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XBOX One versus PS4 - Version 2
Welcome to consolewars.com! This is the second installment in the ongoing battle between XBOX One and Playstation 4.
We let the current consoles battle it out against each other. All fights will go over twelve rounds and after each round one winner will be declared. If there is a draw in a round, both opponents will get one point each. After twelve rounds, the final winner will be revealed. Enough talk for now, let the first of the three console wars begin!
The Brawlers: Microsoft vs. Sony
The stage is set, the ring is ready, but before the bouts start we need to know who the brawlers are. Let's have a look at the two opponents and see where they are coming from, shall we?
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Microsoft was only known for occasional hardware outings back in the late 90s, selling some PC keyboards and mice but sticking to their core business of delivering big software for 95% of the PCs of the world. Things changed in 2001 when all of a sudden Microsoft introduced the XBOX Games console right out of nowhere. Ok it was not that all of a sudden. Some insiders think that Sega was one of the triggers making Microsoft aware of the lucrative gaming business when they asked Microsoft to help them with their software stack for their Dreamcast console. That console ran on top of Windows CE, an embedded version of the console. Microsoft seized the opportunity and created an own console based upon hardware they were already familiar with: Intel's x86-Architecture. The DirectX Team had already been working on a specialized PC which would show off the capabilities of their DirectX Gaming API and this piece of hardware was known as DirectXBox. The Intel architecture was a natural decision for Microsoft’s first console but the coup for the success of the first XBOX was buying up Halo developer Bungie and releasing the game as an exclusive for it. Along with it, Microsoft established XBOX Live, a subscription based online service which introduced buddy lists and achievements. After quite a success with the first XBOX Microsoft released XBOX 360 which happened to outsell Sony's Playstation 3 in the Americas.
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Even though the Playstation brand is synonymous with gaming these days, the debut for Sony into the world of game consoles and gaming was a bit through the back door. In the late 80s and early 90s, when Nintendo was battling it out with Sega, Nintendo asked Sony to help them build a CD-ROM drive for their Super Famicom game console (known as the Super Nintendo in the western hemisphere). The medium for games back then were cartridges, which were severely limited in their storage capacity and had high production costs. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately for the gaming world) the deal between the two went sour, and Nintendo broke off because of an unsuccessful revenue split negotiation. Sony was left behind with the remnants of their joint venture. Ken Katuragi was appointed by infuriated Sony President Norio Ohga to develop an own games console to rival Nintendo which would later be known as the Playstation. One has to remember, that Nintendo's President Hiroshi Yamauchi back in those days, was not only known for his excellent business talents but also for some of his more stern decisions.
Sony has come a long way from those days and established itself as a force with the juggernaut Playstation brand known comprising four generations of home consoles as of now.
Both opponents are big established players in the ring, no one has a clear advantage over the other one, therefore this round goes out without a clear winner.
Make a good first impression: Introductory Events
"Always make a good first impression" is something everybody has heard once in a while. And rightfully so. If you end up making a bad first impression you can easily end up being on the receiving end of internet mockery.
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Microsoft showed off their third generation console on the XBOX Reveal Event which was held on 21st of May 2013 and it turned out to be that kind of a presentation which would stay in peoples minds for a long time. Microsoft was under pressure by Sony at that point of time since Sony had presented their new generation console a couple of months earlier and quite some information around the new XBOX was already circling the internet. Especially two rumors were discussed a lot in discussion boards: Will players be forced to have an internet connection all the time and will selling used games be prohibited in some way or not? Most gamers wanted to hear a straight rebuttal for these rumors but Microsoft did neither confirm nor deny them. What happened during the event was an unsatisfactory "no response" to these concerns: The XBOX One was presented as an all converging media hub and the event concentrated more on these converging effects rather than the gaming aspects of a brand new console. Especially the heavy integration of voice commands for the XBOX One combined with a show which was heavily skewed towards TV capabilities led to quite some hilarious internet memes going from "XBOX go home" right down to comparisons of XBOX One to Stanley Kubrick's infamous HAL 9000 Artificial Intelligence denying commands issued to it. One has to say, Microsoft did stress that the games would be showed at the E3 2013 kick off event. But how well did that one go? Microsoft did manage to show lots of games, but the presentation was overshadowed by technical problems like missing sound and glitches in some games shown.
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Unlike in previous generations where nearly all of the details were presented in one big announcement roughly around E3, Sony has chosen to reveal Playstation 4 in two events this year (2013). The first event was held on 20th/21st of February 2013 and revolved around the idea, conception and hardware design choices of the new console. Basically all the relevant information around PS4 was revealed at that event apart from the design of the console itself. Mark Cerny, lead designer of Playstation 4 explained in depth the philosophy behind the design decisions which influenced the creation of the newest installment in the Playstation brand. The presentation itself was focused squarely on what the console is able to do, how games could harness the power of the now x86-driven architecture and what new elements of play the console would incorporate. In a secondary event hosted right before E3 kickoff, Sony showed off some first party games and other titles which would be available throughout the first year of PS4. Even though the second event was not specifically targeted around PS4, Sony clearly put PS3 and PS Vita on the back seat. Sony only used less than 20 minutes to show all relevant information concerning these two older machines, focusing nearly entirely the rest of the night on PS4.
What a mess that was! Microsoft managed to drop lots of bricks on their first XBOX Reveal Event in late May. All that people remembered from the show was the word "TV" and "XBOX go home!". Microsofts E3 kick off presentation with all the games was much better, but it suffered technical difficulties with some game not working, and sounds unhearable. That was quite embarrassing for such an event. In a series of "One-Eighties" tried to correct lots of the mistakes they made back at E3 2013, but the major show had been botched already.
Sonys first presenter back in February was Mark Cerny, and he made a humble look by stressing how all the decisions of creating the PS4 came by. People were impressed by the show and the capabilities, but the lack of the hardware itself, the omission of the final design left some people wonder if this all was vaporware. Sonys E3 kickoff presentation contained lot's of blows against it's direct competitor Microsoft which we will discuss later.
It is quite easy to find the winner of this round:
Xbox One Reveal
Xbox One E3 Conference
PS4 E3 Conference
The Butcher is here - Cutting the limbs and getting to the core: CPU & Hardware Internals
Sometimes console makers would like their machines to be little black boxes, with nobody being able to know what is doing the magic inside of them. Other times they tend to brag about the innards of their newest offspring. We take a closer look and try to unveil most of the mechanics behind that magic.
Xbox One CPU
8 AMD-Jaguar cores
1.75 GHz clock frequency
2MB L2 cache, 32KB L1 I/D caches
64bit x86 architecture
Playstation 4 CPU
8 AMD-Jaguar cores
1.6 GHz clock frequency
2MB L2 cache, 32KB L1 I/D caches
64bit x86 architecture
CPU - the commander & brains
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Microsoft's third generation of console hardware is a complete turn-around for the company: The original XBOX was built around commodity PC hardware, and even incorporated an Intel x86 processor. The second generation hardware (XBOX 360) flipped things totally around and went from x86-architecture to a triple-core PowerPC CPU manufactured by IBM and dubbed "Xenon". Each of the three cores is able to run two threads enabling the XBOX 360 to run six threads simultaneously. The Xenon cores were derivates of the PowerPC Core element which IBM used in the Cell chip for Sony's PS3 - so at some point, Microsoft benefitted from the invest Sony made in developing Cell. The PowerPC architecture had advantages over Intel's x86 architecture when it was conceived, with clearer instructions, more registers and a so called RISC-instruction set (Reduced instruction set computing). Even though the PowerPC architecture was unfamiliar to some developers, the learning curve was not too steep unlike PS3s Cell CPU. But this architecture didn't have a long future in Microsoft's plans as for XBOX One Microsoft turned things around again and went for a cheap alternative in contrast to the old Xenon CPU. And like Sony, they ended up knocking AMD's doors for the getting the CPU of their newest console.
XBOX One's CPU is based on AMDs 28nm x86-based Jaguar core (just like the PS4's is) and it uses 8 of these cores which are coupled into two groups of 4 cores. Each of these groups has access to 2MB of shared L2 cache while each core governs its own private 32KB big L1 instruction and data-cache. The CPU's speed has been recently reveleaed to be at 1.75GHz. The Jaguar cores which AMD provided are an enhancement of the so called "Bobcat" CPU Cores AMD produced with low-power scenarios in mind. These cores can be easily and cheaply manufactured in contrast to the Xenon CPU which was custom made and more expensive. The interesting twist here is, that even though this architecture is completely incompatible to the one of the XBOX 360, it is more close to the original XBOX's hardware. If Microsoft wanted to, it could more easily enable backwards compatibility to classic XBOX games, but as it seems, they don't seem to go that route. XBOX 360's CPU was using a PowerPC based architecture. Now that XBOX One uses the more familiar x86 architecture, developers will be able to get to results more quickly.
Up to now, there are no real world CPU benchmarks for XBOX One's CPU portion of the APU. However it seems that the CPU might be on the level of a higher clocked Intel Core i3-2100T Processors placing the CPU somewhere in the middle to the lower tier of performance of current PCs.
Another interesting thing Microsoft pointed out is that XBOX One will be able to offload computational work to the cloud. In theory for each XBOX One there will be some servers providing computational power for a console. But what can be offloaded to the cloud? First of all, nothing which is latency-sensitive. Matt Booty from Microsoft tried to explain what they mean: "One example of that might be lighting. Let’s say you’re looking at a forest scene and you need to calculate the light coming through the trees, or you’re going through a battlefield and have very dense volumetric fog that’s hugging the terrain. Those things often involve some complicated up-front calculations when you enter that world, but they don’t necessarily have to be updated every frame. Those are perfect candidates for the console to offload that to the cloud, the cloud can do the heavy lifting, because you’ve got the ability to throw multiple devices at the problem in the cloud."
This means that such calculations can be offloaded to the cloud, freeing the console from this burden.
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In contrast to previous generations of Playstation consoles, the PS4 breaks with the tradition of custom handcrafted chips for running the system. Let's make a short trip back into history: The PS2's CPU Core, dubbed "EmotionEngine", was a complex beast to program for. Basically it was a MIPS III CPU Core with two specialized vector units called VU0 and VU1 and back in it's time, developers had a hard time getting code to run fast on this machine. It was basically a multi-core machine, but programming for multi-cores was something that was not quite common back in those days.
The PS3 was also designed with raw power in mind and once more programming it was perceived a tough task. PS3's Cell CPU consisted of a PowerPC Core supplemented with 8 SPU (Synergistic Processing Units) subcores, however only 7 of these were enabled in PS3 to achieve better yields in producing the chip so that costs could be lowered. One of those seven SPUs was reserved for the hypervisor of the PS3 leaving developers with one PowerPC and six SPU Cores. To simplify, a developer trying to harness all of the power of the PS3 had to learn how to micromanage and split tasks in his game to use all SPUs. The governing PowerPC Core alone was too slow to handle everything and ignoring the SPUs resulted in mediocre speeds for a game. Feedback from developers Sony had asked for was generally negative and Mark Cerny, Lead System Architect of PS4 listened to those concerns.
The PS4 uses a 64 bit x86-based AMD APU (Accelerated Processing Unit, a combination of a standard x86 CPU with a sophisticated Graphics Core, it's a fancy word for two chips on one die) comprising of 8 AMD Jaguar cores which are coupled into two groups of 4 cores. Each of these groups has access to 2MB of shared L2 cache while each core governs its own private 32KB big L1 instruction and data-cache. The CPU runs at 1.6GHz (estimated) and is able to run instructions out-of-order. The Jaguar cores which AMD provided are an enhancement of the so called "Bobcat" CPU Cores AMD produced with low-power scenarios in mind. These cores can be easily and cheaply manufactured so that the days Sony had to worry about low yield rates from custom chip fabrication and thus high costs are gone. Furthermore the CPU is easily programmable by developers since most of them are familiar with the 64 bit x86 instruction set. In contrast to earlier days with PS3, developers should be more easily able to harness everything out of this chip. On top of that there are already highly sophisticated optimizing compilers for the x86 architecture which was a completely different story for custom chips older Playstations used. All the optimizations of code had to be done in assembly language and an enormous experience was needed from a developer. Real world benchmarks of this CPU are lacking yet, but some leaked data suggest it might be on par with higher clocked Intel Core i3-2100T Processors placing the CPU somewhere in the middle to the lower tier of performance of current PCs.
Another interesting tidbit we found out was that Sony reacted to the news that XBOX One would be able to use the cloud for computing tasks. Sony said that developers will be able to make use of cloud calculations to power their games if they wish. However, Shu Yoshida said that "out of all the calculations a game needs, maybe [only] this and that might be possible on the cloud side." However he said, "We don't believe every title needs that. If your title needs an online connection to provide some online features, go for it."
Microsoft has never developed a custom graphics chip for it's older consoles but rather relied on the expertise from other companies. With the original XBOX Microsoft partnered with graphics chip juggernaut Nvidia to deliver the graphics core for it's console. The relationship between Microsoft and Nvidia went sour when Microsoft didn't get any discounts from Nvidia even though chip costs traditionally go down over the course of time. This feud led the companies to court and the trial was privately settled in the early 2000 years. For the XBOX 360 Microsoft partnered with ATI to deliver the Xenos graphics chip. This chip was in many ways similar to the R520 architecture but spotted a tremendous new innovation: Unified shaders. In contrast to normal GPUs of that time, this ATI silicon combined distinct pixel- and vertexshader. The advantages were obvious: Depending on the needs of the game, more shaders could be either assigned to handle vertex computation or pixel rasterization.
Since Microsoft made good experiences with the graphics part of their console which was considered to be superior to that of PS3 back in the launch days of the console, it was a natural choice for Microsoft to partner again with ATI. ATI ended up being acquired by AMD a couple of years ago so that Microsoft uses the same core like Sony now. Microsoft utilizes AMD's GCN (Graphics Core Next) part for their new combined CPU/GPU core, dubbed APU in the XBOX One. Since AMD offers building blocks in creation of the APU, it was up to Microsoft to decide how many compute units their new graphics processor should govern. At the two events for XBOX One, Microsoft was quite mute about hardware details and did not go into too many specifics, but we were able to find out, that XBOX One's GPU will run at around 853MHz and deliver up to 1.31 TFLOPS of graphics power using 12 compute units which translate to 768 stream-cores. (The core frequency has been pushed up by 53MHz to gain around 6%-7% more processing power) This chip is known to support the complete DirectX 11.2 feature set, which of course does not mean it is limited to only features describe in that API. It is possible that modifications have been made to the GCN cores like Sony has, but up to now, nothing has been revealed by Microsoft. The new graphics processor has at least 5x the "peak theoretical shader performance of the Xbox 360, likely even more given increases in efficiency thanks to AMD's scalar GCN architecture (MS quotes up to 8x better GPU performance)", anandtech concludes, so it should leave enough room for new developments in the graphics section.
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Playstations so far are known for their quite potent graphical abilities. Starting with the original Playstation, the 3D performance of the consoles was always one of the highlights of them. The PS2s graphics chip was dubbed "Graphics Synthesizer" and was a custom designed chip specially built by Sony for the PS2 with high theoretical performance, sporting 16 pixel pipelines connected to 4MB of embedded DRAM through a 2560-bit wide bus. Yes that's right. The bus connecting the graphics core with it's embedded memory was that wide. Today the widest bus used for a consumer graphics card (GeForce GTX 780, not speaking of GTX Titan which costs around $1000) is "only" 384 bits wide. With PS3 Sony created another custom graphics chip in cooperation with Nvidia, which they called "RealitySynthesizer" this time around. Sony was being confident that the performance of this chip would be good enough to create virtually real worlds. We know that this chip was quite close in it's workings with Nvidia 7800-based graphic cards and would sport a 128 bit wide bus with 256MB of GDDR3 RAM.
With the Playstation 4 things have changed dramatically. As already mentioned in the CPU section, Sony chose not to custom develop a brand new graphics chip, instead they licensed AMD's GCN (Graphics Core Next) part for their new combined CPU/GPU core. But what kind of beast is this new Graphics Core Next part? Already confirmed by Sony are the following facts: The GPU will run at around 800MHz and deliver up to 1.84 TFLOPS of graphics power using 18 compute units which translate to 1152 stream-cores.The GCN core is known to support the complete DirectX 11.2 feature set, which does not mean it is limited to only this. Mark Cerny detailed that Sony had altered the GCN Cores in Playstation 4 to be more versatile so that Sony and their developers can offload compute workloads to the graphics card. Basically what Sony means here is that physics, collision and other computation could be offloaded to the graphics core and be of no burden for the CPU anymore.
"The original AMD GCN architecture allowed for one source of graphics commands, and two sources of compute commands. For PS4, we have worked with AMD to increase the limit to 64 sources of compute commands -- the idea is if you have some asynchronous compute you want to perform, you put commands in one of these 64 queues, and then there are multiple levels of arbitration in the hardware to determine what runs, how it runs, and when it runs, alongside the graphics that's in the system." Cerny explained.
Even though the raw specs of this graphics core don't exceed that of high end PC graphic cards (As a comparison,a GeForce GTX 780 delivers up to 3.97 TFLOPS of performance, but this graphics card alone costs around $600), it sure looks that Sony's alteration to the GCN for asynchronous compute might bear fruits in the coming future, which is important as consoles do have a longer lifetime than PC hardware.
So what is the advantage of unified RAM?
Both the CPU and GPU can address a common memory space which allows data to be modified by both. In a more traditional sense the CPU would prepare geometry data and upload it for further processing to the graphic card's memory. This step is not necessary anymore in a unified memory space. Especially since PS4's GPU is supposed to do lots of GPGPU tasks, the benefits of having a single memory where all the data is processed becomes obvious. Manipulated data by physics computations on the GPU can be used directly by the CPU. Geometry mesh modifications done by the CPU are immediately available to the GPU and can be displayed without waiting for the data to arrive.
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You cannot have enough memory because if you think you have enough, you can stuff it with more things, so that you need even more memory. This rule of thumb is of course applicable to the console world as well. The original XBOX had 64MB of DDR RAM running at 200MHz (double the amount the PS2 had) and the XBOX 360 had 512MB of GDDR3 RAM running at 700 MHz. The interesting point here was, that starting with XBOX 360, Microsoft used a unified memory model in contrast to it's rivals which seperated RAM in portions for CPU and GPU.
The XBOX One likewise uses a not so unified RAM model utilizing DDR3-2133 DRAM for the entire machine, which enables the system to have around 68.3GB/s of bandwidth at it's disposal. To alleviate for the lack of throughput, Microsoft incorporated 32MB embedded SRAM on the APU die which is supposed to have around 102 GB/s of throughput. It is not quite clear if Microsoft uses the 32MB as a self-managing cache or if developers have to handle managing data themselves. As an AMD hardware engineer pointed out, the XBOX One is not using AMD's hUMA (heterogeneous Uniform Memory Access) and will be limited at some extent.
The three operating systems Microsoft is running on the XBOX One will reserve 3GB of RAM for themselves, leaving 5GB for games to use.
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One of the most important part of a console is RAM (Random Access Memory) and the amount of it. The Playstation 2 for instance had 32MB of RDRAM (Rambus RAM, a speedier version of standard vanilla DRAM) combined with 4MB of high speed eDRAM directly embedded in the Graphics Synthesizer. The PS3 incorporated 256MB of XDR DRAM (rivaling DDR2 RAM) as main memory and 256 MB of GDDR3 RAM as dedicated graphics memory.
The Playstation 4 is using a unified RAM architecture (AMD's hUMA (heterogeneous Uniform Memory Access) technology)and builds on 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, with a throughput of around 176 GB per second running at 5.5GHz. In contrast to older architectures all of the system components have access to very high speed GDDR5 RAM which is normally only used on graphic cards in lower quantity (from 1-6 GB currently, most of the cards sporting 2GB of GDDR3 RAM these days).Around 3 to 3.5 GB of RAM are reserved by the operating system of PS4, leaving the rest available to game developers. Sony explained that there is a mechanism called "flexible memory" which allows games to allocate even more memory if necessary.
This time around the console makers made it pretty easy for us, to compare them with each other since Microsoft and Sony use the same basic hardware. The APUs of both consoles seem to be directly comparable. Sony opted to use more compute engines in their GPU (18) than Microsoft does (12), invested in better unified memory (GDDR5 with 172GB/s ) in contrast to Microsoft (DDR3 with 68GB/s and eSRAM with 102GB/s) which ultimately leads to the conclusion, that the PS4 has more steam under it's hood. In recent times the hardware advantage has become clearer by numerous reports around the web stating that the XBOX One on top of having less compute engines than PS4 also has to deal with the lack of AMD's hUMA memory architecture.
Microsoft tries to counter this superiority with it's cloud-technology. It sounds nice in theory, but we have high doubts that this cloud computation will impact games visual fidelity in any way. We suspect that this technology can be used for completely different stuff, but not for real time rendering purposes yet.
Intriguingly Sony recently announced, that they will be able to offer somewhat similar support for developers with offloading workload to the cloud. We believe that this cloud computing offered by both Sony and Microsoft might help with doing heavy calculations for complicated algorithms - the stuff, Maxis and EA were talking about when they said that Sim City uses the "cloud" for the computation of the simulation but which happened to be not the case.
Maybe some simulation games in the future can offload some of that heavy lifting to the cloud, but since both Sony and Microsoft offer these, neither of them has an advantage over the other in this field.
Basically we have to return to the core hardware, and as we explained above, Sony's PS4 has the edge over Microsoft's XBOX One.
Suit yourself: The services
These days a console cannot remain a dumb playback device for games only. It has to be more. It has to offer more, and gamers expect their consoles to deliver them a bit more than just reading their game discs. We take a look at what the consoles have to offer.
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Just like it was with XBOX 360, Microsoft will be charging for online gaming but this time around they are borrowing a bit from their opponents: There will be some free games to download for their customers and at the E3 kick off event Microsoft announced, that Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3 will be some of the games making a start. XBOX One's services will go broader and the machine will continue to offer music, video and games as downloads, but also integrate TV into the experience. Surfing the internet with a specialized version of Internet Explorer will also be possible. Borrowing from Windows 8 XBOX One will be able to run at least two applications simultaneously on one screen: You could play your game and browse the internet at the same time. Skype has been integrated into the experience and has been presented quite prominently in the first of the two presentations. The American market might be interested in the integration of NFL Fantasy Football leagues and other sport related offerings. Microsoft also announced that they will be producing at least one original program featuring the Halo Universe. It is unknown if this show will be freely available for XBOX Live Gold members only or not - only the future will tell.
Some of the cloud-services were highlighted during the presentations and users would be able to save their film, music or games into the cloud. If you have followed the coverage right after the introduction of XBOX One at the reveal event in May, you might have noticed that Microsoft had introduced a new set of rules and a draconian rights management system concerning their games. Until Wednesday, the 19th of June 2013 the situation was as follows: Retail game discs would have been read by XBOX One and would have been bound to the user's account - the game would be saved to the hard disk and activated in the cloud, the disc would become obsolete for others. The advantage handling it this way on one hand would have been that a game could then be downloaded on any console the user owned or was logged into, but on the other hand this move had severe restrictions. It would not have been easy to share games with friends, as it would have required you to login on their XBOX One, so he or she could play for up to 24 hours. Why 24 hours? Because every XBOX One would have required an internet connection at least once every 24 hours. If you wanted to sell your used game, you needed to deactivate it from your account, probably involving fees and thus crippling the used games market. It was not quite clear if Microsoft would have really enforced this used games policy, but it looked like that. The massive shit storm Microsoft faced on the Internet for all these measures forced them to do a 180 degree reversal on all these restrictions, and XBOX One Retail games can be used now like games on XBOX 360.
Microsoft partnered with Twitch and is now able to offer streaming services for users themselves. Gamers will be able to stream their current game, or even record and then comment it. SmartGlass has been expanded so that users can see on their tablets what other friends are playing or even follow their progress in the game. All this data is updated instantly while that friend is playing the game. This way one has a live method to see who is progressing faster in a game. SmartGlass even offers to compare friend's data with one's own.
Recently Microsoft has stated that as a gamer you will be able to record the last 5 minutes of your gameplay. You can invoke the recording by using voice commands and even publish this footage to the web. In the heat of a battle the command "XBOX, record that!" would suffice to save the last 30 seconds of gameplay for your disposal at a later time.
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Sony showed off lot's of services they will be providing for Playstation 4. First of all a Playstation Plus subscription is now mandatory for online play. This was one of the features which was for free on PS3, but have been changed to a charge now with PS4. The subscription will enable gamers to have access to an instant games collection where each month some games are added and can be downloaded for free. As long as the subscription lasts, all the games downloaded will be available. PS4 will also be offering movie rentals and purchases, TV shows and games from the Playstation Store.
Sony has stated that games which are bought in the store will be playable instantly. This technique which can be observed for PC games like Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft is new to consoles and should reduce waiting times for newly bought titles on the online store significantly.
A lot was rumored right before the E3 presentation kicked off. Some gamers thought that Sony would go the same way Microsoft went with DRM for games and restricting the reselling of old games. Nothing happened in this regard, on the contrary. Sony officially acknowledged, that they will not be dongling any retail games to user accounts and that games will be freely sellable and shareable as one likes to. This move by Sony and the massive pressure Microsoft faced from media, consumers and even investors led them to reverse their stance on DRM. On top of that Sony even forbade publishers to charge or implement so called "Online Passes". This was a means back in the days of PS3 and XBOX 360 to restrict the multiplayer part of any game of being sold. So if you sell a game with an "online pass" the new buyer has to rebuy this "Online Pass" so he can play the online-portion of that game.
A completely different thing Sony is going to offer will be the Gaikai streaming service. It should be possible with PS4 to "preview" games without installing them using this service. On top of that Sony might offer the streaming of older PS3 games through Gaikai - nothing has been set in stone yet and there might be an announcements coming for this.
Another service Sony is offering is that friends can be invited to watch one's own gameplay. This live broadcast is enabled through a partnership with Ustream which will be offering the infrastructure for this service. Friends will not only be able to follow such a live stream on their PS4s but also on any mobile device or webbrowser they own. Sony didn't stop with Ustream, at Gamescom 2013 they revealed that the popular streaming service Twitch would also be available for broadcasting.
Sony has included a special chip into the PS4 which constantly encodes what is being displayed on the screen in real time. The last 15 minutes are always saved onto the hard disk and with the new Share button of the PS4's controller, gamers will be able to save a glorious moment in the intertubes forever. This enables you to save epic moments of gameplay on your local hard drive or share it on Youtube and spread the links through Facebook or Twitter.
The intention is quite clear: One does not have to set up anything - PS4 will constantly be recording your gameplay while you are playing enabling you to save that epic killing blow forever right after it happens.
Even though Microsoft's service offerings are rock solid, the DRM-ified XBOX One ecosystem that would have become a reality frightened everybody right down to their bones. Sony has capitalized on these feelings of gamers from all over the world and ignored publisher's wishes for more control over games. In denying them DRM, Sony serviced the gamer, which is in our eyes an excellent move. Microsoft had to back in after media, consumers and even some financial analysts predicted doom for XBOX One. They did a 180 degrees reversal on their DRM-ified system to stop the negativity surrounding XBOX One.
Apart from these issues, the new Share button concept Sony introduced for PS4 sounds like a good idea. It won't happen anymore that your epic killing spree in Battlefield 4/5/6 where you and only you alone killed 25+ other enemies in one round without dying yourself will be doubted. You will have a recording of it. Microsoft saw in the recent months, that this feature was liked a lot by people, so they annoucned that on XBOX One you would also be able to record your last bits of gameplay (even though it's only 5 minutes and not 15 minutes like on PS4). We like that a lot, and both of the consoles offer this feature.
The Future Xbox Live
A Game Oddity
PS4 Video Sharing
PS Plus Memberships
Everybody's darling is ... everbody's darling? Targeted Audience
The concept of a console already determines what audience it will target. Does it actually matter? Of course it does! The economic success for the three major console makers depends on the decisions of the targeted audience.
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The message Microsoft delivered was confusing for a core gamer. Gamers expected at the first event that things would revolve around XBOX Ones games - but it revolved around TV and the console as the center of the living room, the one hub which connects it all. That's why the console's name was chosen to be "One" as Microsoft explained it themselves in the first presentation. Even though the second presentation showed that they are targeting gamers, the audience Microsoft is trying to woo is broader. Microsoft is battling for the dominance in the living room and that means, it has to incorporate features not only gamers would want. The strategy is apparent if one takes a step back: Microsoft fears that Google or Apple might take over these living rooms with their new inventions and thus launched this pre-emptive strike against them. Future will tell if this strike was a success or futile. Core gamers seemed to be at least pleased after the E3 presentation of core games.
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Sony made one thing quite clear: It is targeting the core gamer. Not more and not less. throughout both conferences all of the stuff Sony showed was clearly targeted at gamers who like to sit in front of their big TVs and play games. Very little distracted from this clear focus and nearly all of the games they showed, targeted the core gamer. Previews for casual games were nearly absent, Sony didn't show a new SingStar or Move game at the E3 event but presented some Move-features in combination with the new controller at the event in February.
Catering the targeted audience, Sony made lots of commits to gamers with having no fees for used games, allowing to trade them, and making the console itself region unlocked. In their E3 kick off presentation, Sony mentioned that they are the platform of choice for users who want to see movies on Netflix - and they are being that without even pushing for it.
Sony is sticking to the core while Microsoft tries to woo a broader audience. Sony's target is clear, precise and defined. They will be catering games to gamers, and on top of that some music and video, maybe even original programming, at least in the US. Microsoft on the other hand has a broader target, they want everyone with a living room to want a XBOX One. But will that really be working for Microsoft? We have our doubts. Microsoft did not solve the problem people watching TV these days have - one TV with multiple boxes and multiple remote controls: XBOX One is not a fresh new attempt at solving problems and reducing the amount of boxes around the TV. It will not rid TV viewers of their cable and other set top boxes, unifying the experience into ONE single box. No, it is, from a view of a non-gamer, just another addition to the ever growing forest of boxes below the TV. The problems are inherent of the TV and cable operator market and not easily solvable but Microsoft had an opportunity window to at least address some of these problems. The intention is a noble one, but the execution in this field is lacking. We highly doubt that people other than gamers will buy an XBOX One as their central multimedia hub.
Bigger is better: Mass Storage and Upgradability
We like our console experience as we do not have to exchange any parts of it like PC gamers have to. But at some point we feel the need for upgrading our console with more storage space or a faster hard drive. Do the opponents offer any paths to allow for the bigger?
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The first XBOX was not upgradeable at all, all the parts were fixed even though one could tinker with it and exchange the included HDD. With XBOX 360 Microsoft went a different route and allowed for the replacement of the HDD but only with the ones Microsoft themselves offered. These special HDDs were extremely expensive in contrast to bulk HDDs one could buy on the market. Things change again with XBOX One for the worse: Microsoft has decided not to allow for any exchange of the internal HDD, limiting the user at the first glance with 500GB. If the experience from Windows RT on Microsofts Surface is any indication, it surely looks like XBOX One's operating systems will at least reserve 5-10GB for themselves, reducing the available free space even further. Even though you cannot replace the internal harddrive, Microsoft has confirmed that external storage connected via USB 3.0 ports can be used for everything the internal storage can be used for. This should at least ease the pain a bit of not being able to exchange the internal drive.
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Upgradability had been introduced by Sony back in the days of the PS2. The console allowed players to add a HDD and a network adapter used by some games (A certain MMO comes to mind) but apart from that, the HDD was not used much at all. This resulted in that virtually nobody opted to beef their PS2 up with a HDD. The fate for the networking module was better: Quite a fraction of the userbase opted for that module and in later revisions of the PS2, Sony integrated the network adapter.
The PS3 was the first Sony console with an integrated HDD. The hard drive was not installed as a permanent part of the console, rather it was user maintainable. If one wanted, Sony allowed users to replace the existing HDD with a bigger one or even with one of those new and fancy SSDs (Solid State Disk) for improved response rates. The USB-Ports of the PS3 allowed for USB-HDDs to be attached as a means for reading other media from it and stream that data to the console.
PS4 offers two Super-Speed USB 3.0 ports with enough bandwidth that would not be exhausted by a standard vanilla HDD allowing for nearly the same experience as if the hard drive was an internal one. The internal HDD is said to be 500GB big and is user-replaceable. We assume that the internal SATA-ports have been upgraded to SATA-3 so that high speed SSDs are not bottlenecked by the transferring SATA bus. At the moment it is unclear if games from PSN or Disc can be installed on those external drives.
Sony's PS4 is again upgradeable and the internal hard-disk can be replaced. Since the PS4 is using the newest PC architecture, we assume that the SATA ports used won't cause bottlenecks for speedier SSDs like they used to be with the PS3. Microsoft on the other hand does not allow replacing the internal HDD at all. At some point in the future SSDs might become price-worthy enough so that you could replace your main system drive. This would result in a massively better response time for the core system and can be a nice option to have in a couple of years. Unfortunately Microsoft is blocking this route, though one can expand the storage space by simply adding an USB-backed HDD or SSD to the console.
We consider having at least the option of replacing the HDD with a SSD without voiding the warranty being more customer-friendly but at the same time it is not quite clear if Sony is allowing games to be installed on an external drive like Microsoft will. This results in a draw with a heavy tendency towards Sony for this round, if things get clearer in the future.
The stuff you already have: Backwards Compatibility
Over the years we have acquired lots of games, but now that a new generation of consoles is around the corner, will we have to keep our old consoles so we can play our beloved classics or will the new generation offer us a way to play our games?
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Microsoft has squarely denied that XBOX One will support games developed for XBOX 360. The biggest reason of course is, that the underlying architecture has changed significantly from XBOX 360. The previous generation console was build around a PowerPC architecture, while the XBOX One is using a 64-bit x86-architecture. Interestingly this puts Microsoft into the unique position to support original XBOX Games on their new hardware since that console also ran on x86-architecture. But Microsoft has not even hinted that they will be offering some sort of compatibility for those older games. The answer to backwards compatibility for this generation of Microsoft consoles is a simple no.
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Basically Playstation 4 does not offer any sorts of backwards compatibility. The reason for this is straight forward: PS4 is not using the same processor architecture anymore and in contrast to the first versions of Playstation 3 which was able to run older PS2 games, Sony has opted not to include legacy hardware to support PS3 software. But that is not the whole story: Sony has hinted at their presentation in February and again at E3 2013, that they will be using Gaikai to stream PS3 titles to your PS4 coming 2014. The details of this service are yet not known, not even if you have to pay again for games you already own. But the hint that they have something planned is a welcome hope.
Sony has at least offered to stream some select classic titles with their Gaikai service. We will see what and if they charge for that or just inserting your old discs will enable the stream for the game. Microsofts position is clear - they won't be supporting older games on the XBOX One.
Plug me in: Controllers, Pads, Moves, Kinects and other thingies
A couple of years ago, Nintendo caught Sony and Microsoft completely off-guard when they revealed the Wii console with it's motion based controller. Since then a lot of time has passed and all of the major console makers have developed new peripherals and input methods to woo gamers.
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Microsoft enjoyed quite a huge success with it's Kinect Sensor for XBOX 360. The tracking device enabled XBOX 360 to recognize players in front of it and use their motions to control the game. For XBOX One Microsoft has chosen to make the optional Kinect sensor bar a mandatory part of it's console experience. XBOX One will not work without the new Kinect 2 sensor bar, Microsoft confirmed. So what are the improvements over the first iteration of the sensor bar? Microsoft stresses, that the lag between motion and recognition of the motion has been lowered significantly. On top of that the accuracy of the sensor has been increased and it even works in conditions where lighting in the room is suboptimal. Microsoft was very proud to show off that the accuracy is so high, that even mood swings of the players can be recognized by XBOX One. So maybe in a not so distant future, a game could decide to make a level easier as soon as it notices that the player in front of the TV starts to get angry.
New pinch and pan gestures along with voice recognition throughout the system allow for a more natural interaction with XBOX One. Since the Kinect 2 sensor bar is bundled with every XBOX One sold, developers can be confident that every player has one, enabling them to utilize the additional input methods the sensor bar provides.
Microsoft has also refined the controller making the buttons more appealing and the whole controller more responsive. On top of that a new rumble engine with "dynamic impulse triggers" was mentioned which means that there are more force feedback motors in the controller now. As a sidenote, controllers of the XBOX 360 will not work with XBOX One.
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Being the spiritual father of successful alternative control methods in console gaming (we all remember the original EyeToy for PS2, don't we?), Sony was caught completely off-guard when Nintendo released it's Wii-Controller. Sony hastily modified the Dual Shock controller with a gyro sensor dubbing it "Six Axis" back in the launch days of PS3. For PS4, Sony has refined on two concepts: The first one is that they integrated the "Move"-controller's light identification into the new PS4 controller. Through the new Playstation Camera and this lights, the tracking of a player can be done more precisely. The second addition over the PS3 is the integration of a touch-enabled area on the controller itself. The touch pad is clickable and allows for two simultaneous touches at all times. It is capacitive and doesn't require you to use a stylus or your finger nail to make it recognize your input.
Inferring from the February PS4 premiere event, it looked like the Playstation Camera would be bundled with every PS4 system sold - only by bundling it, the lights in the controller would make sense. But Sony seemed to have opted not to include the Playstation Camera into the normal bundle so that it is an optional accessory now. Of course developers will not be able to target it in their games assuming everyone has it. Even though Sony never said that they would include it in the first place, it does look like this decision has something to do with Microsoft's which forced the Kinect sensor upon every user even if they didn’t want it. Since the press for some of the aspects of Kinect was pretty negative and probably to keep costs low, Sony seems to have left out the camera from the core experience of PS4. Sony revealed that the light of the new controller can be manipulated by the games so that a low health warning could be seen by pulsating it for instance.
Even though some gamers might have hoped to use their beloved Dual Shock 3 Controllers, Sony confirmed that this won't be possible. Nearly all the hardware for PS3 will not run on PS4. But we do assume that the SingStar mics will work nonetheless.
Sony has refined upon it's iconic Dual Shock controller and added a touchpad, enabling for some new input methods. Since the Playstation Camera became an optional accessory, the lights of the new PS4 controller look as if they have no real purpose now apart from disambiguation. Microsoft on the other hand - for the good or worse depends on whom you are asking - has included the Kinect sensor bar into XBOX One, making it a default input method for their newest offering. This way developers can capitalize upon the new sensory inputs the Kinect bar offers. All security concerns aside, we think from a gamer's perspective that this could open up new game mechanics. If these don't show up, we still have better tactile feedback in the new XBOX One controllers.
Look mom there's so much of it: Games and System Exclusives
What is a games console without games? Pretty much dumb hardware, we would suggest. Therefore to create any attraction a console needs games, and the best would be if these games were exclusive to a console. Let's have a look at how these brawlers want to convince inclined gamers to choose them as their one and only home base.
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Even though the first presentation of XBOX One in late May was ill fated and only showed glimpses of games, Microsofts pre-E3 press conference boasted lots of new games for XBOX One. Microsoft managed to distract doubts that they were only concentrating on TV... Here is a list of games that were announced up to now:
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (Ubisoft, Ubisoft)
Battlefield 4 (DICE, Electronic Arts)
Below (Capy Games, Microsoft Studios)
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward, Activision)
Crimson Dragon (Grounding/Land Ho!, Microsoft Studios)
D4 (Access Games, Microsoft Studios)
Dead Rising 3 (Capcom Vancouver, Microsoft Studios)
Destiny (Bungie, Activision)
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Harmonix, Disney Interactive)
Tom Clancy's The Division (Massive Entertainment, Ubisoft)
Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft)
Wolfenstein: The New Order (MachineGames, Bethesda Softworks)
Zoo Tycoon (Frontier Developments Ltd., Microsoft Studios)
Zumba Fitness: World Party (Zoë Mode, Majesco)
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Sony presented a few exclusives for their new console at the event in February 2013. Among them were Knack and inFAMOUS: Second Son. But the lineup was not exhausted back then, on the contrary, at the E3 kick off presentation they showed some exclusive titles and since then even more titles have been announced:
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)
Basement Crawl (Bloober Team)
Battlefield 4 (Electronic Arts)
Blacklight (Zombie Studio)
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Activision)
Carmageddon: Reincarnation (Stainless Games)
Contrast (Focus Home Interactive)
Cops VS Racers (Ghost Games und Criterion Games)
Counterspy (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Project Red)
Daylight (Zombie Studios)
DC Universe (Sony Online Entertainment)
Deep Down (Capcom)
Diablo 3 (Blizzard)
Doki-Doki Universe (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
Don‘t Starve (Klei Entertainment)
Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare)
Driveclub (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
Dying Light (WB Interactive)
FIFA 14 (Electronic Arts)
Final Fantasy XIV_ A Realm Reborn (Square Enix)
Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)
Flower (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
Galak-Z: The Dimensional (17-BIT)
Gran Turismo 6 (Polyphony Digital)
Hohokum (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
inFAMOUS: Second Son (von Sucker Punch)
Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft)
Killzone: Shadow Fall (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)
Both the line ups look rock solid and make gamers remember what they want. We think that neither of the opponents has an edge over the other in this round.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Forza Motorsport 4
Dead Rising 3
Killzone: Shadow Fall
InFAMOUS Second Son
Precious Gems need special care: Independent Developers
Big game publishers tend to bet on their juggernaut franchises which are likely to cater for a steady stream of revenue without high risks. But most of the time, the really innovative and creative ideas for games come from little independent developers which are not on the radar of anyone. We take a look how the opponents take care of them.
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Microsoft's stance on behalf of indie games has changed completely since the first reveal. In another one-eighty Microsoft said, that independent developers will be able to self publish their games if they wish to do so. There will be no five-figure fees anymore to push updates and all indie games will be presented at the same level like other retail games in XBOX Live.
Below (Capybara Games)
Minecraft: Xbox One Edition (Mojang)
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Sony has changed it's policies and allows indie-developers to self publish their games for PS4 and PS Vita. This is a huge step forward as indies don't need the suffocating embrace of a big publisher anymore to get their games to users. Sony also waived the fees for distributing patches of existing games on the Playstation store.
Basement Crawl (Bloober Team)
Contrast (Compulsion Games)
Dont Starve (Klei Entertainment)
Hohokum (Honey Slug)
Mercenary Kings (Tribute Games)
Octodad: Dadliest Catch (Young Horses)
Oddworld: Abes Oddysee New n Tasty (Oddworld Inhabitants)
Lorne Lanning, Co-Creator of Oddworld: Abe‘s Oddysee New `n` Tasty
For Xbox One they’ve granted us a license for New ‘n’ Tasty! but they still say you need a publisher (...) Why do we need a publisher when we self-finance our games, we build our own IP, we manage our own IP and we’ve turned nearly two million units online as indie publishers sold – not free downloads? Why? What’s wrong with us?
Jason Parkins, Curve Managing Director
XBLA was a trailblazer last generation, so it's sad to see Microsoft not announcing dedicated support for independent developers on the Xbox One
Luke Quinn, Indie developer
I had intended to focus on Windows Phone 7 development and then port the games to the indie games channel afterwards, but I am so very angry with Microsoft’s intentional sabotaging of the indie channel that I now have a complete lack of confidence in them to provide a stable platform on which my company can grow
Jonathan Blow, developer of „Braid“ and „The Witness“
I don’t have good communication with anyone at Microsoft right now, and haven’t been disclosed on their next console, but all our technical people like the PS4 specs a lot more than the leaked Durango specs, and we like the positioning of the PS4 (it’s about games) a lot more than what we perceive Microsoft’s positioning is going to be
Jason Parkins, Curve managing director
Sony's show of support for developers, including showing independent releases not only front and centre on their storefront but also during the PlayStation 4 reveal is creating a more open, co-operative market for independent games to enter the living room on a level playing field
Jonathan Blow, developer of „Braid“ and „The Witness“
There were people at Sony who really liked the game and were keeping in touch with us about it, and so we naturally started going to their PS4 developer events, got a dev kit, and started playing with it
Paul Taylor, Co-founder of Mode 7
The PS4 looks like a much more practical option for indie devs than past Sony consoles. I really appreciate what they've done in terms of its architecture. Also, there are loads of ways for players to share content, which helps out teams with smaller marketing budgets
James Marsden, MD of FuturLab
Sony are doing a great job supporting indie developers, particularly on the PS Vita. The message that indie is important for Sony on PS4 took centre stage with Jonathan Blow, so we're sold, and hope to get our hands on a PS4 development kit as soon as possible
We heard on Sony's show floor that Independent developers would be able to self publish titles they create, circumventing the publishers. This is big news for indies and makes Sony’s commitment to this group of developers clear. Microsoft on the other hand is not really opening up to indies. Select titles will be available through XBOX Live but things don't look as fluid as they look with Sony. This round definitely goes down in Sony's favor.
Stick it to the Man
Dad, I need some money for my uuh "textbooks"...: The Pricing
Pricing is one of the most substantial factors in attractiveness for a consumer. If the consumer wants the machine, but the price is too high, he can't buy it. If the manufacturer decides to keep the price very low, but compromises on hardware, the consumer might scoff at it and deem it as unworthy of his attention. We take a look at the prices the opponents have chosen for their respective consoles.
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With XBOX 360 Microsoft had managed to sell it's console for a sweet spot price which looked like a bargain in direct comparison to the much more expensive PS3 at that time. This year around all Microsoft had to do was just to repeat what it did the last time around.
Even though $499,- is not much with all the stuff Microsoft is putting in the XBOX One's bundle (namely the new Kinect sensor bar), it suddenly looks artificially expensive when compared to it's competitors. On the other hand Microsoft's design choices with the hardware have caused at least the GPU to be weaker than that of direct competitor PS4. The Kinect sensor bar seem to be driving the costs up and has forced Microsoft to stick to a relative high price point.
To give another incentive to preorder a XBOX One, Microsoft will be dishing out free copies of FIFA 14 with each XBOX One in Europe. If this programm will be extended beyond the pre-order period is not known yet.
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Sony had to learn a lesson from their launch of the PS3 when Kaz Hirai announced "The Playstation 3 will retail for $599" - the reaction of the audience, the internet, everybody was overwhelmingly negative. $599,- was too high for a games console, and even though Sony was quick to offer a cheaper, toned down PS3 in the early months, the first impression was ruined.
This time around Sony has learned it's lesson well, and even more, they seem to have been watching what Microsoft was doing. Price positions cannot be changed within hours, can they? Everybody expected the PS4 to cost something from $449-$499, the least of us thought that the PS4 would realistically cost $399. but that is what Sony announced, a couple of hours after Microsoft revealed their price...
Sony will be including "Playroom" with each PS4 but the usefulness of the game is somewhat dubious as it can only unfold it's true potential with the Playstation camera.
Do we have to explain this round at all? Even though Microsoft might integrate the Kinect Sensor in their offering, it still doesn't taste well since the XBOX One itself looks less powerful than PS4 - and that console is selling for $100 less.
This round is where you get to choose and which stands for itself. Choose for yourself which console you like better, XBOX One or PS4 - it is up to you! However, the result of this round will not be counted towards the final result.
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Sony completely trashed Microsoft the in the last iteration of this war (10 points for Sony, only 4 for Microsoft), this time, the result is a bit better. Microsoft did lots of work and even more one-eighties to get customer's back for XBOX One:
The DRM was removed //
Indies are getting much better support now and can publish games all by themselfes //
Recording of last 5 minutes of gameplay has been added //
Kinect can be unplugged and the XBOX One will still work //
Headset is again part of the bundle //
Limited time offer of free FIFA 14 in Europe
These changes have not gone unnoticed by us, so Microsoft has managed to get 2 additional points in this installement of the war. We can definitely say, that Microsoft's offering is now much better than it was after the XBOX One E3 reveal event.