Xbox One vs. PS4: How Useful Are They As Entertainment Systems?

Xbox One vs. PS4: How Useful Are They As Entertainment Systems?

How have the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 fared as shiny new additions to USgamer's entertainment centers? Jaz, Jeremy, and Mike talk about their trials and tribulations with these cutting edge, all-in-one gaming/media machines.

With November 22 finally behind us, we've now officially crossed the rubicon: next generation is now current generation. Both systems are just black gaming boxes on the surface, but they break off into very different directions from their forebears. We here at USgamer have already let you know what we think of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in their own right, but how do we feel now that both systems have slotted themselves into our entertainment centers? Jaz, Jeremy, and Mike dispense with their feelings about Microsoft's and Sony's new offerings out of the box.

Mike:The first thing I did with my Xbox One (after it had finished its day one update) was to download Netflix, Amazon Instant, and the Blu-Ray player. Only after I had downloaded all of my media apps did I get my first game, which happened to be Killer Instinct. I think that's a holdover from my time with the Xbox 360, which eventually became my media center box; I began the generation playing games primarily on Xbox 360 and eventually transitioned to the PlayStation 3 as my main gaming machine. I probably would've binned the 360 except for exclusives, but the Kinect kept the system alive as a media box for me.

Netflix is still available everywhere, on any device with a screen.

While the Kinect isn't all that great for a game system, it's pretty awesome for a media box. The first time I stopped a film on Netflix by saying "Xbox pause," I knew I had seen the future. The Xbox One comes with the new Kinect and while it still isn't perfect, I'd say it only misses one out of ten of my voice commands. That's good enough for prime time in my mind.

Jeremy: My first impression of Xbox One was really favorable. I hooked it up to my main entertainment center and messed around with its non-game functions, and it all worked reasonably well. But I ultimately don't see any value in using my Xbox One as the command center for watching TV, since my media center basically just consists of a TV, a Blu-ray player, and a cable box with integrated DVR. I can run the cable box through the console, but there's no real point to it; it basically just lets me do the same thing as the standalone box, but with a higher electric bill and more of a boot-up time. And my cable box remote can turn my television on and off, which (unless I missed it somewhere) my Xbox One can't.

But after using it a little more, I don't feel like the Xbox One is all it's cracked up to be. It's a big deal that the system allocates a big chunk of RAM to non-game functions, but switching between a game and a non-game app isn't nearly as instantaneous as we were promised. And the interface is just unreasonably clunky at times; the Achievements list, for example, uses a ton of screen real estate to do the same thing the old Achievements index did.

The main screen of the console seems a lot more cluttered than it needs to be. I've yet to be impressed by the graphics of a single game I've played. And the one game I've tried on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 -- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag -- looks hugely better on PS4, where it also includes exclusive content. Meanwhile, every game designed specifically for Xbox One constantly begs for your money via microtransactions. Crimson Dragon is by far the worst, but all the games are egregious... especially something like Dead Rising 3. I already paid $60 for this game! If you're going to adopt a free-to-play model for all your games, Microsoft, you could at least bring the good part of that format (the "free" aspect) along with the bad (the endless pay-to-win nagging).

Every game designed specifically for Xbox One constantly begs for your money via microtransactions.

Forza 5 expects you to shell out for those digital luxury cars.

So, my first impression was really favorable. But the more I use Xbox One, the less enamored I am with it.

Mike: Yeah, as a game system, the Xbox One currently leaves a bit to be desired. Yes, it's a decent little gaming box if it's your one-and-only, but put it up against the PlayStation 4 and you can see Microsoft's focus lies in a different direction.

As with most consumer electronics, launch day buyers are just part of an extended beta.


By the by, the Xbox One can turn your television on and off... if it works. In my current setup, the Xbox One turns on the TV and cable box, but for some reason it doesn't turn off my TV. It's a weird little thing that works for most people, but doesn't work for me. Others who have tried to use the Xbox One to control their audio receivers have found similar issues. It's all a bit scatterbrained and hit-or-miss. As with most consumer electronics, launch day buyers are just part of an extended beta.

Jaz: Straight out of the box, Xbox One is a bit of a beast. It's not enormous, but I did have to do some serious rearranging to fit it into my home entertainment setup. Much of the problem is giving it enough space to breathe. It has vents on the top and both sides, and when it's on, you can feel it sucking in gobs of air. It's quiet though, I'll give you that. The drive sounds like a jet fighter when it's loading, but at least the machine doesn't sound like a 747 on the tarmac before takeoff like the 360.

Everything was easy enough to set up. It failed to start its day one download at the first attempt, but when I reset it and tried again, it all went off without a hitch. Once up and running, I slotted Forza 5 into the drive, and got ready to play. Only to realize that it needed a mammoth update. But a mere hour or so later, everything was ready. That two-and-change hours setup time is the longest of any gaming system I've ever owned, the shortest being the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, whose unboxing-to-playing time was 5 or so minutes. Those were the days...

The Xbox One is a bit of a beast next to the PlayStation 4. [Image via TechCrunch]

Oh, and one thing I think is just nickle-and-dime shitty is the Xbox One's controller. It comes with a pair of AA batteries to get you up and running, but if you want to turn the controller into a typically modern rechargeable unit so you can avoid shoveling batteries into it, you have to buy a rechargeable battery pack and lead as a $25 extra item. It's a minor gripe, but it just feels really poor that a $500 system that comes with just one controller doesn't have those two items as standard. It almost feels like the microtransaction-heavy philosophy I'm seeing in many Xbox One games has now been rolled out into the real world. Whatever next? If you'd like the "Y" button to function, please buy the 99 cents "Bonus Button Bonanza Package."

Mike: Yeah, Ryse for me took an hour and 38 minutes to install and for half of that, there was almost no indication the system was doing anything. There's also no downloads list so you can track progress of your downloads, so the system just... does its thing while you wait. I worry for the poor fools that were ready to play Ryse or Forza 5 right after the midnight launch only to be stuck with the system's day one update and the lengthy install times for those games. Others have reported shorter install times, so maybe it's just my system.

Jaz: Unlike Mike, I didn't bother to set up my Xbox One as an entertainment unit. My PS3 has been doing that job superbly for years, and I can't see any reason to retire it right now. Indeed, as we go into 2014 and my trusty old PS3 is finally relieved of its primary gaming duties, I'll likely clear out its hard drive except for a few key indie games and use it as a permanent entertainment system. Xbox One is also incompatible with my current cable setup, thus rendering it even less useful for my non-gaming needs.

The machine is fast and is easy to get around, but the voice commands just don't seem to work well for me at all.

Jaz's English accent is a no-go for Kinect. [Image via WinSuperSite]

The machine is fast and is easy to get around, but the voice commands just don't seem to work well for me at all. It hears my girlfriend most of the time - she got it to switch itself off the other day - but I have to yell at it, and it only ever seems to hear the word "Xbox," and is mystified by whatever I say afterwards. Perhaps it's my English accent, but then again, this machine is supposed to be able to understand different languages. Or perhaps it's the acoustics in my room? Others have reported that Xbox One rarely misunderstands them, while others also have the deafness issue. Maybe we'll find out what the problem is at some point, and they'll patch it or make recommendations about a more optimal setup.

Mike: I've had few problems with the Kinect voice commands and they tend to be more reliable than similar commands on the PlayStation 4. There's the occasional times where it misunderstands, but for the most part it's been smooth sailing. The problem with that is when the sailing is smooth, any bumps are noticeable. The one time out of ten that the Xbox One doesn't understand what I'm saying is frustrating.

There's also the problem of the system not having enough commands to perform relatively simple functions. It's easy to start watching TV, but how do you turn it off without opening another app? Microsoft hides functions behind closed doors, or completely omits them. How do you get to System Settings? It's one of the buttons that replaced Start and Select on the new controller, but I'll be damned if Microsoft let people know that. I had to Google that to find an answer and that shouldn't be the case. Microsoft doesn't want users to peer behind the curtain, but it's holding back useful functions to force the idea of 'simple' upon us.

In contrast, the PlayStation 4 keeps some of those functions off the starting Home screen, but it doesn't hide them from you.

The best PS4 games are cross-system ports, and I'm playing them more on Xbox One, simply because I have more friends on that system also playing those games.


Jaz: PlayStation 4 was extremely easy to set up, and its first-day download was a quick and painless experience. It's a fairly diminutive system, which enabled me to squeeze it into my entertainment unit atop my DVR with no fuss whatsoever. And there it sits, part shiny, and part matte, looking all svelte and next-gen-y. Barely used. Yep. I'm just not finding much of a reason to turn it on right now.

As with my Xbox One, I didn't bother to load any entertainment software for PS4, because I don't need to. So until we start seeing the next wave of releases - and all those interesting-looking PS4 indie games hit PSN - I can't see my PS4 getting a whole load of usage over the short-term. Resogun is very good indeed, but other than that, most of the best PS4 games are cross-system ports, and I'm playing them more on Xbox One, simply because I have more friends on that system also playing those games. This isn't an issue whatsoever - it's just the typical post-release lull after the pre-release storm. We've got many years ahead of us, and there's lots of great stuff to look forward to. Just like there is every generation.

Mike: If the Xbox One feels like an all-in-one entertainment box to me, the PlayStation 4 feels like it will be my main gaming machine in the future. While the exclusives aren't anything to crow about at launch, the multiplatform games look great on PS4 and the Dual Shock 4 is my controller of choice for this generation. That could change a few years from now: as I said before, I began the last generation with most of my game time on Xbox 360 and ended it playing mostly on PlayStation 3. I don't have the same problem when it comes to friends that Jaz does, because many of my friends game on both platforms (and PC).

Thankfully, the PlayStation 4 also features a UI that's built primarily to be navigated via a controller, while the Xbox One is this odd hybrid of controller and Kinect input. I like that Sony's system is straightforward. Yes, it has additional features like sharing to Twitter, Facebook, and Twitch. Yes, it has video apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant. But the focus of the system right now is playing games; unlike the Xbox One's day update, the PS4 can play games right out of the box. For some that simplicity trumps any extra entertainment features.

The PlayStation 4 Dynamic Menu does a better job of letting you get at system functions.

The PlayStation 4 doesn't have the same problems that Microsoft's console does when it comes to installing games. Yes, it does take a while to completely install game on the PlayStation 4, but they seem to have their stuff together: most games get you up and running quickly while the rest of the game installs in the background. Outside of my issues with Ryse, the Xbox One tried to do the same, but it has noticeably longer install times than PS4. The only PlayStation 4 game that's tripped me up so far was Battlefield 4 and that's because I chose to start the campaign first. When I got tired of the campaign and tried to switch over to multiplayer, the game had been busy installing the campaign. That meant multiplayer was only 70 percent done installing. Minor speed bump, because Battlefield 4 assumed I'd keep playing the campaign; the game does give you the option of which mode you want to start playing/installing when you first boot it up.

Jaz: In terms of both systems as entertainment boxes, neither have supplanted my prior-gen entertainment box. If Xbox One's TV functionality worked with my cable setup, I still don't think I'd use it. It just doesn't have the features and functionality of my fairly-sophisticated DVR setup. And I can live without doing the equivalent of giving my remote control to my deaf Grandad and then yelling at him to change the channel. I can type in two or three numbers myself just as easily. Music-wise, Apple has me covered. I'm running my digital stuff through a high-end DAC to make it sound as good as possible, so music functionality from a gaming box is superfluous to my needs. And the PS3 sounds stunning when playing movies through my Receiver, so I doubt whether there's much, if anything, to be gained there by swapping in a next gen machine for that purpose.

Ultimately, both these machines are great as all-in-one entertainment systems, and I'd give Xbox One the nod for having more going on. But I don't need their entertainment functionality. If you do, then great. But I'm using them to play games, which, fortunately, is something they're really good at doing. What a surprise!

After a strong first impression things are kind of settling down to a mundane reality full of not very many new games.


Jeremy: For me, both consoles still have a long way to go before they prove their worth. I'm sure they'll get there eventually, but after a strong first impression things are kind of settling down to a mundane reality full of not very many new games for quite a while. Business as usual for launches, of course, but the lack of backward compatibility kind of kills these machines in the short term. PlayStation 3 didn't have much to offer in the way of new material at launch, either, but it didn't matter -- once I ran out of PS3 games, I was playing recent PS2 releases, upscaled to look better than they did on PS2. There was no need for me to keep a PS2 kicking around, because my PS3 could do it all.

Since the new systems don't offer that luxury, I'm in a weird and annoying place where I need to keep five friggin' consoles at my desk and will continue to have to do so until PS3 and Xbox 360 content worth playing fizzles out. Games like Super T.I.M.E. Force, Lightning Returns, and Persona 5 (still a year away!) make it impossible to retire the old consoles. At the moment, there's a lot more I'd like to play on the old systems than the new, so guess which machines got shuttled off to the closet this week? Yeah, the shiny new ones. It made me feel a little queasy doing so, but the reality of the situation is that I wouldn't own either a PS4 or Xbox One quite yet if it weren't for work. They'll be great eventually, I don't doubt it, but there's still a lot of life to be wrung out of the previous generation. God, I can't even imagine limiting myself to trying desperately to wring some small droplet of fun from Knack, Crimson Dragon, or Killzone for the next two months.

I don't want to come off sounding too negative here, because I realize consoles are about the long view. I just wish there were a little more meat on the bone right now.

Killer Instinct is one of the Xbox One's standout games.

Mike: Launch wasn't as bad for me as the other gents. On the Xbox One side, Killer Instinct is legitimately great and on the PlayStation 4 I have a host of multi-platform titles that perform better than their current-gen counterparts. Are they exclusive? No, but I think that ship has mostly sailed unless you're first or second-party. I have things to play on PlayStation 4, and if I only had its rival, I'd have things to play on Xbox One.

As a game system, the PlayStation 4 is the center of my console world at this point, with its older brother as backup. The Xbox One stands as my entertainment rig, letting me stream for various apps and giving me convenient voice control. If Sony improves its additional media capabilities - I purchased a PlayStation Camera that's just so-so right now - I could see myself shifting towards Sony's platform as my main box for everything. It fits in my media cabinet much better than the comically-huge Xbox One, which currently sits on top of the cabinet, under the cable box.

Is it time to get rid of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? Not really.


And if you happen to have a PlayStation Vita, Vita Remote Play is a wonderful dark horse feature for the PlayStation 4. Like the Wii U's Off-TV Play, Vita Remote Play is great when you need to share the TV with family. And if you leave the system in standby, you can actually connect to your PS4 over WiFi elsewhere and keep playing. It's a great feature that I've used every night before going to bed.

Is it time to get rid of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? Not really. Like Jeremy says, some developers will be putting out games on those platforms until 2015 and there's no backwards-compatibility, so you'll need to keep you PS3 and 360 out if you want to catch those titles. That leaves enthusiasts with a very full media center: I currently have an Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PlayStation 2 hooked up. God forbid if I had an audio receiver or Roku. As it stands, I need an HDMI switcher; Microsoft and Sony have a lot of work to do to take that need away.

Jeremy: Yes, it's a brave new world we've entered. A world where you need two or three separate entertainment systems to juggle all your game consoles. That's quite a difference from the "all-in-one wired living room" Sony and especially Microsoft want us to buy into -- though in fairness, most people aren't going to be ridiculous enough to buy both of these new consoles this fall. We're different!

In the long view, my feelings haven't changed much at all. I still think I'll be spending more time with PS4 than any other console simply because of the wealth of independent software Sony has snatched up. Xbox One, on the other hand, is treading a dangerous path with its excessive pimping of microtransactions in every single first-party exclusive. I no longer play iPhone games because of that crap, Microsoft. You'd better believe I'm willing to drop your console like a rock if the future of your platform subjects me to endless F2P design compromises in games that cost $20-60. I can live a perfectly happy life without any one of the current consoles; the age of console exclusives is dead, baby, dead.

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