No one is safe here: At $400 for the PlayStation 4 and $500 for the Xbox One, both consoles are asking a lot from your bank account this holiday. If the prices weren't prohibitive enough, finding one of either is likely to prove challenging.
Of course, if there's a "winner" when comparing the prices of two similar products: It's the less expensive one. That logic applies here, as Sony's PlayStation 4 is just about evenly matched with the Xbox One's internals -- the extra $100 Microsoft's asking is to pay for the inclusion of Kinect 2.0. Whether you'll actually want the Kinect is another question altogether: It works far better than the previous version, but not 100 percent of the time. And when you're using Kinect as a control method, less than 100 percent of the time isn't good enough.
It's arguable that, with Microsoft's Xbox One, you're also getting an extra HDMI-in port with which to attach your favorite HDMI device (Redmond's assuming that's a cable TV box). But that's really more of a service than a physical representation of price disparity, isn't it?
In terms of sheer number of boxes ticked, the Xbox One handily outclasses the PlayStation 4 -- at least on paper. Xbox One has live TV, it has super-fast multitasking, and it otherwise matches the PS4 for features. Rather, it will match the PS4 in features when game broadcasting arrives at some point in early 2014. The question, then, is whether live TV via HDMI-in and the OneGuide (Xbox One's digital entertainment guide) is enough to make up for the $100 price difference.
To us, frankly, it isn't. Live TV is a neat addition, but many of us cut the cable long ago and both new consoles come with the standard streaming options as well as online stores.
That speedy multitasking, though -- boy is it faster than PS4. Not only is it faster, but it also allows four applications (including one game) to run all at the same time. It might not matter that much now, but it'll matter in the long run. All those saved minutes add up! In a few years, when these fancy new consoles aren't such spring chickens, the speed difference will really matter. For now, though, it's not enough for the extra $100.
The best games on both consoles right now -- Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and Battlefield 4 -- are available on both consoles (not to mention PC). The marquee exclusives on each console are, at best, middling. PlayStation 4 has Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall, while Xbox One has Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome. Of those five, only Forza Motorsport 5 feels like a finished console game (read: not like a rushed launch game). Of course, you'd better be really into racing if you're picking up Forza.
In this fight, neither is a clear winner. Ryse and Killzone are both gorgeous, but shallow, while Knack and Dead Rising 3 simply aren't very good. The real truth is that neither console is heavy on great games at launch -- which should surprise nobody, given the history of console launch games -- so it's really a question of which is more endearing. With Ryse, gameplay is at least a bit more innovative than Killzone's by-the-book standard first-person shooter approach.
PS4 also has Resogun, an inexpensive digital title that's basically a heavily updated version of Defender. It's a ton of fun, and especially good over Remote Play on Vita. We're hard-pressed to suggest either console based solely on the games metric, even if Resogun is far and away the best game available on either console thus far. Seriously, don't buy a $400 game system for a single game. That's crazy business.
We've already talked Kinect and live TV as the main service differences between the two, but what about the PlayStation 4's Remote Play feature? Well, in short, it's a pretty big deal. Should you own a Vita, the PS4 can stream everything it's outputting directly there; you can even control the PS4 using your Vita, navigating the OS as if you were on the PS4. It doesn't work perfectly -- triggers are mapped to the rear touch panel, which basically doesn't work at all -- but it works very, very well. Wanna keep playing Resogun while your significant other tunes in to PBS NewsHour? Remote Play makes that possible.
Another leg up the PS4 has over the Xbox One is in the DualShock 4. While the Xbox One gamepad has its own innovation in rumble triggers, the big change on the DS4 is a large, clickable, multi-touch touchpad. It works very well; it's comfortable to access; and it has the potential to meaningfully impact gameplay. And the touchpad isn't the only big addition on the DS4: A Share button takes gameplay broadcasting and makes it both easy and accessible. The Xbox One won't even have the ability to broadcast live gameplay until sometime next year, not to mention a button dedicated to making it instant on its gamepad.
So, which to buy?
Right now or this holiday, if you're buying a game console, you should buy a PlayStation 4. The game selection on both consoles is about equal, and the benefits the Xbox One offers outside of gaming currently aren't worth the extra dough. Even if you're all about live TV or fantasy sports, $500 is prohibitively expensive for a device that specializes in either (or both, for that matter).
The situation will change as time goes on, of course. When Titanfall launches in a few months, the Xbox One gets its must-own game and the PlayStation 4 is still missing that big system-selling hit. And prices will drop, and broadcasting will arrive, and any number of other things could change the equation. You're not making a mistake buying either console right now, but if you're looking for the best game console of the two to buy this holiday, the choice is clear. And, thankfully, less expensive.