The next-generation video game console war is upon us.
Sure, Nintendo technically kicked off the eighth-generation of machines last year with the Wii U. But for core gamers the real battle started last Friday when Sony launched the PlayStation 4, and tomorrow, Nov. 22, with the release of Microsoft's Xbox One.
Some people will inevitably buy both this holiday season, but for many gamers the obvious question is going to be: Which one to get?
We've spent significant time with both consoles. Here's how they compare on their key features.
There's little doubt that both represent a big step up in graphical fidelity. Both have processors and graphics chips comparable to current high-end PCs.
The differences are most noticeable in games that are being released for both next-generation and older consoles, such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Such games look great on the existing PS3 and Xbox 360, but they look sharper, crisper and brighter on next-gen thanks to greater details and more textures.
Stone walls and riverbeds in Call of Duty look good on the 360, for example, but on the Xbox One they pop into three dimensions.
The improvements will become even more obvious over time as developers figure out how to stretch the hardware. A few years from now, games on the new consoles will put their launch titles to shame, the same way that recent 360 and PS3 games now look worlds ahead of their predecessors.
That said, the PS4 has a slight graphical edge out of the box thanks to marginally more visual processing capability.
Of course, how that plays out over time will depend on how difficult the hardware is to figure out for developers.
The Xbox 360 arguably had the best controller of any console to date, a likely factor in why it became a preferred choice for many fans of shooters and action games.
Understanding this, Sony went back to the drawing board and came up with a beauty for the PS4.
The new Dualshock 4 controller is slightly bigger and heavier, which is good because it feels more substantial. Its bottom shoulder buttons are also trigger-shaped, which should make it more of a contender for shooter fans.
The PS4 also features a touchpad that can be used to add quick commands into games, as well as a miniature speaker through which game audio can play. The Wii U's gamepad did this as well — it's a nice addition that allows for new game enhancements.
The Dualshock 4 also doubles as a motion controller and has a "share" button that lets you quickly upload gameplay screen shots and videos to Facebook and Twitter, or broadcast your game via Twitch or Ustream.
On the Xbox One, meanwhile, the controller is largely unchanged, with the exception of vibrating triggers — yet another bonus for shooter fans. The thumb sticks are a little smaller and the controller still takes AA batteries. The PS4's is rechargeable via micro-USB port.
While both controllers are now more on par in performance and feel, the Dualshock 4 has a definite edge thanks to all the new technologies it packs in, plus its recharge ability.
Sony is billing the PS4 as the console of choice for core gamers. But Xbox One has core gamers — which, let's face it, will be the main buyers of the new consoles this holiday season — well covered.
Ryse: Son of Rome, Forza 5 and Killer Instinct are all aimed at core gamers, while the zombie mayhem of Dead Rising 3, from Capcom Vancouver, looks to be the next-generation game to watch. (Not only does it feature sharp graphics, the game is also a great showcase of the Xbox One's power as it packs an unprecedented number of zombies on-screen at once.)
Sony's exclusives at launch are relatively light, with the Killzone: Shadowfall shooter the lone big "core gamer" title.
It's got fantastic graphics, but the gameplay is frustrating. Another new title, Knack, is fun and stars a comical golem, but it's more suitable for kids.
Sony is promising 20 exclusives in the first year of the PS4, with 12 of those being entirely new franchises. There's also a swath of independently produced games, such as the free-to-play shooter Warframe from London, Ont.-based Digital Extremes, that will be available at launch, too.
Still, the edge on big, exclusive core launch titles goes to Xbox One.
Neither company has made its online functions testable before launch, which is probably not that surprising in an age where network features are worked on right up to the last minute.
Nevertheless, both the Xbox One and PS4 offer game and video downloads, with Sony also throwing its Music Unlimited streaming service in.
Sony has taken some heat this year for nixing free online multiplayer gaming and making it part of its paid PS Plus service, but there's actually some good news in that.
For one thing, PS Plus offers up a host of free games — about 60 were made available for the PS3 over the past year — and, at $50 a year, PS Plus is still $10 cheaper than Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service.
All things considered, the online capabilities of both consoles seem pretty comparable at launch.
Microsoft was roundly criticized earlier this year when it announced that Kinect, its voice- and motion-sensing peripheral, would be a mandatory part of Xbox One, adding an extra $100 to the price tag.
Many will likely gravitate toward the $399 PS4 over the $499 Xbox One as a result.
But while gamers haven't been crazy about Kinect, it does have value for households looking for more than just core games.
Kinect Fitness, for example, is an intriguing service that will be available at launch. It streams workout videos while Kinect tracks the user's performance. It's like getting your own — albeit robotic — personal trainer. Kinect Sports Rivals, due in the spring, also looks promising.
Still, Microsoft hasn't shown off Kinect much prior to launch, especially in Canada. And U.S. reviewers who witnessed demos of the peripheral's TV voice-control functions reported that it still leaves much to be desired.
Sony isn't a complete laggard in this area, although it has wisely chosen to make its $60 Eye motion-sensing camera optional. Eye also introduces some neat features, like signing into the PS4 using facial recognition or playing augmented reality games that tie into tablets and smartphones.
While the supposedly new-and-improved Kinect is still largely untested, there's little doubt that Microsoft is ahead in this area.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are both trying to appeal to core gamers this holiday season, yet they're taking different approaches in doing so. The PS4 serves up a great controller and slightly better graphics plus a cheaper price point, while the Xbox One is offering more big games up front, with at least one of them looking to be a blockbuster.
Conversely, Microsoft is more consciously trying to appeal to a larger audience with some innovative motion and voice options.
Ultimately, neither is a bad choice and many gamers are likely to end up buying both so that they don't miss out on the inevitable exclusives.