsport 5" (racing), "Killer Instinct" (fighting).