Microsoft's Xbox One goes on sale today for $499, truly teeing up the next phase of the console war. I've had the pleasure of using both it and the $399 PlayStation 4 for the better part of a week now; both are review units provided to The Washington Post by Sony and Microsoft.
Chances are, if you're reading this, you know that the main difference between the two is that Microsoft wants the Xbox to be an all-in-one entertainment system while Sony is sticking to making games the main feature of the console. That's what I've been telling everyone who's asked me which console they should buy. But while that's a point that can't get hammered home strongly enough, when it comes to really answering that question, you really have to let the games you like be your guiding star.
In the week or so that I've had these consoles, I can tell you this: I've spent far more time on the Xbox One. I use streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus to watch just about all of my entertainment, and that's an experience that is, hands-down, easier on the Xbox, even though it requires a $60-a-year Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Kinect can hear me when I want to pause a show because the pasta's boiling over. It's easy to tell the console to shut itself off rather than fetch the controller from under my cat (where all things inevitably find themselves.) It's even easy to bop in and out of games — though you do want to be really careful that you don't jump from one game to another, which will erase your unsaved progress. Apps like SkyDrive and Skype make for interesting additions to the console as well, and are good features for parents who want to show off photos or connect with friends across the country.
The PlayStation has some voice controls, but they don't work nearly as well; you're best off with a controller in hand. It's a console that really demands that you pay attention to the task at hand, and that task is to play games. So while I spend more time with the Xbox, I'm playing more on the PlayStation. The Xbox One is a multitasking machine. The PlayStation is what I flip on when I want to, well, play.
And that's largely because of the games that I like. I'm not a huge fan of shooters, or of grit and gore — though the graphics on the Xbox's new and somewhat repetitive "Ryse: Son of Rome" are both bloody and beautiful. I don't like zombies. Gamers who know what kind of games they like should let that guide their decisions. If you like shooters, action games and American games, go with the Xbox One, for goodness' sake. If you're a Halo person, it's a no-brainer. If you watch a lot of cable, have a lot of people in your house who'll want to use your console and want that hands-free option, pick up an Xbox One.
But if gaming is your escape, if you're not a person who likes sharing the television and you don't want all of that extra stuff, then save yourself the $100 and get a PlayStation. You won't even need to buy a $50-per-year PlayStation Plus subscription to watch Netflix or other streaming services in Sony's more-limited selection. The main feature of Sony's subscription service is online multiplayer. Sony has some really cool features for gamers, as well, including the ability to broadcast your gameplay at launch, something that Microsoft isn't offering yet. From the "share" button on the controller, it's super-easy to share screenshots and clips straight to Facebook, if you're a bit of a showoff.
There are also some smaller differences, which are probably worth mentioning. Overall, I've found the graphics have been a little better on the PlayStation, though that certainly varies by game. The Xbox One has a power brick, whereas the PlayStation 4 doesn't, which makes cord management a bit cumbersome. The Xbox One is noticeably bigger, especially when it's sitting side-by-side with the PlayStation 4, so you'll probably have to move some more stuff around to get it in place.
Picking your side of a rivalry is never easy, particularly when the consoles are so well-matched from a technical point of view. And when it comes to consoles, so much can change over the course of the device's lifetime — consider that when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were launched, we lived in a world without smartphones. But what has become clear even over the short period of time I've spent with these consoles is that these really are two different machines, for two different types of people. You just have to know which kind you are.
VIDEO: Microsoft's Xbox One goes on sale