Monday, September 16, 2013

XBOX ONE vs PS4: The Real Story

As I sip my herbal mint tea this early Monday morning, once again I find myself looking across the vast horizon of tech news feeds looking for something to grab my attention. And there they are once again in all their infinite glory: "PS4 is 50% Faster than Xbox One, Claim Developers" "I'd be Skeptical of Reports about PS4 being 50% Faster" "Console Wars Round Two goes to Sony" "Xbox One wins over Families"

The console war cycle is once again upon us, and glorious it is in my eyes. As a technophile, I consider myself pretty up to date on the current console war.  In fact for the last 9 months, I have checked daily for any news regarding either console and consume the information with much prejudice. But with the constant influx of new hardware information, game news, predictions, theories, and some major service updates/changes, honestly the facts have been illusive indeed. 

I thought it would be nice to have a clear, concise CURRENT feature set for each console in one location, and a brief discussion about the merits of each. 


Let's look at the origin of this theory. 

              PS4                                                     XBOX ONE

CPU:     8 Core AMD/(unknown speed)          8 Core AMD/1.75Ghz

GPU:     1150 Shaders/(unknown speed)         770 Shaders/853Mhz

RAM:    8Gb GDDR5/176Gb/s                        8Gb DDR3/70Gb/s 
                                                                          32Mb ESRam/204 GB/s

This right here is the crux of the argument. On paper it looks fairly skewed towards the PS4 having outright more power, while slightly less speed. 1150 vs 770 GPU shader cores, roughly 49% more. 176Gb/s vs 70Gb/s RAM bandwidth is a significant increase in the information pipeline going between the processors and the RAM read/write. Xbox One makes up for this difference with some supercharged silicone called ES RAM that moves info at 204Gb/s. You cannot just add the two together and call it 274Gb/s vs 176Gb/s of bandwidth however, as there is only 32Mb of this RAM to use, hardly enough for many large textures to use for the read/write pipeline, however it does give the Xbox One an advantage in some circumstances. For instanace one developer said "“Let’s say you are using procedural generation or raytracing via parametric surfaces – that is, using a lot of memory writes and not much texturing or ALU – Xbox One will be likely be faster,”

It should be mentioned, that I'm leaving the TFLOP count completely out of this equation. The reason being, as the numbers we have heard in regards to both systems are completely theoretical. Most of the numbers we have been receiving on Sony's end in actuality are leaked info and calculations based on info that may or may not be true. Rumors for both consoles have touted 1.8 TFLOPS for one console with 1.5 for the other, all the way up to 3 or 4 TFLOPS in a single console. Until Sony is more forthright about their consoles 'innards' it is mostly a moot discussion. 


There is however much, much more to the story in regards to the console war. When it comes to the differences in the consoles, shaders, CPU cores, and Ghz are only the half of it. 

                   PS4                                      XBOX ONE

Drivers:      DX11                                   DX11.2

OS:             Updated XMB                     Triple OS with Snapping features

RAM use:   3.5Gb OS - 4.5Gb/games    3Gb/OS - 5Gb/games 

Latency:     3x Latency of DDR3            No Latency

Price:          $399                                      $499

Social:        Dedicated app                       Skype

Camera:      Not Included                         Kinect2/Included

HDD:          500GB removable                500GB permanent

Ext HDD:    No game installation            Game installation allowed

Wireless:     Bluetooth 2.1                        Wifi Direct

HDMI:        HDMI out                             HDMI out/HDMI in

IR Blast:     None                                     Powerful IR Blast/device control

Devices:     Vita ($199)                            Smartglass (iOS, Android, WP8) 

Cloud:        15k servers                            300k+ servers

Release:      11/15/13                               11/22/13

Now I'm going to clarify, the above is just the differences between the consoles. Both consoles have a plethora of next gen quirks and tech advances that they both tout with much resilience. Blueray players, remote access and downloads, subscriptions, region lock free, wifi, download as you play, all of these great services both consoles support. 

The differences are where real comparisons can start being made however. 

DX11 VS DX11.2

Does that .2 mean much? It's a good question and most haven't really given it much thought as it is such a small number. There would probably be more clamor about it if it were a drastic change, such as DX11 to DX12. But this is only an incremential update, one that is exclusive to the Xbox One and Windows 8.1. 

The main changes between the drivers is explained here as Tiled Resources.  "Tiled Resources" allows for significant enhancement of in-game textures by making it possible to simultaneously access GPU and traditional RAM memory and create a single large buffer where large textures can be stored. This technique was demonstrated with a model of Mars which displayed a 3 GB texture using just 16 MB of GPU memory and in Graphine’s Granite Flight Simulator that showed "a remarkably detailed island with gliders constructed out of 64 megapixels."

Now this might seem like a relatively minor enhancement until you factor in the Xbox One's architecture. 32MB of ES RAM that read/writes faster than GDDR5 RAM with a much higher bandwidth. If this driver can make a 3Gb texture take less than 16Mb of allocated memory usage, suddenly things start to make a lot more sense for the Xbox One. Even larger textures can start making use of that supercharged bandwidth pipeline, and the GDDR5 advantage of the PS4 starts looking smaller and smaller, especially when factoring in the latency cost. 


PS4 and Xbox One have both shown off their OS systems which can be seen here and here. Sony and Microsoft have also given fairly detailed statements on the power usage of each. 

The gist of the matter is both have very streamlined and updated user interfaces that look to be far more intuitive than their predecessors. The look and feel debate is really just a matter of subjective preference. However there are a few debatable tidbits that still leave much for gamers to argue about.

PS4's OS will use up almost half of the system RAM just to function properly, leaving only 4.5Gb of RAM for game developers to use for their software. Sony brought up a point on this that there may be a way for developers to access an additional gig of virtual RAM if needed, but the process sounds a little convoluted, and is by no means clear and concise. Xbox One's OS on the other hand will use up approximately 3Gb of the 8Gb, leaving a hefty 5Gigs of RAM for Developers to use. That is a little blow to Sony in regards to amount of RAM left for gaming. Especially when looking at the 3 OS system Xbox One will be using, which is designed to be primarily voice controlled, and also allow apps to snap view letting the user accomplish multiple tasks at once.  

The edge for intuitive design really goes to Xbox One on this front and will likely be more apparent as time goes on. 


One very little talked about subject is the inherent latency in RAM, the higher the bandwidth goes. This subject has been debated on multiple tech threads, with most agreeing the latency won't be a factor in gaming. 

There is however a different side to the story. The argument that GDDR5 latency (which is approximately 3 times that of DDR3) will not effect game consoles is mostly stemmed from the fact that PC graphics cards use GDDR5 without any problem as a game doesn't need much compute speed to complete its tasks. PC's, even the most powerful gaming rigs you can buy (for $14,000+ in some cases) use DDR3 RAM, with GDDR5 only accessed by the GPU. Why is this? 

Well, the fact is when compute is factored for other processes than running a game, the latency does in fact make a difference. OS, background tasks, scripting, many things the new consoles are starting to make use of. And this could very well make a visible difference in the upcoming console experiences. 

There was a time when all a console was used for was popping a cartridge in and playing the bits and shaders on the television. The consoles have evolved however, and both are touting many more general tasks than playing games. Browsing internet pages, streaming video, swapping services on the fly, voice activation, connecting to social media, both consoles are planning to make use of a lot more than shader processing. For this reason, the DDR3 set up may have an edge over the GDDR5 setup Sony is planning. 


Well here we go with some real subjectivity. $100. It's real, its a fact, and it's the "in your face" price difference between the consoles. Kinect2 being bundled with the Xbox One is the main point of argument on why there is such a price difference. In fact that argument turns into "I don't even want the camera, why are they making me pay $100 for it?" in many cases. 

This however is a fallacy in logic. Here's why. 

More than half of the features Xbox One brings to the table involve the Kinect2. Voice control, IR blaster, Controller detection, facial recognition, even heart rate monitoring, all involve the Kinect2. Gamer sentiment is that they hate using camera gesture controls as a game mechanic. That is valid. But that is an argument for the original Kinect and it's less than stellar install base and lack of supporting games. Microsoft has repeatedly said the Xbox One is the Kinect2, and the Kinect2 is the Xbox One. The fact that the device turns on all of your entertainment hub peripherals at the single beckon call of your voice, really starts to turn that argument on it's head. It is obvious the Kinect2 is much more than a 'camera' meant to provide gesture controlled games to the masses.

It is much more logical to assume the $100 additional price is for the Triple OS, IR Blast features, Voice Control, Wi Fi Direct, HDMI in, along with the supercharged camera and gesture control features for good measure. It's telling, that Microsoft is planning to sell the Kinect2 alone for $350, roughly $150 less than the Xbox One. The $100 Kinect2 argument doesn't hold much water when you start looking at the big picture. 


Who uses skype? Well, a lot of us do already. In fact, 89% of businesses globally reported using Messenger as a communication protocol in 2012. All of those businesses are now starting to use Skype. My office included. It is also a very common communication app used in the home and private sector. My family uses it almost exclusively, and I know many others doing the same. 

This is probably one of the biggest pro's for the Xbox One in the social and communication side of the feature list. As more and more homes begin using Xbox One and find Skype integrated, it will become second nature for families and businesses to simply say "Xbox, call soandso" and have a conversation right there from the home or office with any number of mobile devices including iOS, Android and Windows. The outreach is tremendous. 

PS4 version of this is unclear. They will likely have a dedicated app for talking with PSN friends and family, but nothing even closely as integrated as Skype is in the current market. There are rumors touting PS4 may get Skype integration eventually, but it seems that if those rumors were true, Sony would have shouted this from the hills day one. 


There have been quite a few demos recently featuring the uses of the PS4 Eye and the Kinect2. The demos are definitely impressive, ranging from rangling tiny fireball shooting robots out of your controller to full face and body scans implemented right into your game so you can play digital versions of yourself and compete with your friends. It's all quite futuristic and mesmerizing in a 'TRON' sort of way. 

What it really boils down to here, is an upgraded Eye camera for PS4 with two cameras for a stereoscopic 3D view of the world in 720p, versus a behemouth upgrade to the Kinect, with a single stereoscopic camera lens at 1080p, IR blaster, Infrared sensors that can view you and the room regardless of light, and light sensors sensitive enough to see your heart rate by the blood pulsing beneath your facial skin,

The potential of both cameras really goes to infinity and beyond, but it's not much of a contest between the cameras as to which is better currently. 


At first look, it's definitely a plus for Sony and kind of a bummer for Microsoft that the PS4 allows HD swapping and Xbox One does not. As both systems will come stock with a 500Gb hard drive, it seems there will need to be more wiggle room for space in the coming digital age. But looking further into the situation, all is not as it seems. 

Xbox One devs have confirmed that installing games to an external hard drive via USB 3.0 ports will be possible. Essentially, this makes grabbing a 5TB external hard drive and using it to store everything you need including game installs a piece of cake. Run out of Terrabytes? Go get another. 

PS4 on the other hand, when asked if this type of functionality would be availble for PS4, Yoshida simply tweeted "No". Apparently the entire internal hard drive will need to be replaced once the 500Gb cap is reached (which in this day and age can be reached quite fast). Once again, making PS4's boon a little more of a bummer than in the case of Xbox One.


One of the most mind boggling aspects of the next gen console decisions is Sony's opt in to stick with last gen's gadget connection bandwidth. Bluetooth has made some tech advances leaps and bounds better than where they were last gen. Regardless, PS4 is coming with Bluetooth 2.1, an almost 10 year old technology, to connect wireless headsets and controllers. Xbox One in contrast will be using Wifi Direct technology for the same purpose. Right around a %350 increase in connectivity for control and wireless voice. 

This coupled with the fact that both consoles will include headsets for game chat, PS4 with an ear dongle with reportedly low quality, and Xbox One with a more traditional style headset and mic with supposedly better quality than last gen's headset, may make waves once the consoles are actually released and gamers get a sense of what kind of quality difference they will have between the consoles chat function. 


HD is the current consumer benchmark, and most consumers have an HD flatscreen sitting in their living room or den. That's not to say better quality monitors are not available, with 4k and SHD on the horizon. But as for the here and now, HD is where it's at. Both consoles offer the HDMI out as a standard feature for entertainment display. 

The hidden gem within Xbox One's side of the console war however is the HDMI IN port. This feature is designed mostly to allow the connection of your television cable/dish network to connect directly through the console and allow television to be streamed directly through a single device without having to find another controller, change inputs on your television, and then use a separate controller to find what you want to watch. Everything, seamlessly integrated into one device, the Xbox, and controlled by your voice or hands. No switching inputs, no controller diving, all of that put behind us as very distant 'manual analog controller' past. I can see this becoming quite catchy as a feature.

There is more though. A lot of us, my family included, have moved on from the old cable network television watching. We watch videos on demand, Netflix, HBOGO, Hulu, Amazon Prime, almost any content worth watching is found in places other than a Dish Network, and with little to no commercials to boot. What good does that HDMI IN port do for us? Well, apparently any device with an HDMI out will work with the Xbox One via the HDMI IN port. 

Xbox One is going to make it so your old PS3, 360, or HPC is not irrelevant and tossed to the wayside. Want to play your Playstation Network library of games without switching inputs? Just say "Xbox, playstation" grab the PS3 controller and your on your way. Want to keep your 360 digital library accessible? Plug it in. Maybe you just want to get on steam and play some of your old titles that haven't been ported to the Xbox One. Well, it's an option, all thanks to that little slot in the back of the box that says "IN". This could be a big deal, especially with 360 and PS3 titles really ramping up in the next couple of years while Xbox One and PS4 titles are more scarce.


Everyone needs this. At some point in the future, this is going to be a must have feature for every home. One device that turns on everything in the media hub. How clunky and clumsy it is to fumble through a stack of asymmetrical round edged controllers sitting up on a shelf, or on the coffee table, or have to go 'diving' for that missing link that's hiding under the couch, or in the toybox, or in the kitchen that's the only thing keeping you away from your entertainment module of choice. 

With a powerful IR Blaster integrated into the Kinect2, Xbox will be able to turn on all your media hub devices, and control inputs, volume, power, and even change the channel from Syfi to Spike TV, all without lifting a finger. In fact, it will be much more akin to talking to the computer in Star Trek, your living room becoming your own personal captains deck on the Enterprise. 


It's no secret that the next gen gaming consoles will feature second screens. Wii U included it with every box. PS4 is really pushing it's PSVita, as an amazing machine capable of stunning graphics and streaming gameplay from the PS4, and Xbox One has Smartglass. 

The devil in the details here is the price of the Vita vs the Price of Smartglass. Approximately $199 vs, well, free - if you already own a mobile device with iOS, Android, or WP8. Chances are, you have a smartphone like most of the tech world now, and it runs one of the most popular mobile OS on the market. Since the marketshare is into the billions, it's safe to say most of us will have a device, phone, or tablet capable of running Smartglass. 

What this entails for actual gaming purposes? It's really yet to be seen how far developers can go with the technology. But it is an exciting prospect to keep an eye on. 


It's almost a running gag the statement Microsoft has been making about "the power of the cloud". On gaming forums and tech sites alike, gamers have been calling Microsoft out on this so called 'power' and haven't really been able to grasp anything tangible. 

Mostly, it is looked upon like a fabled mystical sorcery that will somehow make the Xbox One games graphically better than PS4 or even PC, for years to come. 

Technophiles from all sides have come to a consensus that internet bandwidth is just not there yet, so there is no way for the 'power of the cloud' to increase performance graphically to games without major rubberbanding or ping suspension hickups. Despite claims from developers at Respawn entertainment (Titanfall) and Forza 5 Developer, Dan Greenwalt, that the Microsoft Azure server cloud really making a difference in the AI, scenery and even looks of the game, gamers seem mistified to buy into this theory. 

Personally, I think the fact that MS has invested in 300k servers for gaming, and Sony only about 12 to 15k servers at this point, is going to make a major difference in user experience. It seems best explained by eurogamer in that the technology is there, but bandwidth needs to catch up. 

Cloud is just a buzz word for Server Farm really. Azure uses it to power corporate offices, PS4 will use theirs to power Gaikai and stream games, Xbox One will use theirs to add power to games, including AI, online worlds, and eventually compute and display purposes when the tech allows. It's not an impossibility, just a gradual progressive technology that won't change things overnight. 

Heaven knows, Microsoft have invested heavily into it. Reportedly $700 million heavy. That is nothing to scoff at. 


At long last, our dreams and wishes of a next gen gaming future are about to come true. November 14, in the case of the PS4, November 22, for anyone looking at buying an Xbox One. 

Will a week of difference make or break the system? Although there are articles aplenty spelling doom for the system for waiting a week beyond Sony, My cards are on "NO", and it seems most gamers feel similarly. Microsoft actually made an interesting launch point in the console equation. In the US, it releases on the exact birth day of Xbox 360. A sentimental approach that puts it one week later than the PS4. In the UK, it releases one week prior to the PS4. So any headway actually made by that additional week in the states, Xbox One now has the same headway outside of the US. 

This is an interesting proposition, as the majority of the Xbox fanbase is already in the US, and those loyal to the brand won't be changing for the most part, since friends, family and subscriptions all carry over. Waiting an additional week won't be changing those kind of minds. 

On the other hand, those sitting on the edge of fence for the Xbox One or PS4, might be swayed with the waves of hype that will inevitably coincide with the launch of the consoles. PS4 being first in line may pick up the wishy washy in the US, while the Xbox One could do the same in the UK and outlying countries. 

Indeed, exciting times are coming in the very near future.


One of the biggest factors in the console vs console argument, is the list of titles that come packaged with a neat little bow attached to that console. Games matter. Thats the fact of it. This time around, it really looks like Xbox One has the lead here. Luckily for all Gamers, a nice list of amazing looking multiplatform titles is going to be available:

  • Watch Dogs
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
  • Wolfenstein New Order
  • The Crew
  • The Division
  • Battlefield 4 (DICE)
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward)
  • Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft)
  • Skylanders: Swap Force (Vicarious Visions)
  • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games)
  • FIFA 14 (EA Sports)
  • Madden NFL 25 (EA Sports)
  • NBA 2K14 (Visual Concepts)
  • NBA Live 14 (EA Sports)
But what about the games that really make the console shine? At launch, there will be several for each, though this is where Xbox One starts to show its colors:

                 PS4                                     XBOX ONE

                 Drive Club                          Forza 5

                 Killzone: Shadowfall          Dead Rising 3

                 Knack                                  Killer Instinct

                 The Play Room                   Ryse: Son of Rome

                                                             Crimson Dragon

                                                             Fighter Within

Then of course there are smaller 'Indie' games that look very promising for each:

                 PS4                                      XBOX ONE

                 Blacklight: Retribution        Loco Cycle

                 War Thunder                        Peggle 2

                 Resogun                               Powerstar Golf

                 Warframe                             Zoo Tycoon

Personally, to me, the most exciting prospects are the 'LAUNCH WINDOW' titles, that will likely come around Christmas or early 2014. 

                 PS4                                    XBOX ONE

                 Infamous Second Son       Titanfall

                                                           Kinect Sports Rivals

                                                           Project Spark

And then later a few other games have been announced.

                 PS4                                    XBOX ONE

                 The Order 1886                 Halo Xbox One

                 Deep Down                       Dance Central Xbox One

                                                           Sunset Overdrive

                                                           Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Now, we know of course there are games coming that have yet to be announced. A next gen Media Molecule title is confirmed in the works (Next Gen Sackboy), Quantic Dream and Naughty Dog (Heavy Rain, Uncharted) have yet to announce their next gen titles. And let's not forget the Next Gen HALO that is in the works. 


What does it all mean? Well, some have boasted the power difference between the consoles being varied as much as 1080p at 60fps on one console with 720p at 30fps on the other, to as little as 4 to 5% difference in frames per second in any situation. But as always in the non confirmed spec's point of view, we will have to wait and see. 

Who wins? Well as all matters of opinion, that is entirely subjective. There are differing opinions going both directions from gamers and developers alike. Even the Legendary John Carmack stated that according his own experience developing thus far on each console, they are nearly 'identical'. 


The one true source that all of us as gamers are going to need to look to, is time. Only time will tell how much variance in power the consoles really have. And that doesn't mean 'November'. 5, 7 or 10 years down the line, the consoles will likely be in a position very similar to current gen consoles - Neck and Neck. Who will be ahead is anybodies guess. 

Analysts keep telling us gaming sales are going down and mobile gaming will take over. Personally, I think the increased pre-sales of consoles compared to last gen is very telling. Mobile gaming in my opinion isn't closing the door to traditional gaming, it is in fact the opposite. It looks more to be paving the way for new casual gamers to learn to appreciate the gaming universe in ways they hadn't considered before, opening up doors for millions to accept and traditional gaming. Such has been the case for my own wife, to my delight lol. 

Personally, I will be getting both consoles as I am very excited for Exclusives that will be announced in the coming years for both. I will likely plug my PS4 into my Xbox One, so I can tell everything to turn on at once with the Kinect2 IR Blaster, and play my next gen Uncharted game with the simple voice command of "Make it so". Fun times ahead :)