The Next Gen Predicament - long read

When next gen consoles, Xbox One and Playstation 4 were announced, I pre-ordered both to give myself as much time as I needed to decide which one to purchase. I’ll own both eventually but the first one I purchase is a little more important to me as it is the console that will bring me into the next generation and it’ll be taking the main spot under my TV, a spot that’s currently occupied by my Xbox 360 Slim.

Next gen is almost here, it’ll start on either the 22nd or the 29th of this month (US gets the PS4 two weeks before everywhere else) and I have no idea which one to go for. In the time I gave myself with having both on pre-order, I’ve gone from being almost certain that I’ll be buying the PS4 after the awful Xbox One reveal to being completely unsure due to Microsoft making the Xbox One become very appealing over the last couple of months.

Both consoles are offering great things but they also offer very different experiences. The PS4 has a slight spec advantage, smaller form factor and a much larger library of games from the get go with free to play and indie developers flocking to the console. The Xbox One on the other hand has a strong line-up of exclusive AAA games, a beautiful UI in the form of Live Tiles, multi tasking with snapping and cross platform communication in the form of Skype.

The PS4 has more native 1080p games out of the gate while the Xbox One is mixed with some being native 1080p and others such as Call of Duty: Ghosts being displayed in native 720p upscaled to 1080p. The PS4 version is in native 1080p but there’s been reports of the frame rate taking a noticeable dip when there’s a lot going on. Many are using this to help make their decisions or add fuel to the heated discussions around the two consoles but I really don’t think this matters at all at launch. The differences will be negligible at first and you’re only really going to notice them if you pull up comparison shots and look for the small differences.

At the start of a new generation of consoles, developers are going to be a little rushed getting used to a new platform, getting a game out on time and optimising it. CoD: Ghosts for example is being released on 6 platforms at around the same time, that’s a lot of consoles to optimise for a near simultaneous release. It’s also been reported that the developer tools provided by Microsoft are not quite up to scratch yet. We’ll be seeing far more native 1080p games at a stable frame rate in a year or two, every console has some games with a few rough edges at launch.

On the OS side of things, Sony started off Gamescom by showing off their UI. It showed how to use a few features and navigate between them but I was left feeling like there was a lot more they could have shown. I’m also not impressed, it looks nice but it also looks like there’s a lot of screen space being wasted with everything on one line and the XMB like bar that drops down is ugly. It may only be a small bar but it’s going to be in frequent use. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the overall UI is bad, I'm just not too keen on what I've seen. It looks more than functional and painless to use.

Microsoft are currently showing off their UI as much as they can at this point. Today they released a 12 minute video showing how the menus, logging in, switching apps and so on work. It looks simple and quick to use. It’s familiar to Xbox 360 and Windows 8 users alike and the ability to multi task such as playing a game, live streaming to Twitch, talking to a few friends on Skype and snapping a guide to the side looks fantastic.

Signing multiple users in automatically just from sitting in front of the Kinect, scanning QR codes instead of entering 15 digit codes, pinning items to the home screen and all the additional functionality that Kinect brings are desirable features to me. The Kinect fitness app would also be great for keeping fit. Nike+ Kinect Training is great but I had to move my TV every time I used it so the Kinect could track me. The Kinect on the Xbox One would track me without moving the TV every time I want to use a fitness app which is ideal.

The Verge however, did get to go out and have a go of the Xbox One on camera and a few concerning issues popped up that we’d never see in a video from Microsoft. Everything worked pretty much as they’ve told us but you have to stop talking for a second or two before you can issue a voice command meaning until you discipline yourself, you’re not going to be able to issue commands in the middle of a conversation without breaking the flow.

Exclusive: Xbox One TV hands-on demo (via The Verge)

The other issue is that some of the voice commands took two tries before they worked and one of them took three before the Microsoft employee had to step in and say the command himself. That's mainly a concern for me because although I love my Kinect for the Xbox 360, I find it incredibly frustrating when voice commands don't register or are misinterpreted.

I’m also from Scotland and voice controls typically don’t work so well for people over here. The Kinect does a great job most of the time these days but if the voice commands take a few tries before they work even 10% of the time then it’s not just going to be frustrating, it’s going to make many avoid using voice commands altogether so they don’t sound dumb having to repeat themselves over and over.

I'm not concerned about potential issues with voice commands on PS4 because in all likelihood, the PS4 Camera not being included in the box is pretty much going to make it dead on arrival other than potentially being used as a webcam for live streaming. I see it having the same issues the Kinect on the Xbox 360 had with gaining support so I’ll probably not be picking one up unless I see a lot of support for it.

On to control pads, I love the Xbox 360 control pad and the Xbox One pad is going to feel very familiar. There’s a lot of subtle improvements including the changes to the bumpers which are now meant to be used with the base of your trigger fingers instead of moving your fingers to reach, a change which will have a big impact in shooters. The Dualshock 4 looks very interesting, it looks much more comfortable to use than the Dualshock 3 and pretty much everyone who touches one falls in love with it. Some think it’s on par with the Xbox One control pad if not a little better but it remains unproven to me as I’ve not had a chance to get a hands on with it.

The control pad is a fairly big deal in deciding which console to get as it’s primarily how you’ll be interacting with the device and it’s games (although the Kinect does offer a viable alternative on the One outside of games) and it’ll be what makes your initial and lasting impressions for a platform. Both control pads being on par with each other makes this decision even harder. One may be unproven but it looks comfortable and it offers a new experience in the form of the touch pad in place of familiarity.

The games are normally what would make or break a decision for a lot of people but with so many games only coming out on one platform or the other at the moment and most AAA third party games being multi platform, I’m just left looking back and forth before I sit down and hide under a blanket.

There's just so many appealing games on both sides and the variety on offer is so wide that it's impossible to pick a clear winner.

I feel the Xbox One has the stronger first party IPs. I really enjoy the Dead Rising games, Project Spark looks amazing, Titanfall looks incredibly fun, a new Halo is in development for the platform and Microsoft is currently looking for a developer to work on a new Crackdown game, a series I absolutely love. That lineup is incredibly hard to say no to with the biggest flaw being the lack of indie and free to play games available on the platform at launch. That flaw however, is likely to be short lived with the recent announcement that Unity is offering a free Xbox One add-on and will allow publishing for free with a Unity Pro 4 license.

The first party titles Sony has to offer for the most part don’t interest me. My first experience with the Killzone franchise, Killzone 3 multiplayer put me off the series. I bought the first Uncharted and loathed it until I couldn’t take it any more and stopped playing. The recent gameplay footage of Knack looks boring to me and Drive Club doesn’t interest me in the slightest.

The third party offerings it has though are rather large. Two free to play titles I love on PC but can’t come close to maxing out the graphics for, Blacklight Retribution and Warframe are coming to the Playstation 4. Contrast has me very intrigued and I’ve come close to purchasing Mercenary Kings on PC a few times now (it takes me forever to get my wireless Xbox 360 control pad adapter to work though). Several other games such as Daylight, Ocodad, The Order 1886 and more also have me very interested.

Many of those could make their way to the Xbox One but no promises have been made thus far. The Xbox One has the first party and exclusive established third party IPs but the PS4 has the third party support. No matter which console you pick, you're going to be missing out on some great stuff the other has to offer.

To touch on the online aspects, Microsoft have arguably had the much better service this past generation with Xbox Live. It’s been great to use, it’s been fairly robust and communicating with friends has been as painless as can be. Microsoft are upping their efforts this time making the experience much closer to that of a social network such as Twitter. They’re putting a lot of focus in the cloud with 300,000 servers to make it as pleasant to use as possible and they’re adding Skype which will allow for cross platform chat and even making phone calls.

Sony aren’t using a rowing boat Microsoft can easily blast out of the water this time around though, they’re speeding right into deep waters with a battleship ready to take on anyone. Party chat finally makes its way to PSN on the PS4, everyone has their own profile page, you don’t need a subscription to use apps or free to play games, the promise of Gaikai in future for streaming games is there and best of all, they’ve still got the little jolly rotund man sitting at the front of the ship throwing gifts at Playstation Plus subscribers in the form of free games and discounts every month.

Media functionality on next gen consoles will be fairly similar to how it is today if you use DVDs, Blu Rays or apps for your entertainment but Sony will allow neither playing CDs or streaming content to your device from a PC and external storage is not supported. This leaves apps released on the platform as your only option for digital video content and it leaves Sony’s subscription based Music Unlimited service as your only option for music playback.

It’s largely similar on the Xbox One but you will be able to stream video and music from your PC, CDs can be played on the console (although you cannot RIP them to the hard drive) and you have the option of using apps released on the platform. The Xbox One also has Skydrive functionality which will allow you to view videos and images that have been stored or shared with you.

The Xbox One also features a HDMI input port on the back of the console allowing you to connect any device that outputs via HDMI signal and display it via the Xbox One. This feature is touted as a way to view and control your cable box through the Xbox One with the TV guide also being pulled and natively displayed on the Xbox One Guide. Sadly, support for that feature is spotty with cable boxes outside the US and in many countries, it will be unavailable until 2014 at the earliest.

You can still connect and display your devices through your Xbox One however, handily lending itself to using your current gen console while keeping all the features the Xbox One has to offer. The downside to this is you would need to have both consoles powered on at the same time which could lead to a hefty increase in your electricity bill if you do this often.

It's bewildering to me that Sony will only allow streaming music from their paid subscription service on the PS4 and more so that you can’t even locally stream video content to the console, especially considering the PS3 was widely known for being a great entertainment centre. It would be an inconvenience for me as I like to store my films, music and tv shows on my PC for streaming to other devices so I don’t have to keep switching discs. Shuhei Yoshida from Sony has announced that MP3 and DLNA support will be added to the PS4 in a future update but for the time being, the Xbox One is the most suited towards being an entertainment centre.

Capturing and Live Streaming gameplay through a PC is important to many people, myself included.It allows you to edit videos properly with various options such as multiple audio tracks, custom overlays, different scenes for afk or whatever and picture in picture for video outros and such. Both consoles offer video sharing and streaming option but you're restricted to streaming via Twitch or sharing through their respective online networks. The PS4 also offers UStream streaming and Facebook sharing at launch.

On the Xbox One side, the small selection of sharing options aren't a big deal due to there being no HDCP encryption (copyright protection in HDMI signals) on gameplay allowing people to use capture cards to open up their options. The PS4 however does have HDCP on gameplay at launch preventing the use of capture cards. This will be removed in a later update but no date has been given and until then, if the console doesn't provide what you need then you're out of luck.

Overall both the PS4 and Xbox One have their own positives and negatives but the trade offs for each are so different while both do many things equally well. They’re both black boxes but they’re both trying to change how we play games and interact with our consoles. I want both, yet I can only purchase one for the time being. Currently, I can't decide between them, this is a predicament I’ve never had with a console launch before. It’s definitely a good situation to be in, but I'll be damned if it isn't frustrating.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you also stuck between the two? Is there anything I've got wrong or something I'm missing? Tell me what you think in the comments, I'd like some input on this. I'm definitely going for one of them at launch and my personal deadline for a decision is a few days from now. I may appear to favour the Xbox One at parts but rest assured, I'm equally as stuck between which of the two to buy.

I'm not looking to be told what to buy, just some things to consider that could help me or anyone else in the same situation make a decision. My friends also won't be influencing my decision, I rarely play online with them these days so it doesn't matter if we end up with different boxes.

Polygon is great for avoiding this stuff so it probably doesn't need saying but just in case, I'm not looking for any fanboyish comments or smack talk against any console. It'll be me buying the console for myself after all.

Update: Edited a couple of sections to reflect new info on Skydrive functionality for Xbox One and DLNA & MP3 support for PS4 released by Microsoft and Sony respectively. A section about HDMI input and TV functionality on the Xbox One was also added.

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