It was 1981. Ronald Reagan was president, MTV had just launched and choosing a video game system was easy. The Atari 2600 was the best and most popular choice.
Sure, the graphics weren't great, the wood paneling on the box was an eye sore and the controllers weren't high tech, but the ability to play games right in the living room provided, as an Atari commercial said, "hours of fun for the whole family."
This holiday season buying a video game system is a bit more complicated. For the first time in about seven years, both Microsoft and Sony have brand new consoles on the market. The Microsoft Xbox One hit shelves Friday for $500 and a week earlier the Sony Playstation 4 arrived for $400.
With both systems the graphics have been improved, new services have been baked-in and there is the promise of "hours of fun for the whole family," just like the Atari. But which one is the one to get?
Sony's console is focused primarily on gaming.
It has been completely redesigned from the inside and out, but mostly it is the faster eight-core processor and graphics that make this an upgrade from the previous PS3. Graphics are killer on games like "Killzone" and "Call of Duty." Many in-depth reviews of the system point to the graphics being slightly better on the PS4 than the Xbox One.
Sony also has a new DualShock controller with a touchpad for swiping and better built-in speakers to enhance the game play. Sony also sells the $60 Playstation Camera, which adds augmented reality features to some games. However, it's not as useful as the Xbox One Kinect camera features.
Beyond the games, Playstation offers new social gaming features and Internet streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus.
It is the cheapest of the two systems: It costs $400 with one controller. Adding another controller costs $60.
You can read our full review of the Playstation 4 here.
Microsoft, on the other hand, wants the Xbox One to be the one system or box in your living room. It goes way beyond gaming.
The One has had similar hardware improvements. It also has an eight-core processor and new graphics card, which serves up crystal clear graphics with great detail.
But with the Xbox you have more ways to control the system. There is a new controller, but also the new Kinect that brings voice command support and motion control to the system. In specific games you can use your hands to move around or even jump into the game with games like "Xbox Fitness."
The Xbox is really about a lot more than gaming. You can hook your cable box to the machine and then see your entire TV guide. You can tell the Xbox to change channels by just saying the name of the channel outloud -- for instance, "Xbox Watch ABC." There is also access to tons of streaming services, including Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and Xbox Movies. Microsoft has also nicely integrated its own services, including Skype for video calling and Internet Explorer so you can pull up websites or videos right on the big screen.
The Xbox costs $500 and includes the Kinect and a controller in the box. An extra controller costs $60.
You can read our full review of the Xbox One here.
|How to Choose|
Specs and capabilities are one thing, but which one is better? For that we turned to the expert of all gaming experts: the editor in chief of Polygon.com, Chris Grant.
Grant says the decision is pretty easy this year. If you are only interested in gaming, then the PS4 is a better decision. He says third-party games are probably going to look better and there will be more game exclusives down the road. If you care about media, the Xbox One is the "only console that feels like a media platform. It's also a great gaming system – it has great games this year. But it is 100 bucks more," he says.
Grant says that deciding on a system just based on games is tougher, though. "If you like Xbox exclusives, like 'Halo', you're going to want an Xbox One," he advises. "If you like 'Little Big Planet' or 'God of War,' you're going to want a PS4. This year the Xbox has an edge on games, but that won't last long."
Part of that edge, we like to think, has to do with a fun game called "Zoo Tycoon." It lets you build a zoo, put animals in it and then with the Kinect feed the animals. It's one of the many family-friendly games for the Xbox. And that's where the Xbox also has an edge; it has a wide variety of family-friendly games, like "Kinect Sports," "Forza Motorsport 5," "Zumba Fitness: World Party" and "Just Dance 2014."
Bottom line: Either system is going to make a great present this holiday season. It just depends on who you are shopping for and how much you want to spend. The PS4 will provide more hours of fun for the gamer, while the Xbox One, with its deeper media and entertainment features, is the one to get for the "hours of fun for the whole family."