Xbox One and PS4: two boring black boxes with a lot of promise

battlefield 4
The next-gen is a battlefield you could avoid until next year...

How is it possible for two competing products to be so similar and yet so different?

Both the PS4 and Xbox One run the same AMD CPU and very similar graphics hardware.

They've both moved over to x86, they both rock the same half-matte, half-gloss finish. Neither are good looking, though the Xbox One is particularly ugly.

They both run FIFA 14 and Call of Doody, both respond to voice commands and they even smell similarly musky out of the box.

And yet, they're so different it's almost unreal. They're like identical twins with nothing in common – Dave likes fishing and Big Bang Theory repeats, while Darius is a champion ballet dancer and mostly watches documentaries about railways.

Big differences

What's missing is a compelling reason to actually go out and buy either of them today

The differences between the two consoles are evident from the very first second you set eyes on their packaging. The PS4's box is slim and lightweight. You can pop it out of the box and have it plugged in in seconds. The empty box fits neatly behind a door, beside the sofa or in a cupboard.

Bang, off you go. Sony wants to put nothing in the way of the gaming and it also, shock horror, cares about the environment.

The Xbox One on the other hand is quite different – the box is big and heavy, there's a million cardboard compartments storing all of the little extra bits, plastic bags and wrapping, wire tags. It was a mission just extracting it from the box and after I'd done it my living room looked like a war-torn COD map. The box is so big I don't know what to do with it.

These differing experiences permeate even once you've got yourself up and running. As soon as you boot up the PS4, it wants you to play a game. It's like a classic car that just wants to be driven and to hell with filling up with petrol or checking the oil.

The Xbox One is like an egomaniacal supercar that wants to be driven but only after you've spent an hour faffing, setting up Kinect, working out how to navigate the interface and given it a stroke and a hug.

If you didn't get from the original launch events that the PS4 was all about gaming and the Xbox One was all about media, you certainly will when you use them.

The HDMI-in feature on the Xbox is great, but outside of North America it's a redundant feature for the time being. You can pass your Sky, Freesat or Freeview box through it if you're in the UK, but there really is no benefit for doing so other than having to power an extra device.

Does media matter?

The PS4 on the other hand is a feeble media machine and impotent in the launch games department. For a super-powered gargantuan of gaming, there's very little to play on it. Killzone? It's really not great. It's not as pretty as you want it to be and the gameplay is nothing you haven't seen before.

But what about Forza 5 on the Xbox One? A reason to splash out all that cash? No way, Jose. It's a great racing game but ultimately it's just another Forza. It's pretty, but it's not that pretty. Worth getting if you buy an Xbox One? Absolutely. Worth buying an Xbox One for? Forget it.

The fact is that both consoles feel as though they launched too early. Crucial features are missing. PS4 doesn't even have a player to read an MP3 file - seriously, Sony?

There are no stand-out launch titles. Prices are high. The race to hit the shelves in time for Christmas 2013 has resulted in the release of two consoles that are basically still in beta.

Should you buy or should you wait?

So should you buy one and if so, which one? I'd say you probably already know which one you're likely to pick up if you haven't already done so.

The PS4 is the spiritual successor to the PlayStation 2, still the best selling console the world has ever seen. It's a powerful gaming machine built by gamers for gamers and for the time being it's top dog in sales, at least.

The Xbox One is a super-charged Xbox 360 and it wants to help manage your entire digital existence. We think it'll succeed in doing so.

They're both interesting in our eyes and I'm excited to see how each console matures. But what's missing today is a compelling reason to actually go out and buy either of them.

Read more

PS4 vs Xbox One: Graphics showdown

PS4 vs Xbox One: Hardware compared

James Rivington

James was part of the TechRadar editorial team for eight years up until 2015 and now works in a senior position for TR's parent company Future. An experienced Content Director with a demonstrated history of working in the media production industry. Skilled in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), E-commerce Optimization, Journalism, Digital Marketing, and Social Media. James can do it all.