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

With seventh generation of video consoles now consigned to the annals of history, the eighth generation as seen Sony reclaim top spot in the hearts of minds of gamers, with its PlayStation 4 outperforming Microsoft's Xbox One.

But despite the disparity in terms of sales the consoles are closer than you think in terms of performance and features. So how do they compare on paper and if you don't already have one, which console should you buy?

Specs

Of the two consoles the PlayStation 4 has the more powerful specs on paper, in part thanks to a better GPU. This has translated to better performance from the PS4, with several multi-platform games achieving 1080p resolution on Sony's console while running at 900p on the Xbox One.

Tucking in to the technical nitty-gritty, the Xbox One boasts 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 also 32MB of eSRAM (embedded memory) that's tied directly to the CPU, which, in theory, should help yield faster read and write times.

With the PS4 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.

So while the Xbox's CPU has a bit more grunt than the PS4's, it's the GPU that matters most here. The PlayStation's GPU is much more powerful and along with its GDDR5 RAM outperforms Microsoft's solution. Even with Microsoft allowing developers access to 10% more of the GPU's resources, it's still not enough to bridge the gap.

Hardware

So while the PS4 commands a graphical performance advantage, in other areas they're similar.

Each has a standard option of a 500GB hard drive, but it's likely you'll need more as game installs and updates soar past the 50GB mark. That 500GB hard drive won't last long.

The PS4’s storage can be upgraded with an off-the-shelf hard disk drive (HDD)/solid state drive (SSD) or hybrid solid state hard drives (SSHD). You can also buy bundles sold with the 1TB variant.

Microsoft's internal hard drive is a proprietary one so we wouldn't advise upgrading it, unless you want to void your warranty. However, Microsoft has continued its policy of allowing external storage space for games/save data. All you need is a drive that's bigger than 256GB and USB 3.0 compatible.

The PS4 supports video resolutions from 480p to 1080p, can display video and photos at 4K but not games. Bluetooth 2.1 and wireless protocols (802.11 b/g/n) are included, along with an ethernet output, two USB 3.0 ports on the front, an HDMI output, an auxiliary port for the PlayStation Camera and an optical connection should you need one.

The PS4's slot loading Blu-ray drive is three times faster than the PS3 but performance-wise we wouldn't expect it to be better than current Blu-ray players on the market.

Curiously support for audio CDs and 3D Blu-rays were missing at launch. 3D Blu-rays has been patched in but support for CDs remains elusive.

Like the PS4 the Xbox One supports 480p all the way to 1080p. There's an HDMI input and output, allowing the user to hook up another source (a set-top box) and have the Xbox overlay an interface.

A slot-loading Blu-ray drive, three USB 3.0 ports, support for 7.1 surround sound, wireless connectivity and a gigabit Ethernet port round things up. In an attempt to speed up adoption for Full HD sets, there's no support for composite and component cables.

Controllers

After three generations of the same Dualshock design – excusing the weird boomerang PS3 prototype – Sony has brought the Dualshock closer in line to Microsoft's effort.

It's still recognisably a Dualshock controller, with the placement of the face buttons (square, triangle, circle, cross) largely unchanged. The deadzone of the thumbsticks have been tightened in order to improve accuracy in terms of movement.

There's a new two-point touchpad above the thumbsticks. Underneath is a small speaker, with the 'Start' and 'Select' buttons now merged into the 'Options' button. The 'Share' button enables players to upload content to social media portals, pausing the game and letting you select which part you want to share.

The triggers have been improved – they now have a concave design instead of the inward convex design on the Dualshock 3. The grip on the handles has been made, well, grippier, with the Sixasis motion control carried over from the Dualshock 3.

The Dualshock 4 has a rechargeable battery (it can be charged via USB) and supports Bluetooth headsets for those wirelessly inclined. For those who like a wired connection the pad has a 3.5mm jack too.

It's available in a selection of different coloured pads from black, red, blue, the 20th Anniversay edition or even urban camouflage.

 

Not to be left behind Microsoft claims that the Xbox One controller has had more than 40 improvements made to it over the Xbox 360 handset.

These range from reducing the deadzone of the thumbsticks, adding haptic feedback to the triggers (which feels terrific in Forza Motorsport 6), to improving the D-pad to be more responsive and 'clicky' than its 360 incarnation.

The battery compartment has been redesigned and rotated 90 degrees to take up less space. Two AA batteries are required for operation or you can shell out £20 to get a Charge & Play kit, which is more convenient in the long run.

In terms of battery times, we'd wager that the Xbox One has a better charge than the DualShock 4, as it seems to be able last a lot longer during game sessions than the DualShock does.

If you have the cash there's the flashy Xbox Elite controller, which arguably improves upon the standard controller. It comes with interchangeable paddles (no, really), thumbsticks and a D-pad that can be swapped out for other shapes or sizes. It could be yours for the rather steep £120.

The second screen

Tablets and smartphones have of course become incredibly popular and powerful since the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3 and predictably, both platform holders have consolidated the console experience on the smaller screen.

In Microsoft's corner there's the Xbox app (Smartglass); for Sony there's the PlayStation App and the PS Vita.

Microsoft's Smartglass app is free and available on Windows 10, iOS and Android devices (up to 16 devices can be synched). You won't be able to play any Xbox One games on your mobile device, you can search the store and peruse the dashboard with access to your friends list, achievements, messages and any video clips you've saved and uploaded to Xbox Live. 

And with Windows 10, you can download the app and stream to your PC over your wi-fi network as Microsoft brings its PC and console arms under the Xbox brand. Expect to see more of this cross-branding in the future.

More after the break

Sony has two Apps: PlayStation and PS Messages both of which are free for iOS and Android. The formers grants access to the PS Store, second screen connection to the console and notifications of events. You can turn the console on or off, trigger remote downloads or purchase an item away from home.

Strangely, Sony decided to lock off messages within this app and move it to the latter allows users to send messages to those who have the app on a PS3, PS4 and PS Vita.

Sony also has the benefit of PS Vita's remote play, which works alot better than it did on the PS3. The Vita will stream (via wi-fi) the data from the PS4 with a little lag although resolution takes a hit and performance across titles is variable.

Xbox Live vs PSN

More than a decade into its life and Xbox Live is still considered to be the best in class. However, it faces sterm competition from Sony and in recent months, you could argue that the performance of both has been much the same.

Microsoft claims Xbox Live is powered by 300,000 servers that run Microsoft's Azure platform, and the company is pushing cloud integration as a vital component of the Xbox experience. Saves, profiles, music and videos are stored in the cloud and available on any console you log in to.

The biggest change has been the service's transition into a social network. Other profiles can be "followed" in a similar way to Twitter, with your own profile becoming a channel on which people you can view your activity, content you've shared and any other vital stats.

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

Sony meanwhile is taking a similar path with the PS4's online experience, making gaming much more sociable than on previous PlayStation consoles.

The friends limit on PS has jumped to 2000, twice that of the Xbox One. You can also assign your real name to your profile, which can be done during the creation of your profile.

Multiplayer is free on the PS3 and Vita, but not so on the PS4 which comes under the umbrella of PlayStation Plus subscription (£40 for a year). Like the Xbox, profiles and saves will be uploaded to the cloud, with 3GB of space available for each user. Handily, PlayStation Plus covers you across you Sony gaming devices (PS4, PS3 and PS Vita) so you won't need to re-subscribe for each device.

If you sign up, you'll have access to free games every month through Sony's Instant Game Collection, titles tend to be older ones but every now and then there is a gem to be uncovered such as the smash hit that was Rocket Ball.

Exclusive games

The PlayStation 4 will launch with a host of new games including Battlefield 4, Knack, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Metal Gear Solid 5, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Pro Evolution Soccer 14 and plenty more.

While the PS4 is said to support 4K video output (and 3D), it won't be in the form of 4K gaming, which will have to remain firmly on the wishlist for now. 

Sony will be entering broadband partnerships with specific providers, offering tailored gaming packages of up to 200Mbps, including dedicated parts of the broadband 'pipe' for gamers to use, in an effort to combat lag and time out issues.

The Xbox meanwhile will be getting a similar line-up of launch titles with Black Flag, Call of Duty, Need for Speed: Rivals and FIFA 14 onboard. Xbox One exclusive games will include Dead Rising 3, Killer Instinct, Crimson Dragon and Forza Motorsport 5.

Microsoft will be looking to take advantage of the company's cloud computing resources, with the Xbox One reportedly capable of offloading calculations to a server.

Forza 5 will be able to incorporate the cloud network with its Drivatar mode, but it remains to be seen how well it will work with broadband connections fluctuating from good to bad around the world.

Streaming

It's now known that the PS4 will not offer DLNA streaming at launch (along with a host of other stuff). Expect that to be patched after launch, but in the meantime you can subscribe to Sony's Music Unlimited service.

Music Unlimited is available for £10/month and will offer access to all of the service's 22 million tracks. Music will not download to the hard drive but stream to the PS4, removing the need for storage.

High-quality audio streaming is also said to be an important facet of the service with users granted the option to have the music library as a soundtrack to their games.

Sony's other app, Video Unlimited, will have faster start times than before. 200,000 movies and TV shows will be available (depending on your region) and much like the Music Unlimited app, content will stream to the PS4 with all content stored in the cloud.

The Xbox One will ship with Microsoft's respective Xbox Video and Xbox Music apps with DLNA streaming included (with Windows PCs). There's a slight issue with the latter as only devices that meet Microsoft's 'Play To' standard will work with the Xbox One.

An Xbox Music pass (£10 a month) will give users access to the library and content can be played on a variety of SmartGlass synched devices. Content can be searched, initiated or stopped through by voice commands.

Initial verdict

Our initial verdict? The PS4's emphasis on building a gaming console first and foremost may well strike a chord with those who like to keep their consoles strictly for playing games.

The Xbox One has more of a focus on being an all-round entertainment hub, offering more third-party apps at launch than the PS4. If that's what you're interested in, then the One will offer that in spades.

But we'd expect the PS4 to catch up – and with one of the Xbox's main features, its OneGuide functionality, not due to launch in the UK until next year  one of the console's prime features won't come into play for quite a while.

We certainly think  that the versatility and potential of these machines as complete home entertainment machines is massively exciting.

With both systems requiring updates post-launch and plenty of questions remaining over features and functionality, we can't wait to get our hands on the consoles and bring you full reviews very soon...

Which machine do you think is better? And why? Let us know in the comments below.