The biggest battle in video games console history is under way. The launch of the Sony PlayStation 4 last Friday, just a week after Microsoft unleashed its Xbox One, started a digital slugfest of epic proportions.
Both consoles have already reported big sales numbers in the UK. The PS4 has the edge so far, according to Amazon.co.uk, but many gamers are still undecided about which to go for.
So now that they're out, which is proving to be the best? The deciding factor might well be price. The PS4 costs £349.99, compared to the Xbox One's £429.99.
In purely superficial terms, to some eyes the PS4 also has the advantage of sharper looks and a softly glowing light strip across its back. The Xbox One is undeniably the larger machine at about 3cm taller and 6cm wider and was apparently styled to resemble a VHS video recorder. It can't be stood up like the PS4 and must be laid flat. The Xbox One also requires an external power adaptor whereas the PS4 doesn't.
Both consoles' handheld controllers have changed from their predecessors. The Xbox One's feels more comfortable than that of the Xbox 360 and the triggers have built in vibration and feedback. The PS4's Dualshock 4 has a 'share' button which, when pressed in the middle of a game, freezes the action and lets you post whatever's on the screen at that precise second as a Facebook or Twitter update. The other new button, 'options', replaces the familiar 'start' and 'select'. It also has a touchpad – enabling you to play games such as Angry Birds as though you were using a touch screen. Nice.
In terms of performance, there's not much to choose between the two. Both offer incredible high definition graphics and smooth gameplay. The PS4 however does have more RAM devoted to graphics and therefore some games play in a visibly higher resolution on screen. Each console has a hefty 500 GB of storage space – although a big chunk of this is taken up with operating systems and other essential software before getting started on filling it yourself.
The Xbox One's primary advantage over the Sony machine is that it comes with a Kinect 2.0 camera included. As an optional extra, the PlayStation's camera costs an additional £49.99 – which narrows the price gap considerably if you're a fan of body movement-type games.
The camera gives the Xbox One some surprising additional features, too. It enables you to control many of its functions purely by voice command. Saying 'Xbox on' does the obvious, while 'Xbox cancel' stops whatever function is currently operating. It functions brilliantly much of the time but can be disrupted by ambient sounds and is best operating when everything else is quiet.
Online and connectivity
Beyond price, the next key battleground might well be each console's online offering and connectivity. The PS4 differs dramatically from the PS3 when it comes to online and other connectivity features. You can't play mp3s or .avi/mp4 type videos through it. Instead, Sony wants you to sign up for one of its pay-per-view music and film/TV show services. BBC iPlayer and its equivalents for other TV channels are still available however. These feel like something of an add-on rather than an integral part of the experience.
Xbox One, on the other hand, allows you to plug your Freeview, Virgin, Sky or Freesat box into it and watch TV directly through your console. It also has a unique 'snap' function where you can bring up a window within a window on the TV screen. For example, if you're playing a game and suddenly realise you're missing the football you can say 'Xbox, snap TV' and it'll bring up the TV screen in a little window without interrupting your game.
If you want to lose the window, just say 'Xbox, unsnap'. On the downside, the volume of the little window is sometimes way too high and the two screens drown one another out.
You can't yet alter the volume.
The two consoles also differ significantly when it comes to games. Stick a disc in either and the game starts installing immediately but this process seems to take significantly longer on the Xbox One. Most PS4 games are ready to play within two minutes while it takes the Xbox an average of about more than double that – sometimes four times as long.
Each console has its share of big launch titles. The Xbox One's trump card is the incredible Forza Motorsport 5 racing game while the PS4 has the somewhat less spectacular Killzone: Shadow Fall shooter.
Where the PS4 scores big time is in the number of free online games you get right off the bat. Third person shooter Warframe, Second World War air combat simulator War Thunder and superhero action adventure DC Universe Online are all right there on the PlayStation Network to download and start playing straight away.
You can, of course, buy super expensive upgrades to enhance your game but these are not essential and it means you don't have to fork out for mega expensive retail titles to get started.
You do have to pay for PlayStation Plus now, however.
In addition, if you own a PS Vita, you can link it to the PS4 and play PS4 games on it remotely anywhere in the house. This works splendidly even with bog standard home wi-fi.
The PS4 looks and plays better, particularly if you're a gamer looking for a games machine. It seems to have better online support at the moment and a better selection of launch titles – unless you're really into motorsport or military strategy. The Xbox One has that impressive voice control system and may, once the details have been worked out a little more, work better as an 'entertainment hub' to bring your TV and video watching together with your console gaming.
Choose the console that best suits the way you spend your leisure time.