The next generation chips are on the table. Nintendo’s Wii U, Sony’s Playstation 4, and Microsoft’s Xbox One will all be battling it out in the next generation arena. And while the Wii U has already released (and faltered), the Xbox One and Playstation 4 don’t go head to head until the end of this year.
Based on everything that we know about them- and we finally know quite a bit about both of them, after Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal conference earlier today- it’s time to finally do a preliminary analysis of the two systems and try and figure out which one will really come out on top.
We’re not including the Wii U in this discussion- this isn’t because of some ‘Wii U isn’t next gen’ bullshit we hold to be true, this is simply because Wii U has released, and we know where it stands already. Unlike the PS4 and Xbox One, which actually can be analyzed right now. So here we go.
The most important component of any system ever is the games, and in that regard, this match up is horribly one sided, at least as of right now. Comparing just the games that were announced for the two systems at their hardware reveal conferences, for the Playstation 4, we have Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, inFamous: Second Son, Drive Club, The Witness, Deep Down, Watch Dogs, Final Fantasy, Diablo III, Destiny, a new Media Molecule game, and a new Quantic Dream game.
Compared to this, the Xbox reveal conference gave us Forza Motorsport 5, Quantic Break (Remedy’s newest game), FIFA, Madden, NFL, and UFC, all confirmed for the X1. We also got Call of Duty: Ghosts for the Xbox One.
Then there are the games that were confirmed for the PS4 after the initial conference- we have Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Battlefield 4, all confirmed for the PS4, for example. It is a completely reasonable assumption to make that all these games will be on the Xbox One as well- when they were announced, they were announced for PS4, PC, and ‘other next generation platforms,’ clearly referring to the Xbox, which they could not name because of NDAs.
Similarly, we can also assume that games like Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA, Madden, NFL, and UFC will all be on PS4 as well- Microsoft did not even pretend they were exclusives (for this game, you will get exclusive content in the Xbox version, they said, referring to Call of Duty and FIFA).
A bit more murky than this assumption is the assumption that Deep Down and Final Fantasy will also be coming to the Xbox One. It’s a fair assumption: Deep Down is a sequel to Dragon’s Dogma, and all releases in that franchise were also on Xbox.
Similarly, Final Fantasy has been multiplat since Final Fantasy XIII. It’s completely reasonable to assume that their sequels will therefore also be on the Xbox One, although it is possible that they might not be (which is not without precedent: see SoulCalibur II and SoulCalibur III).
A bit more interesting are Destiny and Diablo III. None of them were confirmed for the Xbox One ever; it’s not wrong to assume they will be on Xbox One, given the relationship of the publisher/developer with the Xbox before (Bungie was Xbox exclusive for over a decade, and made Halo.
Diablo is a Blizzard game, who are the other half of Activision, Xbox’s premier third party partner), but the point is, they weren’t confirmed. We can’t assume they will be on Xbox One, although for that reason, it’s only fair we don’t assume them to be PS4 exclusives either.
What does this leave us with, then? For PS4, confirmed exclusive games actually in development right now are Killzone Shadow Fall, Knack, Drive Club, inFamous Second Son, The Witness, and Media Molecule’s next game. For Xbox One, we have Forza 5 and Quantic Break.
I don’t know what that looks like to you, but to me, that is as one sided as a comparison like this will ever get.
Here’s where things get a little more interesting (although to be fair, we still don’t have a complete picture of the specs on the Xbox One, while Sony went into excruciating depth with the PS4’s hardware). Both systems utilize an x86 architecture, both systems have octa core processors, both systems have 8 GB of RAM, and both systems can theoretically output 4k resolutions.
We know a lot aout the PS4’s GPU, which is a heavily modified ATI graphics chip, that has been heavily modified to allow for up to 64 (yes, 64) sources for compute commands, leading to an insane potential to stock up on asynchronous computing commands. In simple terms, this can lead to some highly dynamic graphics, with shifting lighting and shadows, shifting weather effects, and dynamism exhibited by particles, along with insane draw distances showing things in the distance that aren’t necessarily static.
"Xbox One's GPU can perform an impressive 768 operations per cycle, and that six of its cores can also be used by the CPU, leading to an impressively flexible amount of power afforded to the developers regarding how they choose to design their games."
It has a theoretical peak of 1.84 TeraFLOPS, and all of this power can be used not just to render graphics, but also compute physics, meaning that the PS4 architecture is flexible in how it allows the developer to create the game, allowing for at least partial flexibility in the amount of computing power present to the developer for outside of graphics processing.
By comparison, we don’t know much about the Xbox One GPU. Microsoft never talked about it. We know rumors peg it to be an ATI GPU as well, but we don’t know much more. The official spec sheet that Microsoft released following the Xbox One conference tells us that the GPU can perform an impressive 768 operations per cycle, and that six of its cores can also be used by the CPU, leading to an impressively flexible amount of power afforded to the developers regarding how they choose to design their games.
That is actually very interesting: theoretically, this affords the developers the same kind of flexibility that having unified RAM for the Xbox 360 did over Sony’s segmented approach to the PS3’s RAM. If a developer is not planning on making a graphics intensive game, but wants a dynamic game world (say in an MMO), they can use the GPU’s power to offset the load on the CPU and get additional resources, while not having to worry about all that wasted power. Similar to the PS4, then, we have an architecture that allows for flexibility in developing games.
Another interesting point of comparison here is the RAM: both systems have 8GB of RAM, but while we know the Playstation 4 has GDDR5 RAM, we don’t know what kind of RAM the Xbox One uses. Those hoping for complete parity with the Playstation might be hoping that it is GDDR5, but in that case, Microsoft would have definitely taken the time to highlight that. Instead, however, they did not address the issue at all.
This would leave us to believe that it is using DDR3, which is inferior to GDDR5; however, it still has 8GB of RAM, and functionally, that RAM does not seem to be lacking on the OS side (as shown by the incredible multitasking the system seems to be capable of).
"More importantly, while right now there seems to be no apparent difference, the theoretical peak for the PS4 will almost certainly blow away the Xbox One in that case, as the PS4 allows for a staggering 176 GB/sec transfer rate for its RAM."
Unfortunately, however, as far as games are concerned, they only get access to 5GB of that on the Xbox One (the other 3GB being used to presumably run the OSs), compared to the 7GB that games get on the PS4. More importantly, while right now there seems to be no apparent difference, the theoretical peak for the PS4 will almost certainly blow away the Xbox One in that case, as the PS4 allows for a staggering 176 GB/sec transfer rate for its RAM.
There are certain specs we do know about for the Xbox, that we don’t for the PS4- specifically, we know how the OS works (there are three different OSs, one for games, one for applications, one for Kinect; it segments the memory footprint of each OS, and has them function independently of each other, leading to fast and snappy transition times). We know about the new Kinect, and how seriously impressive it is (including its improved FOV over the first Kinect).
The only point of comparison we have for this is the Playstation Eye for the PS4, which seems to be lacking compared to the Kinect- there are two camera, allowing for depth detection, and there is an 85 degree FOV. However, it is important to remember that the Playstation Eye will not be as central to the PS4 as the Kinect will (unfortunately) be to Xbox One.
There is also the question of media formats: both systems are using Blu Ray drives (welcome to the dark side, Microsoft), but again, we don’t have enough information on Microsoft’s side. The PS4 Blu Ray drive seems to be a lesson learned from the PS3’s appalling Blu Ray drive, and allows for a reading speed of 27 MB/sec, up by three times over the PS3, and roughly 1.3 times as much as the Wii U.
For the Xbox One, we simply do not know. It would be fair to assume that Microsoft will ship the Xbox One with a standard Blu Ray drive, meaning its read rate will be on par with the PS4 (or thereabouts), but again, there is an absence of cold, hard numbers.
Finally, let’s include this in specs, since it’s a direct consequence of them: backwards compatibility. Both systems use a completely new hardware platform, and in breaking away from PowerPC, they unfortunately also broke software compatibility with their predecessors.
None of the two systems are backwards compatible on a hardware level. Sony has made some nebulous promises of backwards compatibility via Gaikai, while Microsoft has said it does not plan to support backwards compatibility, but as of right now, both systems are on an even field as far as backwards compatibility goes.
As far as hardware goes, it’s a much closer match up, but PS4 wins, on account of superior RAM over anything else. While the CPU and the GPU seem to be evenly matched on both systems, and while the Blu Ray drives and Kinect/Playstation Eyes seem to sway the comparison one way or the other, as far as the core hardware goes, Playstation 4 wins, albiet much more narrowly than it does on the games front.
As of right now, the PS4 is simply looking like the better buy. Whereas this comparison is slightly unfair, given that the PS4 has had four months to garner game announcements, while the Xbox One was just announced today, even if we were to compare both the systems immediately after their respective reveals, Playstation 4 would win.
The next generation will be quite entertaining with PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U battling it out, but as it stands now, advantage PS4, simply because it has more time to get its shit together. Microsoft will have their work cut out for them later this year.