NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Both Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One have been revealed and will be released later this year. They both play games, sure, but there's more to them than that. These machines are gaming console milestones with the potential to be either your living room's cutting-edge multimedia cornerstone, or a traditional gaming powerhouse. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One offer unique skillsets and different price points, so before you preorder one, you should know which one is best for you.
The Xbox One is priced at $499, and the PlayStation 4 is set at $399. However, be prepared to shell out another $50 or more if you want access for either system's online perks and multiplayer services.
If you're planning on using the new Xbox for any of its apps or multiplayer gaming, you will have to pay a monthly fee. Microsoft requires you to pay for any real Internet access via their Xbox Live Gold service, even if you're only using it to access your Netflix queue (yes, the one you already pay a monthly fee for). A 12-month subscription typically goes for $60, although with some bargain hunting (sometimes just by checking Amazon) you can find it for around $50 or less.
Similarly, you'll need a PlayStation Plus account for most multiplayer games. However, you won't need a Plus account to access your apps. A one-year Plus subscription will run you $50.
If you currently have a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold account, you will be able to use it with your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, respectively.
Update: June 19, 7 p.m.
You know how when you 'buy' a Kindle book, you're more of a licensee than an owner? Console games are also entering the world of Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions, and there was fear that the Xbox One would follow suit.
As of this afternoon, however, Microsoft has completely reversed its gaming DRM restrictions for the Xbox One. Microsoft published the announcement, written by Microsoft's president of interactive media Don Mattrick, mon the Xbox website.
Microsoft will no longer require a 24-hour online check-in, allowing you to play offline games whenever you want, and without ever having to connect to the Internet again. Microsoft is also removing mandated DRM restrictions on game trading, so you can "play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360," wrote Mattrick. Downloaded games will not be able to be traded or shared, which is the same as it is now.
Now that DRM is basically a non-issue, the two systems are closer than ever.
The PlayStation 4 doesn't have the check-in requirements for its games, and Sony has promised its first-party games to be DRM-free, so you can trade them around like current console games. But the new PlayStation isn't DRM-free bliss, either. Sony has said it's up to third-party publishers to impose DRM restrictions.
For the moment, it seems unlikely that DRM restrictions will be the game-changer in the console war, at least not at first. According to Matthew Sakey, a games industry consultant and gaming expert, DRM may indeed prove to be a problem for next-gen system buyers but only after they've bought it. "I doubt it will be a deciding factor in deciding which--or whether--to purchase," he said.
That's probably how Microsoft feels too, as a company exec forthrightly told those without Internet connectivity to stick with a 360. Microsoft's online requirements are a deal breaker for overseas service members, anyone with a spotty Internet connection and people who like to trade, sell or buy used games.
Multimedia center or gaming console?
These two systems aren't created equal when it comes to multimedia functionality. While both come with a Blu Ray player, the Xbox One is looking to be the cornerstone of your living room, and Sony is going the traditional console route. Microsoft is "hoping for a scenario in which some consumers will buy the Xbox One with something other than games in mind for its primary use," says Sakey. "The PlayStation 4 is a multi-function device, but primarily a games machine. Its other features are value-adds."
Other industry experts echo that sentiment. Eric Davidson, a marketing consultant who runs the website thedcgamer.com, says the two systems have comparable hardware specs, but it's how the systems utilize that power which makes the difference. Davidson says that the PlayStation 4's RAM will be dedicated more to the "premiere purpose" of video gaming, while the Xbox One is "giving less power to its gaming power and more to other entertainment features."
What makes the One a unique multimedia center lies in its voice-and-motion sensitive Kinect 2.0 hardware, which comes bundled with the One and is likely the reason for the system's higher price point. It's made to always be listening, so it can hear when it's told to turn on. From there, the Kinect 2.0 will use infrared signals to control entertainment devices like your HDTV and cable box, according to CNET. Its motion sensor capability can make it a hands-free remote control, too.
"Microsoft would argue that you don't need any other devices, since theoretically the Xbox One can fill the role of almost all of them, but that promise might not be borne out in the real world," says Sakey.
Sony also has a motion-sensor camera device, called the Eye, but it's optional hardware that Sony isn't making a big deal about. It's expected to go on sale for $59 when the PlayStation 4 launches, according to Kotaku.
When to buy
If you're looking for price drops, you could be in for a long wait. The 360 didn't need to offer a price cut because of its accessible $300 entry-point model. Microsoft maintained the 360's launch price for a record-setting 20 months before a price cut, according to a 2007 CNN article. Conversely, Sony cut the price of its much more expensive $600 entry-point PlayStation 3 by $100 seven and a half months after launch, according to a company press release.
But if you're planning on grabbing a system on launch day, you could save a few dollars by preordering a system bundled with extras. According to Louis Ramirez, tech and gaming feature writer at Dealnews.com, "the first round of deals come in the form of 'preorder specials,' where you get the console bundled with games, accessories, gift cards/credits, etc. Those are value deals because you'll pay full price for the console, but get extra goodies for your money."
Both systems are available for preorder at Amazon, but the listed shipping dates aren't official. The official word from Microsoft is that the One will launch in November but hasn't given a specific date, and Sony has remained tight-lipped. Expect the next generation of consoles to drop this coming holiday season.
--Written by Craig Donofrio