It's been almost three and a half years since this generation of console gaming started, and the market has shifted considerably. In this year alone we've seen not only the emergence of Nintendo's newest console, the Nintendo Switch, but also the the naming of Microsoft's 4K update to the Xbox One, the Xbox One X.
However, aside from a couple of key exclusive franchises, most of the games that are being released are available across both consoles. This makes the hardware itself more important than ever.
- Looking for a comparison of the newer hardware? Check out our guide to the PS4 Pro vs Xbox One S.
Sony's comfortable lead is no accident. The company has made sure its system is packed full of excellent exclusive games (just check out our list of the best PS4 games if you're in any doubt), and it's recently received a new slimline model as well as an upgraded 4K machine.
Oh, and it's also the only console to feature a fully-fledged virtual reality headset, the PlayStation VR.
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Not to be outdone, Microsoft has come back strong, and in recent months has narrowed the sales gap with Sony. As well as bringing a number of excellent exclusives of its own (check out our guide to the best Xbox One games for more details), the company also has its own slimline console, the Xbox One S.
Whereas Sony has played it safe with the PS4 Slim, Microsoft has been much more adventurous, and has equipped the One S with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, and the ability to upscale games to 4K. There's also the Xbox One X on the horizon, which will offer native (rather than upscaled) 4K gaming.
The company has also got big ambitions for Xbox One/Windows 10 compatibility with the Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Game Pass initiatives. It's gotten of to a bit of a rocky start, but it has the potential to really take off in the future.
Even beyond PC/Xbox cross-play, Microsoft has also been very open with allowing cross-platform multiplayer with the flagship gaming being Minecraft, which will shortly support cross-play with a number of other pieces of hardware.
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We've put together a short video to explain the major differences between the two consoles.
Xbox One vs PS4 hardware design
- The original PS4 is the smaller consoles out of the two.
- The Xbox One's rear ports are easier to access.
Deciding between PS4 and Xbox One is like peeling back an onion, and it starts with the outermost layer – the hardware design.
The original Xbox One's dimensions make it a menacing gaming beast that measures 13.5 in x 10.4 in x 3.2 in. It's also riddled with vents, a design decision to avoid another Red Ring of Death overheating scenario.
It towers over every other device (though Microsoft advises not to stand it up vertically), and completely dwarfs our smallest home theater gadget, the app-filled Chromecast.
The original PS4 has a more distinctive angular shape with an overall stylish design. This half-matte half-gloss console measures a slimmer 10.8 in x 12 in x 2 in at its widest regions.
These dimensions make Sony's machine more media cabinet-friendly, at least next to Xbox One. The new Xbox also weighs a heftier 3.56 kg vs PS4's 2.75 kg.
PS4 has the advantage of hiding ports too, though as we illustrated in our video comparison, this can actually make it harder to plug cables into the back of the system. In this way, Xbox One represents functionality over form. A lot of the internal specs are comparable, but Microsoft and Sony really diverged when it came to the designs of Xbox One and PS4.
Now, all of this might sound like a big to-do about nothing, but keep in mind that one of these two systems are going to sit front and center in your living room entertainment system for the next few years.
Xbox One vs PS4 front and rear ports
- You can't upgrade Xbox One's internal hard drive, but you can on the PS4.
- The Xbox One has more ports on its rear.
More clear cut is the wireless connectivity situation. PS4 makes room for gigabit ethernet and 802.11 Wi-Fi bands b/g/n, while Xbox One includes all of that plus the older 802.11a band.
Xbox One also supports both the 2.4GHz and newer 5GHz channels that are compatible with dual band routers. PS4 limits connections to 2.4GHz, which is likely to have more interference.
Both systems launched with 500GB hard drives and now have 1TB variants, but only PS4 allows user-replaceable internal drives. An Xbox One teardown found a standard-looking drive inside, but replacing it voids the warranty. Be careful.
Instead, the Xbox One June update finally allowed gamers to add external storage to the monster-sized system. There are strings attached. The drive needs to be 256GB or larger and USB 3.0 compatible, but once you've got the right hardware you can even install games to the external drive.
A recent PS4 software update also added the option for external storage to Sony's console, adding greater appeal to anyone that's not interested in tinkering around with the inside of their system. The PS4 will support external hard drives up to 8GB in size and they must be USB 3.0.
PS4 and Xbox One are void of remarkable characteristics on the front. There's a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive to the left and their respective, muted-color logos to the right. PS4 has a pair of USB ports tucked between its sandwich-like halves next to where the disc drive is located.
It's party in the back with Xbox One connections. That's where it has two USB ports, HDMI in, HDMI out, S/PDIF for digital audio, a proprietary Xbox One Kinect port, an IR blaster connection and an Ethernet port. To the far right is a K-lock in case you want to lug this system around to LAN parties.
Sony went with a minimalist approach when it came to PS4's rear ports. You'll only find an HDMI out, S/PDIF, Ethernet and PS4 camera port (marked "AUX") around back.
Xbox One is more feature-packed in this area thanks to its HDMI in and IR blaster connections used for its TV cable or satellite box functionality. But are you really going to use this feature? PS4 lacks this passthrough technology, opting to stick with gaming as its top priority.
- Check out our guide to the best soundbars if you want to give your console's audio a boost.