We take a look at Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 to see how they compare

Three years into the eigth generation of gaming consoles and Sony has reclaimed top spot with just over 40 million consoles shipped since launch, the PS4 enjoying a 2:1 lead over Microsoft's Xbox One.

However, despite the sales disparity, there's little to choose between the two in terms of performance and features. So how do they compare, and if you don't already have one, which console should you buy in 2016?

Specs

Tucking in to the technical nitty-gritty, the Xbox One has an eight-core 64-bit AMD CPU clocked at 1.75GHz, with a 800Mhz AMD GPU. Onboard is 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 5GB of which is allocated to games, the rest to the OS and apps. There's 32MB of eSRAM (embedded memory) that's tied to the CPU, which, in theory, should help yield faster read and write times for a slicker, smoother performance.

Sony has taken a slightly different approach, employing a single-chip CPU (1.6GHz) and GPU in an 8-core 64-bit AMD processor that works in concert with 8GB of super-fast GDDR5 RAM.

This means the Xbox's CPU has a bit more grunt, but the PS4 wins outright thanks to its GPU. It's more powerful, and along with the GDDR5 RAM, outperforms the Xbox One.

The Xbox's CPU has a bit more grunt, but the PS4 wins thanks to its GPU

Hard drive

Bigger is better in terms of storage space. Each console has a 500GB option, but it's likely you'll need more. Once you factor in game installations, demos, updates and any possible downloadable content (DLC), a standard 500GB unit won't last for long. Thankfully adding storage to both is relatively fuss free.

The PS4's hard drive is the same as a PC or laptop and can be easily upgraded. Any 2.5in hard disk drive (HDD), solid state drive (SSD) or hybrid solid state hard drives (SSHD) can be used.

If you prefer not to tinker there are 1TB variants available. Regardless, if you find yourself out of space we'd recommend upgrading. A recent update has doubled the amount of internal hard space you can have, all the way up to to 4TB.

The Xbox also has an internal 2.5in hard drive. You can upgrade, but we wouldn't advise it unless you're desperate to void the warranty (it's also very tricky to do). Microsoft has added support for external hard drives, meaning game installs and data can be saved to a HDD, a feature the PS4 does not support.

All that's needed is a drive bigger than 256GB and USB 3.0 compatible. Connect it and Xbox will format. If you feel like satisfying your space problems for years to come, the Xbox supports external drives up to 16TB.

Connecitivty

The PS4's connections are your standard inputs and outputs. There's Bluetooth 2.1 and wi-fi (802.11 b/g/n), an ethernet output, two USB 3.0 ports on the front, a HDMI output, an auxiliary port for the PlayStation Camera and an optical audio connection.

Here the Xbox is more ambitious. There's a HDMI output and input, the latter allows for set-top boxes or AV receivers to be passed through, so you can watch live TV on your console.

Elsewhere, there's three USB 3.0 ports (one on the side, two at the rear), a proprietary USB port for Kinect, a S/PDIF optical audio output (cable not included). An IR out, wi-fi (A/B/G/N dual-band at 2.4ghz and 5ghz) and a gigabit ethernet port.

Neither console supports composite or component connections. It's been reported online that some HDMI to component cables work with the PS4, but the success rate is more miss than hit.

Controllers

After three generations of the same design, Sony has overhauled its controller with the DualShock 4.

It bears similarities with its predecessors, its angular design and the placement of the face buttons (square, triangle, circle, cross) remain. Improvements see the thumb-sticks' dead-zone tightened to improve accuracy. There's a two-point touchpad above the thumb-sticks, underneath which is a small speaker.

There's also the integrated light bar that changes colour based on what's happening in the game. For example, if the cops are chasing you in Grand Theft Auto V the controller flashes red and blue.

The 'Start' and 'Select' buttons have been merged into the 'Options' button. The 'Share' button replaces 'Select', pressing it socialises content (video footage or screenshots) to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as broadcasting to Twitch.

Like the Xbox the DualShock 4 has concaved shaped triggers. The grip on the handles has been made, well, grippier. Sixasis motion control has carried over from the DualShock 3, too. It also supports both Bluetooth and wired headsets (the pad has 3.5mm jack at the front).

Thanks to a sealed design, the controller uses rechargeable batteries that can't be replaced. In our experience we've found that the battery drains quickly.

Any Android cable can be used to charge and this is especially important if you desire to use the controller as it's being charged – the standard cable is very short. A completely drained controller will reach full charge in two hours.

Continuing to iterate on its excellent 360 controller, Microsoft claims the Xbox One controller has had more than 40 improvements made to it.

These range from reducing the thumbstick's deadzone, adding haptic feedback to the triggers (especially good in Forza Motorsport 6), and improving the D-pad to be more responsive and 'clicky'.

The battery compartment has been redesigned and rotated 90 degrees to take up less space, making for a better grip. It comes with two AA batteries but we'd dispose of them ASAP and get the Play & Charge kit.

At £20 it's expensive and should come with the console, but it'll save you buying batteries in the long run. The cable is long enough (9ft) to use during play.

More after the break

Other advancements include a battery conserving mode when it's not in use, and an increase in the rate of data transferred between the controller and console. Microsoft says this results in better headset audio quality.

If you're a professional gamer there's the flashier Xbox Elite controller that arguably improves upon the standard version. It comes with interchangeable paddles (no, really), thumb-sticks and a D-pad that can be swapped out for other shapes or sizes.

Xbox Live

Launched in 2002, Xbox Live is one of the biggest reasons for the popularity of online gaming today. Sony's PSN lagged behind (in more ways than one) but it's made the ground up since.

There's the Silver (free) and Gold (paid) levels for the service. A year's subscription costs in the region of £40; a three month sub around £15.

Several features are locked behind the paywall so if you don't have a Gold sub, services such as online multiplayer, Game DVR, Twitch broadcasting, voice messaging and voice/party chat will be inaccessible. Most first and third party entertainment apps are available without a Gold subscription.

Games with Gold is another Gold exclusive feature updated twice a month, and offers members a selection of free games to play. Like PlayStation Plus's Instant Game Collection, once your subscription expires you'll lose access to the free games. Access is restored once the membership is renewed.

According to Microsoft, 300,000 servers running on Microsoft's Azure platform power Xbox Live, as cloud integration becomes a vital part of the Xbox experience. Saves, profiles, music and videos are stored in the cloud and available to view on any console you log in to.

The biggest change to the service has been its transition into a social network. Like Twitter profiles can be "followed"; your own profile is now a channel where people you can view what you've done, the content you've shared and any other vital stats.

The friends limit has jumped up from 100 to 1000 and you can tag which friends you like most, granting quicker profile access. Privacy has been tightened, with your friends able to see your profile in full whereas others can view only glimpses of it. You can also deny profile access.

PSN

Sony has taken a similar path to Microsoft, with gaming more sociable than before. The friends limit on PS is now 2000. You can also assign your real name to your profile.

Like Xbox there's a free and a premium tier. Membership to PlayStation Plus (PS+) is needed for access to online multiplayer.

Cloud game saves, Share Play and the Instant Game Collection (IGC) are locked to PS+, whereas messaging, party chat, live broadcasting, free-to-pay games, game DVR and remote play are free. The situation is the same with media apps with all apps free to download (but not necessarily to use).

Like Xbox, profiles and saves are uploaded to the cloud, with each user granted 10GB of space. Handily, PS+ covers all Sony gaming devices (PS4, PS3 and PS Vita) so you won't need to re-subscribe for each device.

PS+'s most enticing feature is its Instant Game Collection. It offers free games across PS4, PS3 and PS Vita that you can play until your membership expires. The cost for PS+ is the same as Live, £40 a year or £15 for three months.

Games

Video games are a console's bread and butter. For both consoles now a big library of games to choose from whether it's a multi-platform game or a first party exclusive.

Reeling off a number of recent hits, there's Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty and Fifa, Destiny, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phanton Pain, Battlefield, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Batman Arkham Knight, Far Cry 4/Primal and Grand Theft Auto V.

When it comes to multi-platform games PS4 tends to edge out Xbox One. Games that look that bit sharper and have a 1080p resolution, whereas the Xbox One version can look a little soft and tend to have sub-1080p resolutions.

It's not a deal breaker, but something to bear in mind. The real differentiators are the exclusives, and on that front there's plenty to seek out…

Xbox One exclusives

If you're a long time Xbox fan then Microsoft's recent releases are a strong:

  • Quantum Break
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider (will appear on PS4 in 2016)

Otherwise it's the franchises we've known (and loved):

  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Forza Motorsport 6
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
  • The Halo Master Chief Collection
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Killer Instinct
  • Limbo
  • Rare Replay

PS4 exclusives

By our count Sony has more exclusives than Microsoft. Though the quality of those exclusives vary, the PS4's output is more diverse.

  • Driveclub
  • Bloodborne
  • inFAMOUS: Second Son and its First Light DLC
  • Knack
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • Until Dawn
  • The Order 1886
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
  • Killzone: Shadow Fall
  • Street Fighter V

There's plenty of remasters if you missed the previous generation:

  • The Uncharted Collection
  • Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
  • God of War 3
  • Beyond & Heavy Rain

Sony trumps Microsoft when it comes to small, downloadable games, especially titles from independent developers

  • Hotline Miami & Hotline Miami 2
  • The Witness
  • Journey
  • Broken Age
  • Spelunky
  • Firewatch