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We've now seen the next generation of major gaming consoles unveiled (well, mostly - we still don't know what the PS4 console will actually look like), and it looks like the Xbox One is ready for the future, while the PS4 sadly clings on to the bygone---and less profitable---era of hardcore gaming.
It really comes down to the consoles' names, at least symbolically. Sony's new console, the PS4, is just another iteration of what they've been doing for about 20 years. Microsoft's entertainment system, the Xbox One, is meant to integrate all of your disparate home entertainment options into a single box. Oh, and you can play games on it too.
Expansion vs. Improvement
There's no doubt that both the PS4 and the Xbox One will have better graphics than their current counterparts, with boosted RAM, CPUs and GPUs. Both consoles promise an eight-core processor and 8 gigs of RAM, for example. But really, the boosted hardware isn't a huge improvement, considering the fact the we've been waiting the better part of a decade for this generation and can expect to wait just as long for the next---assuming that there is a generation of consoles after this.
One of the things that left people underwhelmed at the PS4 unveiling was that most of the game visuals looked great, but not mind-blowingly different, as the PS3 had looked compared to its predecessor. The same is true about the Xbox One---yes it's an improvement, but not nearly as exciting---from a "revolutionary visuals" point of view---as, say, the scrappy startup Oculus Rift.
And, if you really want great gaming graphics and the ability to improve them further as soon as better technology is available, you probably are a PC gamer, since the PC has always, and will always, have an edge over consoles in terms of upgrade ability. Finally, considering the fact that new consoles will, as always, come at a relatively hefty price point, there has to be more than improved graphics on the table.
The PS4's Edge
Both the PS4 and Xbox One are offering new features beyond better hardware specs. Many of the PS4's new features are centered around gaming, and it offers some things that the Xbox lacks. The PS4's new controller has a touchscreen and integrated lightbar for motion tracking, while the Xbox One has the comparable Kinect, which comes standard, but doesn't offer a touchscreen as an integral part of its gaming platform. Additionally, the PS4 will allow you to jump between the portable Vita and your console in the middle of a game---something the Xbox does not allow for.
The PS4 will feature some improvements meant to bring the social aspect of gaming into the future. They're integrating Facebook into the Playstation Network, even putting a "Share" button on their controllers to connect with friends at the push of a button. And at the PS4 unveiling, they even featured a way for players to get help from friends on particularly difficult parts of games, a kind of screen-sharing for consoles.
Xbox One isn't as clear about putting social media components first on the agenda, but it's definitely going to be a part of their larger collection of non-gaming services. Skype is integrated on the Xbox, with HD chat using the Kinect's camera. Also, the home screen will have trending movies, TV, apps, and, of course, games that your friends are using. But there isn't as much gaming-central social integration as what Sony is offering.
It's the movies, TV, and apps emphasis that is the key to why the Xbox One is the future of consoles, while the PS4 is just another good gaming system.
One of the things that drives Apple-haters crazy is that there are plenty of PCs out there with far better specs and performance than any Apple computer and they usually cost less and are more flexible. But Steve Jobs was a genius at integrating all of the things people wanted to do with computers into one simple box.
Ironically, that's what Microsoft is doing now with the Xbox One. Instead of focusing on new features for their controllers, the Xbox will mostly work without any controllers at all. With Kinect integration, you'll be able to access streaming apps, movies, Skype and TV with voice commands. And, by TV, they don't just mean your Hulu or Netflix apps.
The Xbox One also has an HDMI throughput so you can watch cable or satellite through the Xbox. It turns the One into a networked channel guide, with the ability to pin favorite shows to the home screen. Add the ability to Skype chat with your friends on screen while watching TV, and you've got an integrated "second screen" experience---the kind of thing media watchers have been looking for to make live TV interesting, and worth paying for, again. And speaking of second screens, the Xbox One will also come with full-feature SmartGlass integration out-of-the-box.
On top of all of those features, Xbox is getting into making original content, like Hulu and Netflix have, starting with a Steven Spielberg-directed live action Halo TV series. It's unclear where else Xbox One will go with original content or how successful it will be, but that's an entirely new direction for a gaming console to go. It's just another example of the bold, experimental attitude that makes Xbox One the full-feature future of consoles.