PS4, Xbox One and PC: The next-gen consoles examined from a PC gamer’s perspective

PS4 vs Xbox One

By on December 5, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Despite my well-earned reputation as a PC elitist, I’m actually platform agnostic (*sound of editor snorting with laughter*).

I don’t give a damn about the brand or cost; I simply follow my retinas to the best visuals, and my fingertips to the most interesting mainstream experiences (I’m sadly not a fan of indie or retro gaming). While the PC has been the rock in my relationship with games, I’ve had lengthy dalliances with the SNES, PS1, Xbox and Xbox 360, yet I’ve always returned to Ye Olde Faithful, drawn by the allure of its constantly evolving hardware.

With the release of two next-gen consoles, I figured I’d share my impressions of the new consoles from a PC lover’s perspective. Rather than just give you the specs of each, I’m going to talk about them from an experiential perspective. How do they look, sound, operate and play compared to the PC?

External Sight and Sound

If there’s one thing the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have over the PC, it’s their case design. Massive by console standards, yet tiny when stood next to your average monolithic gaming PC, the Xbox One is a sexy box of shiny blackness. Even more impressive is the PS4, which is about half as tall as the Xbox One, a surprising size considering the more powerful components within.

This slim chassis comes at a cost, however. I housed both next-gen consoles in a standard AV cabinet, with a glass door across the front. Close this door and the PS4 started to get overly hot, evidenced by the howling cooling fan emitting a shrill buzz from behind the glass door. It was painfully loud, even with my cinema speakers cranked up. In contrast the Xbox One remained absolutely whisper quiet, no matter how long I forced it to choke on its own hot exhaust gases behind the closed glass door.

Thankfully opening this door solved the PS4’s noise issues, so I have to give both consoles the nod when it comes to cooling noise while under load, as my PC would probably catch fire if I put it in such a confined cage.

Advantage: Consoles

Setup and interface

Both consoles have a mandatory online update straight out of the box, which took around 30 minutes on my supremely awesome Internode ADSL2+ service. There were no crashes or hitches, and they basically did everything themselves without any intervention from me. Yep, even your nan could do it.

Once both consoles were ready, they stepped me through the basic setup options — Wi-Fi, Kinect calibration and retrieving my PSN network and Xbox Live accounts. Both were extremely simple, updating each console with my account details without any fuss. So far so good — yet Windows 8’s new setup routine is equally IQ-free.

Navigating each console’s interface required a little patience, as they’re basically brand new. Testimony to the quality of the interface design is how simple it was to find everything, especially on the PS4, which lays everything out in a very logical pattern. The Xbox One wasn’t quite as simple though, but I soon discovered that using Kinect’s voice recognition was a much smarter way to get around, especially once I’d familiarised myself with the various keyword commands. However, the Xbox One has a glaring omission in its menu system – there’s very little info for storage management.

Given that both consoles ship with 500GB drives, and game installs are now mandatory, it’s not going to take long the hard drive is chockers. Yet it’s impossible to check this beforehand on the Xbox One, unlike the PS4. There’s also no way to monitor your controller’s battery life on the Xbox One, while the default settings for the PS4 make charging your controller a nightmare, as the system automatically shuts down the power to the USB ports after 20 minutes. Thankfully there’s a setting buried in one of the menus to fix this.

While the interface of these consoles are very slick, PC users will probably be frustrated at the lack of information. Given that they’re designed for novices though, overall I have to conclude that the console interfaces are the superior solution for the masses.

Advantage: Consoles

Upgrade and Connect

One of the key benefits of the PC is its ability to be upgraded. As expected, the consoles ship with relatively fixed hardware, although the PS4’s hard drive can be upgraded with little trouble. Unfortunately the Xbox One’s cannot, which simply reeks of money grubbing behaviour to me.

Microsoft suggests its magical cloud storage as one way to alleviate this issue, but that’s no solution for the high-speed access required by games and other apps. Hopefully the upcoming support for external drives on the Xbox One will resolve this, though if it’s like the Xbox 360 some games won’t play of external drives.

Both consoles are also putting a much bigger focus on downloadable apps, especially video streaming. Well, that’s the theory. Australians miss out on the majority of apps available overseas such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, but it’s not the fault of the console makers. Blame Australia’s Jurassic media overlords for that. However, getting around the region blocking that stops these apps working in Australia is incredibly simple on the PC, yet is much more difficult on the consoles.

One incredibly stupid oversight is the inability of either console to stream videos from your home network. Apparently you can push content from another device to the Xbox One, but who on Earth would want to do that? Again, this reeks of money grubbing, forcing users to instead pay $7 to rent a semi-HD movie off the online rental stores.

Enough whining, let’s get to the good bit – connectivity. The Playstation 4 comes with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, a single Gigabit Ethernet port and twin USB 3.0 ports. The Xbox One is very similar, with 802.11n Wi-Fi with Wi-Fi Direct Support, a single Gigabit Ethernet port, and three USB 3.0 ports. Both are stuck with HDMI 1.4, which should make the move to 60Hz 4K very interesting, if not impossible.

Both consoles are stuck with HDMI 1.4, which should make the move to 60Hz 4K very interesting, if not impossible

As you can see, both consoles have wisely chosen to use USB 3.0 as the preferred method for connecting devices to them… which makes us question why the Xbox One has absolutely zero backwards compatibility with prior Xbox 360 USB devices such as fighting sticks, flight controllers and steering wheels. This is a massive slap in the face for people like me who have spent far too much money on a 360 racing wheel and pedals. There is simply no way in hell I’ll spend that much again, just because Microsoft says I have to.

Sony has done the opposite, with most PS3 wheels working on the PS4, leaving the decision up to the developer of each game. This approach proves there’s absolutely no logical reason for the Xbox One not to do the same.

If there’s one nifty feature that both consoles have in terms of connectivity over the PC, it’s the second screen approach. Both allow users to sync their tablets and smartphones with the console, using it as a second display for developers to utilise. Receiving a phone call on my Galaxy Note 3 from one of Dead Rising 3’s characters was fantastic, helping to bridge the gap between the reality of the screen and my gaming den. The PC doesn’t have anywhere near as much support for using second screens in this manner.

Finally, the Xbox One also has a HDMI input, used to integrate cable TV services with the One guide. As you well know, it does nothing in Australia, so isn’t even worth mentioning until it’s finally activated down under — if it’s ever activated at all.

When looking at upgrading and peripherals, the PS4 clearly has the edge over the Xbox One, but both can’t come close to the ridiculously huge library of gadgets available for the PC, from VR HMDs to motion controllers to keyboard and mice. There’s also the fact that the PC is infinitely upgradeable, which means it’ll never go out of date, provided your bank balance is nice and juicy.

Advantage: PC

The Gaming Experience

Now, onto the crux of the matter – can these consoles match the exquisite gaming experience provided by a high end PC? I’m going to focus on the audio visual experience mostly, as it’s such a key element of gaming to the vast majority of gamers (no disrespect intended to those who don’t value presentation, but there’s a reason the graphics and art teams make up most of the staff in AAA development studios).

As a result of my love for PC gaming, I’ve always run high-end PCs. Despite this, at prior console launches such as the Xbox 360 or Playstation 2, I honestly felt that these console’s offered PC-beating graphics, at least for the first year or two after their release. They had cutting edge hardware inside that easily matched, if not bettered, what was available at the time on the PC. It’s not just my imagination — there are lengthy articles out there comparing the hardware within these consoles to that found in the high end gaming PCs of the day, and the consoles shipped with components that simply couldn’t be found yet in PCs.

However, this generation is a very, very different ballgame.

In the last eight years the PC has seen the GPU arms race reach new heights, with a rivalry between AMD and NVIDIA that made the Cold War look like a hippy love-in. Graphics cards are now the most expensive and complex piece of hardware within a PC, easily costing two to three times the price of the next most complex piece, the CPU. These huge slabs of silicon guzzle down massive amounts of power that simply can’t be delivered to the consoles, which are heavily restricted by overall TDP (Thermal Design Power), not to mention the cost of the components.

As a result, today’s consoles can only be described as entry-level gaming PCs. Their CPUs might have twice as many cores as most gaming PCs, yet they run at around half the frequency. The Xbox One’s GPU is the equivalent of a Radeon HD 7770, which currently retails for the meagre sum of just $89. The Playstation 4 goes one better, increasing the streaming processor count by 50%, and doubling the number of ROPs, to deliver a GPU in the realms of performance of the Radeon HD 7850. This retails for $159, again highlighting how far behind something like an R9 280X or GeForce GTX 770 both machines are.

This draw call advantage can be seen most obviously in Killzone: Shadow Fall. One level displays a large city with an incredible number of buildings on screen at one time, far in excess of anything I’ve seen on the PC

Consoles have one advantage in that they can be “coded to the metal”, cutting through the overhead of DirectX to scrape out the absolute best possible performance from the hardware within. Their fixed hardware also makes it easier for developers to extract the absolute maximum performance out of each component. However, with AMD’s custom API Mantle soon releasing on PC (with Battlefield 4 support due sometime in December), that benefit won’t be as great as it once was — at least for AMD users running Mantle-compatible games.

Despite this efficiency of code, the consoles simply don’t have the ability to push out anywhere near as many pixels as the PC, nor light sources, shader effects or texture detail. In fact, they only have one advantage that makes a huge difference – draw calls. These are the calls that the CPU makes before rendering a scene, and on PCs this is crippled by DirectX. On the consoles there’s no such issue, which allows the building of scenes with huge numbers of objects. Those objects may not be as highly textured, well lit or have such fancy effects as the PC version, but there can be many more of them.

This draw call advantage can be seen most obviously in Killzone: Shadow Fall. One level displays a large city with an incredible number of buildings on screen at one time, far in excess of anything I’ve seen on the PC. There’s also another scene that shows dozens of massive spaceships warming up for a biffo, and again the base complexity is boggling. Ryse on the Xbox One has a similar advantage, with some scenes built from a much larger number of objects at longer distances than we’re accustomed to seeing on the PC.

However, the crispness of the image of these console games falls a long way behind the PC, due to issues with resolution and antialiasing. As you probably know, nearly every Xbox One game is running natively at 1280 x 720 and then upscaled to 1080p, leading to massive blurring and aliasing issues. The PS4’s superior GPU allows it to run most of its games at the native resolution of 1920 x 1080, but it doesn’t have the necessary oomph to use advanced aliasing techniques, instead falling back on primitive measures such as FXAA.

The textures used on these objects are also lacking to those found on the PCs, with text being an unreadable blur that would otherwise be perfectly legible on PC.

As a result, not one of the launch games looks any better than today’s sexiest PC games. In fact, compare titles available on all three, such as Battlefield 4 or Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, and you’d have to be blind not to notice the huge leap in graphical quality. Having said that, I’m comparing the consoles to a PC running twin GTX 780s, which can only be described as a high end PC. Compare the consoles to a much more middling gaming PC and the difference won’t be as noticeable.

But my point remains – in prior generations, it didn’t matter how expensive my gaming PC was, the consoles still looked superior. This time around this is not the case.

That’s not to say the games are ugly. Forza V, Ryse and Killzone are the most impressive of the launch titles when it comes to graphics, and they’re all downright gorgeous. But they’re not in the same league as Battlefield 4 or Metro 2033 on the PC.

Advantage: PC

PC rules the roost

When I first unpacked my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, inhaling the sweet smell of fresh gaming hardware deep into my lungs, I barely touched my PC for several months. Over the next year the consoles became my dominant gaming platform, while my PC languished under a coat of dust.

I can’t say the same about the last four weeks. I’ve managed to complete both Ryse and Killzone, but haven’t felt the same urgency to play these next-gen consoles that I did in the past. I’m sure I’ll return to them as more big hitting games come out, and there’s absolutely no way I would have regretted purchasing them, as I know there will be some fantastic exclusive titles on the way. However, if one of these upcoming blockbuster games is also available on PC (such as Thief, Destiny or Titanfall), I’ll be playing it on my PC, that beautifully ugly black box that sits outside of my AV rack — surrounded by a small jungle of cables and looking about as sexy as a bar fridge.

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19 comments (Leave your own)

I’m sadly not a fan of indie or retro gaming

Why put things in boxes? Today’s “AAA” mainstream game is tomorrow’s retro game. Today’s retro games were mainstream not so long ago. And “indie” really just relates to who made it, not what it is…

Anyway, your loss.

As for aesthetics, I’ll take my sweet looking PC case over a hi tech VCR any day.

PS – surely your AV cabinet is ventilated??

 
MuscularTeeth

flexibilty.
i can play games with controllers on my pc just like a console. once in a rare while i cant play a console game because its not for pc (red dead redemption).
usually though the good games ARENT on consoles.

i can also play super twitchy fps with a keyboard and mouse. or something intricate like hearts of iron or something equally stupid. then watch abc iview, or put a DVD in and watch rik mayal hilariously beat the shit out of adrian edmondson in BOTTOM. or play my dozens (haha) of mp3s ive built up over the years.
or make a video, or compose music, or do some graphic arts or write.
all these are entertainment, but only a pc can do it all.
i have my consoles but for every hour i use them id have at least 500 hours on the pc.

 

I got myself an Xbox One as well to complement my gaming experience, and for Forza 5, and was disappointed about the missing basic features like storage management and video streaming from my PC. At first I thought these features had been moved and I just wasn’t looking in the right place. After a lot of Googling it seems that some of these features will be reactivated later on down the track by patches once MS are happy that other new features are stable and functional. Lets just hope its not too far off. I miss not being able to stream video to the TV.

 

Oddly I won’t miss any of it. I have a nice monolith next to my TV now. It houses an AMD 1090T and will receive a Radeon HD 6950 very soon too. It’s close to silent even in QLD temps, it’s got no restrictions on watching anything, no codec issues, no cinavia issues. Just plug and play. I can set it up to have a very simple interface running everything I need off a controller (X360 one). Not hard to setup either.

More power graphically and yet the 6950 is old tech. 2 generations old. Ah well I think we are seeing the end of the console era. Hell people are willing to spend a grand on a gaming PC these days and with the Mini-ITX kit available that’s some serious gaming horsepower in a PC.

 

“Both are stuck with HDMI 1.4, which should make the move to 60Hz 4K very interesting”

you may want to go read up on HDMI … 1.4 isn’t a barrier in anyway to 4k …

The real problem with 4k is the amount of power you need to process 4k games, but video shouldn’t be an issue.

As many have said the hardware is meaningless this gen, it’s all about who has the great games.

 
charliebrownau

You sure this wasnt examined from a console gamer’s perspective

Spend 900 to 1200 on a MiniITX PC connected to a large TV/LCD
in the lounge room with wireless/wired keyboard mouse and
two wireless/wired joypad and you would have better value

 

spooler:

As many have said the hardware is meaningless this gen, it’s all about who has the great games.

I disagree, hardware is a lot more relevant this generation because there’s an actual power gap unlike between the PS3/360.

And 4K is largely irrelevant atm between no one having them and these new consoles not having the power to run 4k content (well they probably could with sacrifices but just like last gen had so many sub 720p games most devs would work with 1080p or lower and ignore 4K and give visual enhancements elsewhere ike in lighting) so it’s a null issue not having HDMI 2.

 

I share you background in gaming and appeal for audio-visual performance.

I agree entirely in your finding’s. Good article, thanks!
This is why for the first time in 20 yrs…. I wont be getting the latest console….

Cheers

 

You have to remember that while you’re no longer forced to configure autoexec.bat and config.sys on your PC to get games to run they still require a little more technical know-how than consoles given the need for driver updates and graphic configurations. There will always be the know nothing ma and pas purchasing consoles cause they just want something that they can plug into the TV to keep the kids occupied for a while. Whether or not that something runs at native 1080p or is capable of connecting to a 4K screen is irrelevant to them.

Consoles aren’t going anywhere as long as this market exists.

 

exe3: I disagree, hardware is a lot more relevant this generation because there’s an actual power gap unlike between the PS3/360.

Last gen hardware was a complete mess to develop for … The PS3 especially.

the difference between the xbone and PS4 is a negligible amount of performance … or at-least it will be once Microsoft get some decent firmware out.

They both run on the same hardware architecture which makes developing for the majority of devs a massive amount easier.

The only thing that’s going to have 1 system do better than the other are the first party titles and honestly with how well Sony has been doing on that front uncharted/the last of us/whatever naughty dog touches it will likely be Naughty dog that wins this generation … Unless Microsoft actually does something with the huge pool of IP they have from Rare.

 

caitsith01,

Yep, my AV rack is ventilated, yet the PS4 still howled like a cat on heat when the front door was shut. The Xbox One remained whisper quiet, likely because the large chassis has much better airflow.

 

spooler,

Actually, you’ve missed the crucial “60Hz” that I listed in front of 4K, which refers to 60 Hertz, or 60 screen updates per second. Yes, HDMI 1.4 can do 4k… but only at 30Hz. If you want the 60Hz necessary for gaming, you’re shit outta luck.

 

spooler:

the difference between the xbone and PS4 is a negligible amount of performance … or at-least it will be once Microsoft get some decent firmware out.

They both run on the same hardware architecture which makes developing for the majority of devs a massive amount easier.

The only thing that’s going to have 1 system do better than the other are the first party titles and honestly with how well Sony has been doing on that front uncharted/the last of us/whatever naughty dog touches it will likely be Naughty dog that wins this generation …

I’m going to have to disagree with you here Spooler. I’m not sure if you’re very familiar with GPU architecture, but the Xbox One has a GPU that is around 43% slower than the PS4. This is not up for debate at all – it’s fact, and this is a HUGE difference in raw speed. There’s no way that MS can somehow optimise the Xbone more to make up for the difference without a hardware update. Any software optimisations they can come up with will also be applicable to the PS4′s GPU, as they use a very similar design of GPU, it’s just that the PS4′s has more of the GPU components that determine performance.

 

Bennett Ring: I’m going to have to disagree with you here Spooler. I’m not sure if you’re very familiar with GPU architecture, but the Xbox One has a GPU that is around 43% slower than the PS4.

More than you apparently … the GPU and CPU architecture is the same, the difference is the number of CUs which is not the cause of the “43%”. The reason for the large difference comes down to the firmware on the Xbone. There IS a difference in peroformance between the 2, which actually comes down more to Sony’s use of GDDR5 > DDR3. The 6? Additional CUs in the PS4 make alot less difference in hardware speed than the ram but this s moot. at most you’re talking about a 10% difference in hardware power between the PS4 and the Xbone 10% is in my mind negligible.

The biggest problem Microsoft are having is the firmware they have contains a ton of bloat, for example even when not in use the kinect has about 10% of the GPUs power allocated to it other system stuff has equally ridiculous amounts of power just set aside for it.

Tl;Dr
there’s a hardware difference in performance sure, it’s no where near as high as 43% but it’s there the bigger issue however is the firmware Microsoft is running which is awful.

Bennett Ring: The Xbox One remained whisper quiet, likely because the large chassis has much better airflow.

The Xbone has a larger fan circulating air meaning even at max speeds it makes less noise and circulates more air.

Bennett Ring: Yes, HDMI 1.4 can do 4k… but only at 30Hz. If you want the 60Hz necessary for gaming, you’re shit outta luck.

Didn’t the last gen run on 30fps ?.. 4k gaming isn’t going to happen anyway… not for a long time, for alot of reasons most of which are nothing to do with hardware limitations.

 

Sorry Spooler, but as somebody who benchmarks new GPUs on an almost weekly basis, I know what a difference a 50% increase in CUs and doubling of ROPs does to a GPU’s performance. Not sure how you could claim that it results in a mere 10% performance increase, as you’re basically going against every GPU review ever published. I haven’t even factored the tripling of memory bandwidth into the equation.

There’s a reason that many games run at 720p on the Xbox One and 1080p on the PS4. If you think it’s firmware then Microsoft’s PR team have done a fantastic job.

 

I got myself AN Xbox One furthermore to enrich my recreation expertise, and for Forza five, and was thwarted concerning the missing basic options like storage management and video streaming from my computer. initially i believed these options had been rapt and that i simply wasn’t trying within the right place. once lots of Googling it looks that a number of these options are going to be reactivated anon down the track by patches once MS ar happy that different new options ar stable and useful. Lets simply hope its not too far flung. I miss not having the ability to stream video to the TV.
cheap xbox 360

 

Bennett Ring,

I think it’s firmware because third party developers are saying it’s firmware and generally the developers have had a significant amout more time working on the system than I… and because it is, the claim that ! 50% increase in cu count nets an almost 50% performance increase is wrong. Though you are right in sylaying it’s likely higher than 10%.

 

Is it just me or is ‘xbox luver’ a mutated copy/paste spambot? Based on Goric’s earlier post.

 
jerichosainte

Awesome article Bennett. I think microsft PR has done an unbeleivable job in sweeping the differences under the rug. Even in a lot of media they are saying the differences are negligible with their arguments only based on the type of hardware used.

Really appreciate you going through a detailed comparison. Makes me happy with my purchase. Keep up the good work!

 
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