It's been six months since two hype trains raced into the station and pretty much wrecked the joint, six months since the PS4 and the Xbox One finally emerged into the sunlight and the next generation of video consoles truly arrived. Sales records have already been smashed, uptake on both consoles has been strong, but there's still a sense that we've not hit our stride yet. There's a feeling that we're still waiting on truly next-gen games to along with these shiny new pieces of hardware, and for some the reasons for making the generation jump might not be so clear.
But we're six months on from launch now, after a plethora of services updates, games releases, price fluctuations, and adventurous bundles. So has the landscape changed? If you haven't bought a new-gen console yet, is now the perfect time? And, if so, which one should you buy? Slapping down £400 for anything requires keen judgement and lots of weighing up of factors. Thankfully, we've done all of that for you. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our totally scientific, completely unbiased, rigorously researched six-month showdown.
It's PS4 vs Xbox One once again. Only this time, everyone's a little bit older.
PS4/Matt: I was sceptical of the PS4's design to begin with, back when all we had were images and wishful thinking, but I have to say it looks awesome. The touch buttons to start and eject are perhaps a little fiddly -- I'm never quite certain exactly where the sensors are so I sort of end up rubbing the general area in a worryingly sensual fashion, but that might just be me. In terms of build quality, though it feels incredibly robust and sturdy. It sometimes gets a little hot, the front groove is a dust magnet, the USB slots are occasionally tricky to find, and you don't want to use it as a coffee stand, but it's an outstanding piece of kit and surprisingly quiet.
Xbox One/Jon: Despite being tucked away in my AV cabinet, the Xbox One has revealed a significant flaw in its design: the glossy plastic half is a magnet for unsightly scratches. Dozens upon dozens of them have mysteriously appeared, alongside a deeper divot from something as simple as putting down a remote control. It's clear that Microsoft seriously cut corners in terms of materials here - and the piano black finish is a horrible dust trap to boot.
Otherwise, the console itself is still as quiet and solid as ever. It just looks like I dragged it through a thorny bush backwards.
PS4/Matt: I love the DualShock 4. I never thought I'd write those words about a PlayStation controller, but Sony have somehow managed to make a convert out of me -- a man with large hands, who hates adjacent sticks and dubious build quality. It's just so comfy thanks to the bulbous grips and proper triggers, and that little bit of extra distance between the sticks makes all of the difference. The touch pad is a bit of a joke, but at least I don't feel able to crush this one with my bare hands as I did the DS3. Also, that audio jack.
Xbox One/Jon: The Xbox One controller is still a fiercely brilliant bit of kit, but its slightly reduced size vs the Xbox 360 controller has become increasingly apparent over the last few months. It just doesn't fill the hand quite as well as its sensational predecessor. Meanwhile the DualShock 4 makes up for cackhanded stick placement with significantly increased comfort, value and PC compatibility compared to the frankly rubbish DualShock 3. Matching Sony's 3.5mm headphone jack and onboard power supply also requires £20-40 worth of extras on Xbox One, meaning that... uh-oh. We might have a surprise winner here.
Operating System & Updates
PS4/Matt: I have a feeling that this section is all about the lesser of two evils. The PS4 might edge this on account of being fairly feature complete at launch, getting you stuck into your games more quickly, streamlining downloads, and actually being navigable with a controller, but there's still work to be done. A custom home screen would be nice -- that long bar of all of your games and apps is unsightly and unintuitive -- and it all just feels like an OS that's still in beta.
Xbox One/Jon: I'm delighted to report that the Xbox One has received several major updates on a regular basis, ironing out the naff party formation and missing features we criticised at launch. It's SO much better now. However, the OS is still a fragmented affair, with numerous bitty standalone apps and nested menus instead of the familiar Xbox Guide. Workflow suffers as a result, while I've also encountered a few odd crashes from time to time. I'd like to see more features brought together into holistic and convenient places, while discovery is an absolute pain on the store at present.
PS4/Matt: The most I can muster for this section is a shrug, which more or less means everything's working fine. That said, the PS4 is great for letting you get to your games, the share features are easy to use (even if the results are disappointing), being able to output the entire system's sound through the DS4 is glorious, and Remote Play is fantastic if you have a Vita. The Camera is a shambles, though, but unlike Microsoft, Sony never pretended to build their console around it. Voice commands aren't terribly well implemented, but you don't really miss them either. If you want to feel like you're in the future, then the Xbone edges it. If you just want to play games, even if there's someone else in the room, it's PS4 all the way.
Xbox One/Jon: Now we're talking. Kinect makes the difference here, allowing you to directly jump to your your apps with a word and search for content using the surprisingly robust Bing interface. Its TV features also make perfect sense, "Xbox, volume up," or "Xbox, Bing The IT Crowd" being two of my more regular features. Snappable apps have also improved, with Skype's new update letting us finally chat while getting our game on.
Microsoft may have thrown their peripheral under the bus, but it adds a touch of magic to even the simplest things. Beyond that, automatic updates for digital downloads is very handy- not to mention that SmartGlass turns any phone into a remote control for your entire AV system.
Winner: Xbox One?
PS4/Matt: There's no contest here. Just look at Killzone: Shadow Fall. Its design is painfully average (that first level apart) but it was built primarily to make people's eyes cry tears of visual joy.
See also: every multiplatform game.
Xbox One/Jon: Erm.
The best games on Xbox One look great, but it's clear that third-party developers are struggling with the architecture and eSRAM right now. At least Microsoft has removed the terrible sharpening filter that made games look better in native 720p than upscaled 1080p!
Games & Exclusives
PS4/Matt: In terms of exclusives, the Xbox One wins this hands down. Sony have managed to leverage some interesting smaller titles and F2P games onto the system, but few of these are actually exclusives. No one bought a PS4 for Don't Starve. Elsewhere, we have to look at the match-ups: Killzone and Infamous, though enjoyable, show none of the promise like the scale of Dead Rising 3 or the fluid, fresh feel of Titanfall. Forza V managed to scare Driveclub into the next year. Don't get me started on Knack.
BUT...in terms of third-parties, the PS4 takes it. And that's been reflected in the sales, not to mention the primary format for review code. If someone wants you to play their multiplatform console game, it's nearly always demoed on the PS4, and with good reason.
Xbox One/Jon: Personally I feel that this is the first convincing win for the Xbox One. Xbox One delivers a wider variety of quality exclusive games than its rival right now, more than matching inFamous with the likes of Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, Super Time Force, Zoo Tycoon and more. And that Titanfall thing, which is apparently very popular. Sony's indie and F2P push is laudable but, frankly, almost all of those games were available on PC months ago or launched on other platforms day-and-date. Transistor included.
E3 is just around the corner. Expect BIG announcements on both sides - almost certainly enough to guarantee a PS4 under my Christmas tree. But right now, as things stand, I feel that you can have more FUN on Xbox One.
Winner: Xbox One
Media & Entertainment
PS4/Matt: Get back to me when Sony actually allow common media files to be played on their black box of tricks. I know the PS4 is all about the games, but an entertainment box that doesn't play MP3s? Are you f#$%ing kidding me?! This one is a cakewalk for Microsoft, because Sony actively removed functionality that has been de rigeur for the last decade. Idiots.
Xbox One/Jon: TV TV TV TV.
That horrible reveal event still stings, but at least the Xbox One is a decent media hub and the Commander Of All Living Room Technology. Loads of streaming providers are supported and Bing voice searches are very helpful. HDMI passthrough adds a fun extra flourish following the 60Hz debacle, especially since OneGuide is finally in European beta. However, the lack of Media Centre Extender functionality or DNLA streaming beyond PlayTo is embarrassing and makes us very angry indeed.
You know, since the PS3 and Xbox 360 are arguably more competent at being "all in one."
Winner: Xbox One... just
DVR & Gameplay Streaming
PS4/Matt: Now that Sony have dropped their obnoxious enforcement of HDCP for games, this one's fairly even. The Share functionality is excellent in terms of pressing a button on the DualShock 4, effortlessly trimming your clip, and then uploading your masterpiece, but everything else is borked. It's understandable perhaps that there are memory limitations in terms of the duration of your shadow capture (15 mins at least beats the Xbone's paltry five), but only letting you upload to Facebook in hideously ugly compressed fashion ruins everything. Still, at least there's Twitch.
Xbox One/Jon: I don't feel that either console has realised its potential on this front yet. Xbox One's pathetic DVR capacity (5 minutes tops) is a crying shame, as is the aggravating workflow required to actually record that gameplay, but at least "Xbox, record that!" is an efficient way to record brilliant kills or epic plays for posterity. More to the point, the Youtube app finally lets us loose our videos into the wild, even if we have to go through an extra step in the standalone app. SkyDrive also lets us easily start editing files on PC. Wonderful... but again, five minutes?!
The Twitch app is fantastic. I don't use it much myself, but it's powerful yet simple and has been brilliantly embedded into the core user experience.
Winner: Draw -- both must do better
Value For Money
PS4/Matt: This one is tricky. Honestly, I'm not sure either of them offer huge value for money right now, because it all comes down to the games, and it all depends on the bundles you can get and what games you're interested in. PlayStation Plus might swing it for Sony, but the freebies on there haven't exactly been terribly inspired (unless you have a PS3 and/or Vita in which case its the best thing ever). This'll become a much more interesting question come Christmas, or just after convention season has finished, but for now I'm going with that Wii U Mario Kart 8 Tesco Bundle.
Is that a cop-out?
Xbox One/Jon: The PS4 knocked this category into a cocked hat at launch. Now... I'm not so sure. Bundles are the key: now that Titanfall and/or other games are available with the console and Kinect for £399.99, you're actually getting more for your money than a solus PS4 at £349.99. Though, of course, you're paying more too. I appreciate that the Kinect-less bundle will weigh in at £349.99, but it hasn't arrived yet.
Oh... hang on. PlayStation Plus. With free Outlast, Mercenary Kings and more so far this year, the PS4 does have an ace in the hole.
The Mario Kart 8 Tesco Bundle... PC...PS3...Xbox 360...3DS... hey, look over there!
The Totally Impartial, Objective Winner?
We had to debate this point further with the aid of someone who doesn't own a PS4 or Xbox One. You listen to the resultant discussion above.
It gets heated and occasionally NSFW at times.
So Which Should You Buy?
So here it is. The Big Question. Which console should you buy right now as of May 2014?
The Big Question deserves a Big Answer... so here's the biggest we could muster.
The new console generation has stumbled out of the blocks. Strong sales figures (notably on Sony's end) aside, both machines suffer from limited exclusive game libraries and need more updates to realise their clear potential. More to the point, third party developers have refused to let go of the last generation, meaning that there's a real dearth of games that actually look and play "next-gen." You're laying down £350+ for an incremental update right now.
This is all going to change, of course! E3 is just around the corner, promising huge announcements and essential must-have games for us to salivate over. Over the next six-to-twelve months, we'll see genuinely next-gen games titles on the hardware and demand our attention. Sony's legendary first-party studios will spoil us with truly lovely things, while Microsoft's pockets run deep.
But here's the thing: both consoles will still be around in six months. You can argue that they're an investment, but in reality they're only as good as the games you can play right now - which are either slightly shinier versions or not quite as good as the stuff you can play on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, handhelds and PC. Save your money, earn some interest -- hell, perhaps even make a real short-term investment or two -- then buy a next-gen console with the games you really want. Not the ones you have to choose from.
Controversial? Maybe. But we're all about saving you money here at Dealspwn.com, and as of May 2014, the smart play is the waiting game.
It will be a very different story come Christmas.