This Friday, Sony will fire the first shot in the next-gen console gaming war with their PlayStation 4. Then, on November 22nd, Microsoft will answer back with the Xbox One. At $499, the One checks in at $100 more than PS4, but the specs between the two are remarkably similar: AMD graphic chips, 500 gigs of hard drive space and Blu-ray players. So what are you getting – or not getting – for that extra c-note? Let's find out. . .
Xbox One owners can watch movies with Hulu, Redbox, and Amazon Instant Video – all are accessible by voice search and gesture control via the included Kinect 2.0 (the PS4's camera is sold separately). And that's just the major players: Apps for HBO Go, Machinima, TED talks, ESPN and more will be available at or shortly after release. You'll even start seeing Xbox Live achievements for watching movies and shows. If you have cable or satellite TV, the One can act as a pass-through for your traditional TV service, meaning the days of teaching your significant other how to switch inputs are over. Using the One, gamers can "snap" two media moments together – a video game playing on one side of the screen while keeping tabs on a live TV broadcast on the other. Or manage your fantasy team in real-time while watching an NFL game. Or live-chat with friends over Skype (in 1080p) about something you're watching together. . . the possible combinations are impressive.
Millions of songs and radio stations. . . Xbox Live already has a music service going for the Xbox 360, which includes unlimited streaming for $10 a month (or free if you have Xbox Live Gold). The One's snap feature makes rocking out to playlists while gaming easier, but the service already syncs to pretty much any windows, iOS or Android device, so this should be expected. Frustratingly, you can't rip CDs to the system, and if you don't have Xbox Live Gold, there won't be any ad-assisted music streaming – you either pay $10 or settle for 15 free songs before being prompted to pay.
Microsoft's cloud storage service is fully integrated into the One, and every account will get 7GB of free storage. Meaning, you can stream content from the cloud directly to your console. SkyDrive works with Android, iOS and (obviously) Windows phones, so you can upload any photos or video straight from your phone, to the cloud and down to your One. Don't want the nefarious "cloud" holding all your data? The One can stream any music or video directly from your Windows 8 PC.
Hardware emulation – or full-on compatibility with 360 games – is out. Microsoft isn't even offering a cloud-based solution like Sony's Gaikai service. But backward compatibility in the One's future shouldn't be ruled out entirely. It's likely that Microsoft is monitoring Sony's success (or failure) with the PS4's approach before settling on a strategy of their own.
As mentioned, 500GB of hard drive space comes standard in both systems. And while Sony has kept its modular model and will allow for hard drive upgrades, Microsoft is staying consistent with a proprietary policy and will not have removable storage space (at least not for the average consumer).
The Games: Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts
The 360 and PS3 recieved graphically inferior versions of these military blockbusters earlier this month. While PC gamers have been enjoying more technically impressive versions (particularly Battlefield 4), console users will have to wait to get the optimized versions.
The Games: Dead Rising 3
The Microsoft exclusive that's the most exciting for gamers, Dead Rising 3 features the kind of post-apocalyptic zombie hordes (like, hundreds and hundreds) that fans of the oeuvre have wanted for years.
The Games: Ryse: Son of Rome
The God of War-style classical smash-em-up certainly looks pretty. But what's probably most exciting for gamers? It's just been announced that the graphic sex scenes will go un-censored in the American release. . .