Gaming at Home – Part 2: Consoles – PlayStation or Xbox?

The Heavy Hitters

Be prepared for an answer you might not be expecting

So everyone hears about the ‘Console Wars’ every few years. The apparent winner is the console that sells more consoles.

Like all statistics, this can be a good indicator and very misleading. The Xbox 360, for example, got a sales boost with early adopters especially having to buy a second console after the ‘Red Ring of Death‘.

Now before you jump on me for being a PlayStation fanboy (which I have already admitted I am), I will always agree Xbox 360 won that generation. Not because of sales numbers though. In my opinion, it won on the strength of its gaming experience.

The PlayStation 3 was an incredible technical achievement. The Cell processor was ahead of its time in many ways, and capable of computational feats that only enterprise level processors could rival.

The achievement of the Cell processor was, unfortunately, paired with ‘interesting’ decisions from Sony. The cell processor made developing games for the PlayStation 3 difficult even for Sony backed development studios. These difficulties translated to strange performance comparisons with the Xbox 360. Not only that, but there were also many PlayStation only bugs and titles that had to be cancelled because it was too hard to build well.

Xbox 360 vs PS3
One was a technical powerhouse. The other worked better most of the time.

Why am I going on about old consoles? Gamers (fanboys in particular) can have a selective memory span. Every piece of tech has problems, and consoles are amalgamations of lots of technologies – both hardware and software.

I loved my PS3, and the exclusive titles were so much fun! I don’t regret my PS3 at all, and I wish mine still worked for some of the games. Wihle I have fond memories, the hard truth is in terms of performance it was generally better to get the Xbox version for a more consitent gaming experience.

Remember – while the internet hype/consenses have degrees of truth, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily true for you. Looking at a lot of the PS5/Xbox Series X headlines, think about last generation where the ‘technically inferior’ console was the better gaming experience. Numbers aren’t everything.

OK, history lesson delivered. What has this got to do with today?

My Xbox One S is my first Xbox console. I played the Resident Evil 3 demo first on it. I am having almost as much fun on it as my PS4 Pro. Why am I having more fun on my PS4? Because I have more of the games I want to play on the PlayStation.

That’s it. Graphically, both run nicely. I haven’t played many cross-platform titles, but that will be changing with the Resident Evil 3 demo. That’s why I am using a title that isn’t for everyone in the comparison pictures below – it’s the only game I have to compare them.

Can you pick which console is which? I am using a section with reflections to help.

Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 1
See those reflections? That is a simple take on what Ray Tracing does, and neither console supports it!
Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 2
Both photos were taken with the internal capture capabilities. I didn't match the brightness unfortunately.

On the left is the PS4 Pro, on the right the Xbox One S. Yes one is sharper, but I think that is more the capture software of the PS4.

Bottom line though, don’t they both look amazing? Playing the demo on both systems was amazing. The only real difference is radio chatter comes from the speaker in the DualShock 5. It sounds silly, but this was a nice touch.

From a gaming experience perspective, it’s hard to go wrong with either choice. That’s right – it doesn’t matter from a hardware perspective if you choose PlayStation or Xbox. What does matter is that the console has the games you want to play.

Want to play God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man or other PlayStation exclusives? Get a PlayStation. Really want to play Halo? Get an Xbox. That’s it. Hardware-wise, that’s all you need to know about the consoles.

That’s it? Buy the one I want? What kind of advice is that?

If that were the end of this little piece, it would be a very unsatisfactory ending. Also, I didn’t say buy the one you want – I said if you’re going to play certain games, you need to buy a specific console. There is still a lot that needs to be looked at and evaluated.

All I am trying to say now is there is no real way you can make the wrong choice from a hardware perspective. However, the console choice is only ever the start of the story.

There are many other factors to take into consideration, and now at the dawn of the generation crossover, you can look at these factors with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight rather than hoping you picked the right crystal ball.

Subscription Services

It doesn’t matter what console you choose, I do recommend getting there respective online gaming subscription. You need to if you want to play online, but when looking past that requirement, there are different pros and cons.

PlayStation Plus
Microsoft Game Pass

PlayStation Plus gives you a couple of free games a month, store discounts, and access to cloud saves just in case. PlayStation Plus will set you back AUD$80 a year if you pay upfront, or AUD$12 a month if you renew monthly for a total of $144 a year.

Over on Xbox, technically you need Xbox Live, or Gold, or Live Gold – it gets confusing. I keep talking about Game Pass. This is the service that made me finally buy an Xbox. Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive than PlayStation Plus, but you get a lot more included for the price.

Game Pass Ultimate is Game Pass for Xbox and PC combined with Xbox Gold (the Xbox version of PlayStation Plus) all wrapped up in one. So for AUD$16 a month, you get online multiplayer, 2 free games, and access to over one hundred titles you can play for free while on Game Pass.

Even better, the Game Pass games include all Microsoft Studios Games released at the same time as their retail versions. Want to play all of the Halo games? The Master Chief collection is waiting, and Halo Infinite will be available straight away.

So while Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive, having the ability to play hundreds of games for no extra is phenomenal value. PlayStation does have the PlayStation Now service, but here in Australia it’s not an option for us so it’s not a fair comparison.

Virtual Reality

PlayStation Virtual Reality
There is a lot of extras required to play VR, not just a headset. Kits like this are the best way to go.

I love VR, but I will be the first to qualify that the tech is still trying to find it’s feet. The PSVR is a lot of fun, and I am waiting to set it back up properly in the new house. I miss Beat Saber! :p

As much as I love VR, it is an expensive experiment. I am not trying to tell you to stay away from it – if you are interested, that’s awesome! But there are only a handful of what I would call great VR games. Everything else are good VR ‘experiences’.

With the introduction of the Oculus Quest, PSVR (PlayStation Virtual Reality) isn’t the cheapest way to get into VR gameplay anymore. Also, while the PS5 will be compatible with the current PSVR, there is a newer revision coming, and the PSVR showed it’s age tech-wise even when first released.

So while I wouldn’t recommend VR as a must-have accessory today, if you want to experience VR on a console PlayStation is your only choice without going Oculus Quest or a PC system capable of VR gaming.

Must-Have Accessories

Second controllers, Charging Stations, Vertical Mounts – the accessory list for both consoles barring PSVR is almost identical, both in functionality and costs.

Overall, I would recommend a second controller when you buy a system. Even if you live alone, you never know when you might need a charged controller after a long session. Even better, you don’t know when you might have someone over to share a game with!

There are lots of different levels of controller available, from cheap budget wired versions to almost console priced ‘Pro’ controllers. I would buy the standard controller that came with your system. i.e. if you go PlayStation, get a DualShock 4. If you go Xbox, get an Xbox controller. Both cost about the AUD$90 mark and both controllers will work the same if you switch.

Controllers
Yes you can do better, but with the stock controllers you know what you are getting for your dollar

If you do go Xbox, I would also add a rechargeable battery pack and charger to your accessory list. You can get combos like the Energizer Xbox One Dual Charger for AUD$50, and this gives you two charge packs with white and black backs to match your controller with a charging stand. Why would I do this? Xbox still uses AA batteries for their controllers and buying those adds up in both cost and waste.

There are a lot of other things you can upgrade your console with, like new bigger hard drives (even SSDs) and the like. When you start looking at costs like this, I would suggest a reliable external USB 3 hard drive for simplicity. Both systems let you install games to an external drive, and the performance is comparable to the internal storage. I would only worry about that when your installed library grows down the track.

Xbox One Charger Stand
Because of the AA battery requirement, kits like this are better for Xbox users

The big question – do you upgrade to the PS4 Pro or Xbox Series X?

This is the tricky one. Do you go the ‘base’ experience or the ‘unrivalled power’ of the upgraded units?

The Heavy Hitters
Do you need to go big straight away? Remember - wanting isn't needing :p

Will you be playing on a 4K TV? If not, then I would seriously weigh up spending the money on the beefier consoles. You will generally get smoother frame rates with the Pro and One X, but playing with the base system is still a great experience.

I play with my Xbox One S on my 4K TV in 4K mode, and only once have I been tempted to drop to 1080p for frame rate issues. Playing The Outer Worlds and the Resident Evil 3 Demo in 4K on my Xbox One S was fun and worry free, even after coming back to it from my PC.

As I said, if you do experience frame rate stutters, you can just drop the output resolution. 1080p on my TV still looks beautiful, but your TV may be different. I only see the image problems when using 720p and lower resolutions. Remember, 4K gaming is gorgeous visually, but it means outputting 4 x 1080p screens worth of pixels at once, and all but ultra-high-end PCs can do this reliably. Even those systems will have issues at times, so don’t be too hard on your console if it has problems now and then!

There is one exception to this rule for me. If you are going to buy a PSVR, I will recommend the Pro over the base PS4. Playing games like Beat Saber on the base PS4 is fine, but if you get into beefier games like Skyrim VR and even Moss, more people will suffer motion sickness on the base system than on the Pro. Why? The Pro can push out more frames, giving a smoother experience.

Once you get past the 4K TV question, most of the other items kind of melt away. If your TV supports HDR, your system will turn on the nice lighting features for you. There are factors you would have heard like Input Lag and Response Times, but this has everything to do with the TV and little to do with the console. I will talk about all of these things when I speak about monitors in future articles.

So what do you think I should get?

Today, unless you know you wanted specific PS4 titles, the Xbox One S with Game Pass Ultimate is the best deal around. For a known fixed price, you can play all of the major Xbox exclusives without spending any more cash.

There is also the advantage of Microsoft saying there will be no Xbox Series X exclusives for the first two years of the new console. Now, this doesn’t mean there won’t be new titles, and Microsoft has also said that if you get the Xbox One version of any of their games, you will upgrade to the Xbox Series X version automatically. So you know with certainty that if you buy a console today, you won’t be missing out on new titles for a while still having a vast catalogue of games to play in the meantime.

If you have a 4K TV and want the most out of your console, now that the current generation is ending the Xbox One X will be coming up on sale making the upgrade cheaper if you time it right.

But again – unless you want to play the other consoles exclusive games, it is very hard to go wrong. The only way to have a ‘better’ experience is going PC, and that involves more money and a bit more tweaking on your part.

Yes – PC gaming tends to involve more involvement on your part than just playing games! That is why I recommend either console if you just want to get into gaming. Both consoles are a solid entry choice, and will let you enjoy thousands of hours of gameplay.

Soon, I will start talking about the world of PC gaming and why it is a rabbit hole of chocies to tackle.

But that, as they say, is for a future series. 🙂

Questions?

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD