Online Multiplayer and Services
Xbox One: Xbox Live Gold subscription required for third party services (i.e. Netflix) and multiplayer gaming. Twitch.tv streaming.
Playstation 4: PSN Plus subscription required for multiplayer gaming but NOT for third party services. Ustream streaming.
Current subscribers of PSN Plus will attest to how awesome the service is simply because of the free games you get with it. Unfortunately they have also adopted the Microsoft policy of requiring a subscription to play multiplayer games. Microsoft is beginning to offer free games to subscribers as well but so far the offerings are very old games whereas PSN Plus has more recent titles. Microsoft is claiming that online games will get dedicated servers on Xbox One. If this is true, that will make multiplayer gaming less laggy and more stable (no more host swapping problems).
Both consoles support live streaming your gameplay directly to the internet, as well as a game DVR to record, edit and share your gameplay. The Xbox One has the benefit here as they have partnered with Twitch.tv, and the PS4 has partnered with Ustream. Twitch.tv is much more popular service (and a better services according to a lot of gamers), but with the PS4 support maybe Ustream will become more popular. If you were wondering earlier why the Xbox One needed to reserve 2 CPU cores to the system this is one of the reasons, to encode the gameplay footage on the fly and make it available for streaming. The PS4 on the other hand has a dedicated encoder chip which is why they got away with only needing 1 core for system use.
Winner: Tie. PSN Plus offers tremendous value, but the overall service still isn’t quite as polished as Microsoft’s. The Xbox also gains points for having Twitch support and dedicated servers.
DRM and Used Games
Xbox One: Internet required. Requires daily check in online to keep console available for game use. Used games may require extra fees to activate, and can only be traded in at participating retailers. Update: Microsoft has since removed the online requirement and used game restrictions due to huge backlash on the internet. Disc-based games will function the same they do now on Xbox 360. You have to keep the disc in the drive when playing. Digital download games will have DRM though.
Playstation 4: No online requirement to play games. Used games supported and function as they do today. Transferring the disc transfers the copy of the game.
This used to favor PS4, but since Microsoft has removed all restrictions it’s now a tie.
This one is going to be easy. Nope for both systems. The PS4 is going to support some PS3 games via a streaming service but that may be laggy depending on your internet connection, and you’d have to rebuy the game anyway since your disc copy won’t transfer over.
Both systems use vastly different architecture than their predecessors so backwards compatibilty just isn’t possible. The early versions of the PS3 had backwards compatibility but those cost $600 at launch since they needed to include a full set of PS2 hardware inside!
Motion/Voice Control and Camera
Xbox One: Second generation Kinect bundled with every system. Full motion and voice control
Playstation 4: Optional PS4 Eye camera, and lightbar on every Dualshock 4
If motion gaming and voice control is important to you, the Xbox One’s Kinect is leaps and bounds over the PS4 offering. The Kinect is sensitive enough to read your facial expressions, or even detect your heartbeat by looking under your skin. I’m not joking. It watches you in infrared light, so you can play it in complete darkness. The PS4 eye can track the lightbar on the back of a Dualshock 4 controller to do some interesting but ultimately gimmicky things. The good thing is, the PS4 one is optional. Part of the reason the Xbox One is more expensive is they bundle the Kinect inside every box.
Winner: Xbox One
I was going to do a section on the actual controllers, but that is all pretty subjective. Both controllers are similar to their predecessors but with small improvements. The Dualshock 4 looks slightly bigger than the DS3 which is welcome news for me.
Multimedia and TV
Xbox One: Media streaming via third party services, Live TV integration, playback of multimedia files
Playstation 4: Media streaming via third party services, playback of multimedia files
Microsoft is really billing the Xbox One as a “all-in-one” system whereas Sony is billing the PS4 as a gaming focused system. If you still have a cable subscription, the Xbox One may be appealing to you since it has Live TV support via HDMI passthrough. Assuming your cable box supports it of course. However if you’ve cut the cord like me and many others have, and consume all your media through services like Netflix and Hulu, the Live TV support isn’t worth anything to you. One bonus here for the PS4 is you don’t need to subscribe to PSN Plus to use services like Netflix, whereas on Xbox Live those services are behind the Live Gold paywall.
Winner: Xbox One. But if you don’t care about cable TV than the PS4 is just as good.
As a raw gaming machine, the PS4 is just more powerful than the Xbox One. As a multimedia machine, the Xbox One has more features than the PS4. One of the biggest differentiating factors is the price. $499 for Xbox One and $399 for Playstation 4. Both systems will have their share of amazing exclusive games, so you will miss out on some regardless of what you choose. Personally I am going for the PS4 first. Down the line I will most certainly get an Xbox One, but maybe once they’ve dropped the price and there’s a good selection of exclusive titles to choose from. I appreciate Sony’s dedication to keeping it strictly a gaming machine, but it’s hard to discount how impressive the Xbox One’s featureset is.
The Xbox One and Playstation 4 both launch Holiday 2013.