This year is a great time to switch game consoles. Neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 offers backwards compatibility. Anyone who lived through Apple’s switch from a PowerPC processor to an x86 processor knows that PowerPC apps do not run on x86. Apple’s solution was a years long project called Rosetta that allowed most PowerPC apps to run in emulation on x86 chips. Microsoft and Sony are not doing that, and in exchange for their laziness, they have lost any lock-in they might have had with current console owners.
For the sake of this comparison, let us completely ignore the option of the Wii U. The Wii U looks like a bargain at $350 for the version people want. The Wii U has costly accessories, however, such as external hard drives, controllers, and extra $150 gamepads. The less expensive Wii U could easily cost $500 or more with all accessories. (The Wii U does offer a price advantage for prior Wii owners, as it is the only console with backwards compatibility.) The Wii U is disparaged as little more than a souped-up Xbox 360 with slightly better graphics. So far, Wii U sales are terrible and the biggest game developer is not making games for the Wii U. Nintendo made the same mistake with the Wii U that Sega did with the Dreamcast. The underpowered Sega console could not compete with the expected release of the more powerful Sony Playstation 2. Microsoft avoided this problem by being first with a powerful Xbox 360 in 2005. This move helped Microsoft move from third to second total console sales and third to first console sold per month. The Wii U is currently last in all respects.
From a hardware perspective, neither Microsoft nor Sony provides a compelling reason to choose one console over the other. The folks at AnandTech have a nice comparison, and they concluded the consoles are identical except for 30% more graphical power in the Playstation 4. Both consoles will have some sort of motion gameplay and second screen support. The Xbox One and PS4 are also both rumored to cost about $500. The two remaining differences between the consoles are total cost and games available. The Xbox One will require Microsoft’s $60 per year Xbox Live service to use the internet. On-line gaming and Netflix will cost $60 more on the Xbox One in the first year and $300 more after five years. The PS4 is undoubtedly the better value. As an admitted Halo fanatic, I have to favor the Xbox One for games. Halo and a quite a few other popular game franchises will only be available on the Xbox One. Sony has obtained a few great exclusives, but none are as popular as Microsoft’s exclusives. On the whole, though, the most popular game series of all time, “Call of Duty”, and one of the most anticipated games this year “Destiny”, are cross platform. Sony also has the ability to provide exclusive media through it’s Sony Pictures and Sony Music divisions, and if the next generations works out like the last did, there will honestly be enough content on both consoles to consume all of a person’s free time.
The Xbox Live fee is troubling, though, as the cost continues year after year. If you truly use the Xbox One as the one single media center for your living room, you must pay the $60 per year fee for as long as you own the console. If you keep the console for 10 years, the extra cost could be an astounding $600. On the flipside, if you do not want to pay $60 per year for Xbox live, then your Xbox One could never be your one single media center, as it will likely sit next to your fee free Netflix player. A PS4, on the other hand, could serve as a singe media center at no extra cost. (The Blu-Ray equipped PS3 could also service as a single media center at no extra cost.)
Based on cost alone, I recommend the PS4 over the Xbox One. Because of the lack of backwards compatibility, there is no drawback for Xbox 360 owners to make the switch. I also recommend waiting a year after launch to buy into a PS4. The first set of games on any new console are little more than higher resolutions versions of games on the prior generation of consoles. Many of the first games for the new consoles, such as “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Destiny”, will also be available on the old consoles. The similarities between the Xbox One and the PS4 could induce a price war, and you could very well see a less expensive PS4 before Christmas of 2014. Another benefit of waiting is seeing which console really is better, and perhaps Microsoft can once again convince me to pay more to keep up my Halo habit.
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