If you have to buy one console this Holiday season it should be the Xbox One. I will layout my rational below.
Summary: With this generation we are buying much more than a gaming console. Games are a no brainer when it comes to the PS4 and Xbox One. Instead we are buying into an ecosystem, an entertainment system, and a gaming system.
If you are buying one of these consoles purely for gaming — then you should really wait for a price drop. The games coming out for these platforms are going to be mostly also available for the Xbox 360 and PS3 (we will ignore PC gaming for this article). The major releases — Call of Duty, GTA V, Batman, Battlefield 4, Madden, Diablo III, FIFA 14, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Titanfall, Destiny, and many more — all on the 360/PS3. Most of the PS4′s downloadable games will be available on the PS3 and Vita. So if you just want the games you can get a lot more value just buying games for your current platforms instead of buying the new platforms. In fact you will probably need to hold onto your 360/PS3 to ensure you get all the hottest games because many might not have a X1/PS4 version — I am holding onto my 360 just to complete Walking Dead Season 2. Really it makes no sense to get these machines if you only want games. The graphics are better, but it isn’t a Xbox to Xbox 360 type jump.
However, if you do buy one this fall — it should be the Xbox One. It is a real platform that can offer gaming, entertainment and ecosystem features that just can’t be matched by the PS4.
When Microsoft first introduced the Xbox One I think I know what was going through their minds. Two things: 1) E3 is two weeks away and we will talk games then and 2) It is the Xbox, of course it will do games. Everyone knows it will do games, so we will talk about all the other cool stuff it can do — because if you are honest — gaming isn’t new and for the first 6 months neither the X1/PS4 have 2 or 3 “awesome” titles that are exclusive to their platform. I am also going to ignore the whole DRM issue and perceived always on Kinect.
However when you step back and actually keep calm and digest what Microsoft said — they were right. They were trickling out news to keep people interested and they were trying to talk up all the cool stuff outside of gaming to make the Xbox One an excellent value proposition. This value proposition is something I think everyone needs to think about. Think about how you really want to use the device.
Based on online usage statistics from Microsoft, Sony, Netflix, Nielsen, and others we know that modern consoles are used for much more than gaming. We use them to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, provide music at parties, surf the internet, chat, etc… And this is why we as gamers need to look deeper into a platform than just the advertised games and proposed horsepower of the system. As we know looking at iOS vs Android vs Windows Phone 8 (WP8) software makes a hell of a difference — and John Carmack has stated the Xbox One and PS4 are very similar in horsepower and therefore software is what is going to make the difference. Based on what we know — in my opinion the Xbox One has significantly better software and features.
The first feature that interests me is a combination of software and hardware — Kinect 2.0. The Kinect 2.0 enables the Xbox One to do a lot of new and interesting things. The first is that the Xbox One can not control your entire living room. The Kinect 2.0 (if you leave it plugged in) has an IR blaster on it allowing it to turn on your TV, Cable Box, etc… This means that if you leave the Xbox One always on with voice on — when you get home you can say “Xbox On” and it will turn on your TV, Xbox One (full power), etc… Which brings me to voice commands. Voice Commands are great — they can truly work well. The Xbox 360 now supports voice commands. Anything that makes using the system actually faster is a good thing. On the 360 searching for movies, playing, or pausing games are faster using voice. It is much faster for me to say “Xbox Bing Star Trek into Darkness” than to scroll to the bing screen and start typing in Star Trek in Darkness.
I am all for features that actually make the platform faster and easier to use. If the Xbox One voice commands work as advertised it will make life easier. You don’t have to use it, but why would you choose not to? Would you really prefer to type in everything with a gamepad?
This then leads me to making the Xbox One the center of your family room. In the new Xbox One world the Xbox One should be the center of your home entertainment system and when you are home it should never be turned off. You will now always be plugged into the online, your TV should be easier to work, and you can split screen your grinding RPG levels with the sports game or Skype. In the new Xbox One world — you never turn it off when you are home. It has become the center of your home entertainment and everything flows through it. It will make connecting with friends easier, watching TV better, gaming better, and social better. This is something the PS4 isn’t even trying to compete against. I can already imagine coming home and saying “Xbox On”, then saying “Xbox ESPN” and it turning to ESPN. Hopefully then being able to say Xbox Pause if I want during a show and it will interact with my DVR and make it pause.
The whole the Xbox is entertainment brings me to the Operating System. The Xbox Operating System is much more advanced than the PS4. It has been designed from with this idea of gaming and entertainment. Like Windows 8.1 or WP8 it can instantly resume what you previously had open. And thanks to Kinect you can use your voice or gestures or the gamepad to control this. Imagine watching a NFL game on the screen and then on the right hand side snapping in your fantasy football team line up or calling a friend on Skype?
Up next is the ecosystem — Microsoft with the Xbox One will allow you to stream Xbox Music on your Windows 8 PC, tablet, WP8 and Xbox One. If you have Skype you can receive a call on your PC, Xbox One, or WP8. You will be able to buy Xbox games on your PC/Tablet, Xbox One and WP8 that share save files or play against each other (already possible on Xbox 360, PC and WP8). Or maybe you will get “The Division” which will have unique Smart Glass features for the tablet to play along with the Xbox One player. Microsoft’s ecosystem extends beyond what Sony is doing with the Playstation and Vita. It extends to movies, music, Skype, gaming, SkyDrive, etc… services that will follow and sync with you beyond your consoles.
This ecosystem brings us to what Microsoft can also offer that Sony cannot. If you are interested in software development Microsoft is the only platform that allows you to write apps that will be able to share code between the Xbox, Phone, Tablet and PC. On the Xbox One Microsoft has already demonstrated Project Spark, stated that writing Windows 8 apps is the best training for writing Xbox One apps (Build 2013) and said that every Xbox One will act as a devkit for Indie developers Again — all features that the PS4 can’t touch (well it could do a Project Spark).
With the Xbox One being the center of your home entertainment system you will always be plugged in. You shouldn’t miss a thing. While watching TV and your friends get online — you will see the notifications. Playing a game and want to chat on Skype? Do it. Surfing the internet and want to listen to music? Do it. Watching a boring NFL game and want to grind a few levels in a RPG or MMORPG? Stop watching the game, load your MMORPG and then snap to the right your Fantasy Football watchlist. The Xbox One makes home entertainment better.
After the home entertainment features there are a few gaming related items that let the Xbox One shine over the PS4. The first is the online gaming experience. Sony is now charging for PS+ (though you do get Netflix streaming without PS+), but their online experience is inferior to Xbox. Microsoft has been doing online services for a years and continue to improve the Xbox Live service. They have created an improved reputation service, improved lobby experience, and even better match making. This is all in addition to the hardware upgrades to Xbox Live.
The next generation of Xbox Live is ushering in a new standard for online multiplayer. Microsoft who is one of the largest cloud service providers (Azure) has deployed 300,000+ servers for Xbox Live. This means finally we can expect dedicated servers with almost all online games at a minimum. At a minimum is because with the cloud services games can now offer many services for their games that simply weren’t possible before. We are seeing this with Forza and many other games. It has been suggested by developers we will see improved AI, faster updates to game worlds, the ability to provide more persistence worlds, and have your AI earn your XP while you aren’t even playing since it will be hosted in the cloud. The cloud provides processing capabilities that will only be limited by how creative the developer can get and if they want to require an internet connection to use the game.
Finally we have the games. Microsoft so far has locked up more “real” exclusives than the Sony. Sony has locked up a lot of downloadable games — that will be available on the PS3, PS4 and Vita. I don’t think many of us are buying $400+ consoles to play $10 downloadable games that can be found on consoles we already own. Then factor in the actual online support of more dedicated servers on Xbox, better voice chat, match making, etc… The Xbox One will play virtually all the same games as the PS4. They will clearly have their respective Killzone and Halo, but by and large they will be playing the same major titles. From an entire gaming experience the Xbox One will offer the better experience.
The experience offered by the Xbox One is also the only console that will appeal to casuals and hardcores alike. There is nothing casual about a gamepad. Motion is casual and hardcore. Games like Dance Central, Zumba, Kinect Sports, can only exist because of the Kinect. There will be a few titles like that on the PS4 — but not nearly as many as their Playstation Camera will not sell nearly as well as the Kinect 2. Then we have hardcore features of Kinect 2 for gamers. Again — when voice and motion make things faster or easier – it makes sense to use and isn’t a “gimmick”. In a game like Ryse where you control a group of AI you can yell “Fire” for your archers to fire their arrows. That is easier than remembering the mapped button. In Dead Rising 3 the game will listen to your house and that will act as the noise you are making in the game. So if you get scared and yell out — the game world will hear you yell out. Those are features that will make gaming more immersive. Playing a game with night vision? Well instead of remembering to push down on left thumbstick and then moving the radial menu — just tap the side of your head. Faster and more immersive. Also remember that the PS4 camera isn’t nearly as technologically advanced as the Kinect 2. Therefore even if you did buy one — the experience would not be the same.
Sony did a nice job with the PS4. They put together some good hardware, but their box is still just an improved PS3 with more social (probably the best box for JRPGs). The Xbox One is a platform in a box. Gaming wise there is nothing the PS4 will do that the Xbox One can’t also do — but there will be a lot of gaming stuff that the Xbox One can do, but the PS4 can’t (Kinect 2.0, *Free Cloud, every box is a devkit, etc…) It will improve all aspects of home entertainment. It is a gaming device that you the hardcore gamer can enjoy — but is also better for kids, wives, girlfriends, etc… It will have the best online, it will improve TV and movies, tie in the entire Microsoft platform (and plays well with iOS and Android).
Xbox One is the system to get.
*Obviously the PS4 can do cloud. However “Cloud” services are not generally free. If a dev wants to use Amazon, Azure, etc… for a PS4 game it won’t be free. However Microsoft is providing free or very discounted Cloud pricing for use by developers with the Xbox One.