PS4 vs Xbox One graphics: what are the differences and do they matter?

Just how much better will PS4 games look and why?

Then there's memory bandwith. The PS4 packs 8GB of GDDR5 running at 5.5GHz data rate and thus packs 176GB/s of bandwidth. The Xbox One? 8GB of DDR3 at 2.13GHz and thus just 68.33GB/s. Oh dear.

In mitigation, the Xbox does have 32MB of eSRAM offering another 102GB/s of bandwidth. But that's a misleading figure, since the eSRAM pool is very small compared to system memory. It certainly helps offset the PS4's bandwidth advantage. But an advantage it remains.

With all that in mind, there's no denying the PS4 is simply faster at rendering graphics. The end.

1080p is coming to the Xbox One we have no doubt
1080p is coming to the Xbox One, we have no doubt

A sign of things to come?

So, we now know all this matters. We know why it's happening in terms of the PS4's performance advantage over the Xbox One. The final question is whether this is going to be the norm over the life of the two consoles. Because if it is, it's something you need to think carefully about before choosing which box to bag.

Here, things are much less clear. On the one hand, if you buy an Xbox One tomorrow, its hardware isn't going to get any faster over time. The PS4 will always have 50 per cent more shaders and generally be capable of rendering more detailed graphics at smooth, playable frame rates.

Since both are so very similar in hardware terms, it's hard to really see where the Xbox One is going to close the gap...

On the other hand, developers will get better and better at exploiting the capabilities of both platforms over time. So, the Xbox One will offer much better looking games a few years from now than it will at launch. Problem is, so will the PS4.

Since both are so very similar in hardware terms, it's hard to really see where the Xbox One is going to close the gap. Both consoles will be more efficiently exploited over time, so the performance gap will remain.

Of course, using a lower resolution isn't the only option open to developers. They can reduce shader and texture details, dumb down the shadows and lighting. But however you slice, that means lower visual quality.

Against all that, at least one unnamed game developer has been quoted claiming that while several initial launch titles will see the PS4 running at higher resolution, they expect this practice to fall away as developers get to grips with the Xbox One.

But like we said, they'll be getting to grips with the very similar hardware in the PS4 at the same time. IGN and videogamer.com, among others, have posted comparison videos showing Battlefield 4 running on both boxes. But such video-captured demos can be misleading, there are several steps along the way in terms of processing and compression.

And frankly, to our eyes the Xbox often looks the sharper of the two videos and that probably says more about how each video was captured than anything else.

Game over for Xbox One, then?

Not so fast. While the PS4 will always have a performance advantage, the Xbox One is still roughly five times faster than an Xbox 360. It also has 16 times more system memory. And critically, it has as much memory as the PS4, so the scope and size of game worlds will be very much comparable.

Indeed, memory space was probably the biggest limitation for game devs as the existing consoles approached end of life, not raw performance.

The point, then, may not be whether PS4 is faster. The point may be that Xbox One is fast enough, powerful enough to do most of what game developers plan for this generation. There will be 1080p games on the Xbox One. Of that we are confident.

TechRadar's verdict

So what do we think overall? On balance, Xbox One games won't look quite as good as PS4 games. However the difference is not going to be completely earth shattering. It will be relatively subtle. The PS4 will look that little bit sharper.

In that sense, you probably know who you are already. If you're a sucker for super-detailed graphics, there can be only one choice. PS4. For everyone else, it's a more marginal decision. But make no mistake. Whatever advantage PS4 has at launch, it will largely maintain for the life of both consoles.

Do the graphics differences matter to you? Let us know in the comments or tweet @TechRadar

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