How to choose the best PlayStation or Xbox console
Video game consoles are supposed to be easy. Buy one, plug it into your TV, and you're all set to play every game.
While many console makers have come and gone, today there are only two main players – Sony and Microsoft. Of course, Nintendo is still incredibly popular, but its hybrid Switch console isn’t really in competition with either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
These two mainstream console titans are where you’ll find the latest AAA games. With a focus on horsepower and eye-popping graphics, the only place you’ll find more impressive gaming is on the PC. At a price, of course.
The real question is how to decide which platform you should buy. The simplest answer is to buy both, but that’s obviously not an affordable or sensible option for most people. If you’ve decided to go the console route over the gaming PC, then which is better?
The truth is that which product is “better” has more to do with your own values, tastes, and circumstances than any sort of objective superiority. To help you pick aside, here are a few key points to consider when it comes to the PlayStation vs Xbox battle.
Where Do My Friends Play?
For many people, video games are largely a social hobby. Multiplayer titles are more popular than ever and a major selling point for modern consoles. If you’re the type of gamer that’s heavily invested in online gaming with your pals, then the decision has almost been made for you.
For the most part, you can only play with other players on the same platform as you. So if all your friends have gone with the PS4 or, alternatively, the Xbox, you’ll have to follow suit.
That being said, all the console manufacturers are starting to warm up to the idea of cross-platform play. So this may not be a problem in the long term. Specific titles already let you play with gamers on other consoles or even the PC. Barring specific technical limitations, that may very well become the norm in the future.
Consoles are merely a means to an end. We don’t want the console for its own sake, we want to play video games! Each console brand has exclusive franchises and titles, which are often funded and developed by the console maker itself. Either through a studio it owns or one it’s contracted to develop exclusive games.
For example, the Halo and Forza games are considered system sellers for Xbox. Gran Turismo and the God of War series would be examples from the Playstation side of things.
Picking between consoles can often be a matter of choosing which set of the exclusive games you want to play more. There are a few things to keep in mind here, to help you decide.
Firstly, true exclusives are relatively rare these days. With the exception of first-party titles, many exclusive games are actually “timed” exclusives. This means that if you wait long enough, it will come to the platform of your choice.
You should also consider that consoles get cheaper as the generation heads towards its end. So if you’re willing to wait, you can play the other platform’s exclusive titles later in the generational cycle, when the best deals are on offer. If the exclusives on one side of the fence feel like the sort of titles you can’t be patient for, then you should listen to your gut and buy the console that supports them.
Both Xbox and Playstation have a long history of consoles with fantastic games, but can you play any of them on the latest generation of the console? Being able to play older titles on newer systems is a feature known as “backwards compatibility.”
In its true sense, it means having the ability to take the original disc from the older console, popping it into the new machine and playing your game. From that point of view, only the Xbox One has backwards compatibility between the two current-generation consoles. You can put your Xbox 360 or original Xbox discs into your Xbox One console and play them.
This does have a few caveats, however. Only games on a supported list will work and the game doesn’t actually play from your original disc. The disc is proof of ownership, which gives you access to a tested digital version of the game. Which means you do need an active internet connection and the patience to wait for a download.
It’s not universal backwards compatibility then, but chances are plenty of your existing Xbox 360 and Original games will work. If you don’t own the discs, you can always simply buy the digital versions of these games.
On the PS4, things look very different. There is no PlayStation 1 compatibility at all, at least not at the time of writing. This feature may be added to the PS4 (and PS5) at some point, but right now that’s not the case. This makes the PS4 the first Sony console to lack PS1 compatibility. Likewise, PS2 and PS3 discs won’t work.
That’s not to say you can play any games from the PS1, PS2 and PS3 games on your PS4. Many popular titles have been ported to the PS4 and you can buy them as digital downloads. However, your original discs do not entitle you to these versions and they have been painstakingly reworked to play on the new console.
The power and performance of video game consoles have always been fertile ground for heated debate. Especially when it comes to cross-platform games, where you can compare image quality and performance directly. This is also the easiest area within which to rank the consoles.
There are actually two PS4 and two Xbox One performance levels, making for four models in total. Here they are ranked from weakest to most powerful:
- Xbox One and One S
- Playstation 4
- Playstation 4 Pro
- Xbox One X
If you want to know more details about the two high-performance models, check out our article on how to pick between the base and “pro” models of each brand. In both cases, if you are buying a new console anyway, it’s worth going with the higher-end models if you can. That’s if you put a high priority on the technical performance of video games.
Game developers ensure that their games are fun and playable on the base models of each console. So it’s not a question of bad versus good gaming experiences. Rather, it’s a question of good versus better.
When you decide to go with either Playstation vs Xbox, you are not just picking a console. You are also choosing an ecosystem. Both brands come with their own paid online subscriptions, which give you access to multiplayer as well as free monthly games. In addition, members may get exclusive content or price discounts.
Both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold are competitive with each other, but you may find one to be more to your liking than the other. For example, you lose access to PlayStation Plus “free” titles if your subscription lapses, which is not true for Games with Gold titles.
Microsoft also has the industry-leading Game Pass service, which works a bit as Netflix does, but for video games. There’s a library of titles that you can download and play as long as you’re a subscriber. Even better, you can pay for a version of Game Pass that gives you access to titles on both Xbox and Windows.
Virtual reality is better and more affordable than ever, but it’s still pretty expensive. The most cost-effective AAA VR experience you can get today comes from Sony’s PS4, through the use of the PSVR add-on.
The PlayStation 4 is the only console that offers VR gaming, so if you are at all interested in VR and don’t want to invest in a PC-based setup, you should strongly consider the PlayStation 4.
Playstation Vs Xbox: The Next Generation
At the time of writing, details about the PlayStation 5 and next-generation Xbox are starting to emerge. It’s still far too early to make good decisions about which of these consoles are best, but your choices during the current generation will have an impact on that decision.
Both consoles are almost certain to be backwards compatible with at least the current generation of consoles. Which means you can seamlessly move your game collection over to the new machines when they launch.
Given how expensive video games are, it’s a daunting idea to re-buy your video games on a new brand of the gaming machine. So do keep that in mind when thinking about which way you’d like to go today.