The Guide to the Next Generation Console Transition
By Dan Maurer
Even if you’re not a gamer it will have been hard to completely ignore the buzz surrounding the impending launch of the next major hardware releases from the world’s biggest players in gaming. But just because you’re not a gamer, that doesn’t mean the consoles will have nothing to offer you, but it might mean you don’t know what they do have to offer. So which consoles are in the running? For the purpose of this guide, there’s only really two worth keeping in mind, Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. While a lot of comparisons could be drawn between the hardware of the two devices, how much RAM each has, how good the graphics are, etc. I’m not going to do that. Instead, it’s just the essentials that you need to know.
Coming in at a $399 we have the latest version of Sony’s powerhouse, the PS4. Like its predecessor, the PS4 will support multiple individual user accounts (so the whole family can access their own stuff) but unlike the PS3, the new console will offer a redesigned XMB that presents better overview of content when you log-in. Gone is the minimalist design of the PS3′s XMB. What will still be on-board, however, is a Blu-Ray disc drive that will happily play back your existing collection of movies. You’ll also be able to download content directly from the PSN (PlayStation Network), as you can now on the PS3. There’s no reason to expect the pricing of movie rentals or purchases to go up necessarily either.
The PS4, like its predecessor will also support apps, and many of the same ones will be present at launch including TV and movie streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, and a host more region-specific titles. None of the above listed apps are expected to require a PS+ membership to access. In addition to that, Sony Electronics President and COO Phil Molyneux recently hinted that its secretive 4K movie download service could be supported on the PS4. Before you get too excited though, he also said it would require 100GB downloads. Music Unlimited, Sony’s music streaming service is available on mobile devices, the desktop, the PS3 and PS Vita currently, and will be revamped for its PS4 incarnation.
The new Music Unlimited streaming service features a redesigned user interface for the PS4, and Sony promises it will be faster and easier to use than the existing version. Sony has also relented and added an oft-requested feature: the ability to listen to music in the background while playing games and access Music Unlimited controls on the fly without having to quit games or other apps. Unlike Microsoft’s Xbox One that comes bundled with Kinect, the PS4 won’t come with the PlayStation Camera included, which could be viewed as a good or a bad thing for the occasional gamer. On the plus side, it means that the up-front cost of getting up and running is slightly lower, but on the downside it pretty much negates the point of some of the tracking features in the PlayStation controller.
Whether these gesture and tracking features will be more than just novelty gimmicks remains to be seen. Sony has confirmed that the PS4 will support streaming of games to the Vita, although it hasn’t said exactly which it will or won’t support. It has, however, indicated that a majority of them will be supported. There’s been no mention, or confirmation that you’ll be able to stream app content or other media like videos to your Vita, though.
Coming in at a hefty $499 price tag and a full $100 more than it’s competitor, we have the Xbox One. Described as the an all-in-one home entertainment system by Microsoft, the Xbox One should by some measures be the default option for its premises, its market positioning is different to Sony’s, for one thing. However, there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in battles of technology, so let’s take a closer look to how it compares to the PS4. As with the PS4, the Microsoft option also comes with a revamped UI that gives an overview of much of your content.
The Xbox One will also include voice control options that will allow you to switch the console on and carry out some of its operations without lifting a finger. Alongside the voice control feature, the Kinect unit will also facilitate Skype calls that can be made directly from the dashboard. While Microsoft-owned Skype certainly won’t be on Sony’s platform at launch, I would bet that it will make its way across eventually, there’s no reason to think it won’t as it’s already available on competing platforms like iOS and Android in other markets. But for now, it’s Xbox One exclusive. As you’d expect, each member of the family can have their own account on the Xbox and each gets a personalized home screen.
As with the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One for the occasional gamer will be a multimedia hub above all else and also as with Sony’s machine, it will arrive packing a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive, so your movie collection will still come in handy. Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online portion of its Xbox platform will also play a big part in the overall Xbox One experience. However, unlike the PSN, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold membership will be required to do things like stream movies or TV shows from Netflix. It’ll also support other apps like Hulu Plus and Crackle depending where in the world you’re accessing the service. The Gold service currently costs $59.99 per year which includes access to cloud storage of games, movies and saved game data. It’ll also include some gaming benefits that we’ll get to later.
If you’ve previously bought movies or other non-gaming content from Xbox Live, that should carry over to the Xbox One just fine. Games on the other hand won’t. Unlike the PS4, the console can also be used as your main TV guide by plugging in a cable or satellite box. There is, however, no recording or DVR functionality direct to the console, which is a crying shame. As with the Xbox 360 Live service, it will also have things like a dedicated sports channels and will happily take your cash in exchange for downloads or rentals of movies via the Xbox Video Demand service. Another trump card it has over the PS4 is that Microsoft has confirmed that it will be able to multitask, whether that’s listening to music while playing a game, or making a Skype call while watching a TV show. While Sony has indicated that it will be easy and convenient to jump between apps, there’s been no confirmation of side by side multitasking. Microsoft has Smart Glass, its option to use a Windows Phone device, Windows 8/RT tablet, iOS device or Android device as a second screen for the Xbox One.
Overall the choice is ultimately in your hands alone. If you are looking for an all in one multimedia box, I would recommend the Xbox One. If you are just looking for a straight gaming console, then the PlayStation 4 might be a better option for you. In the end however, we the gamers are the real winners here as we indulge in the next generation of gaming goodness.
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