The Xbox One $100 cost over the Sony PlayStation 4 is claimed to be worth it by Microsoft.
But is the Xbox One worth buying based upon features and a hardware analysis?
The Xbox One $499 price gets you the console, a controller, and the Kinect 2.0 motion sensor camera system. In the end, the Xbox One $100 price difference with the PlayStation 4 is only worth it if the games are good. And that’s the message Microsoft representatives are trying to focus on:
“I think we do more. I think our games are better. I think as people start to experience Kinect and see what it can do using voice, I think that’s better. I think the ability to have an all-in-one system where you can plug in the TV, that’s better. I think we’ll have a better online service. I just believe that we’re going to have a better system.”
The Xbox One DVR functionality will require an Xbox Live Gold Account for users who wish to record and share video and screens from their gameplay. The PlayStation 4 will offer the same services for free. Although, online multiplayer still requires a $50 PlayStation Plus account and Xbox Live Gold will likely cost $60 per year.
Microsoft and Sony are both making deals with movie and TV publishers to distribute their content on their respective systems. Although, Microsoft has revealed plans that seem to merge TV shows and video games into episodic content, which hasn’t been tried before.
A Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware comparison shows the $100 difference is significant. The addition of the Kinect seems to be the only major significant cost that could justify the Xbox One’s $100 price difference. With the Xbox 360 and PS3 there were major hardware differences, but the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One System On a Chip were designed by the same company this time around. Without getting too technical, the performance gap between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 is the rough equivalent of two Nintendo Wii U systems.
If you want to make a Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware comparison on price we can look at PC video cards. The Xbox One GPU could be compared to the AMD Radeon HD7770, which costs between $100 to $150 depending on the performance of the model. The PlayStation 4 is said to be somewhere between the HD7850 and HD7870, which cost around $200. On this basis alone the PlayStation seems to be a better hardware deal over the Xbox One.
But if you’re interested in the details, one hardware difference that might explain some of the cost difference is the memory system of the Xbox One. Much of the Xbox One SoC design is comprised of local on-chip storage and high speed embedded memory called eSRAM. This stuff isn’t cheap. The PlayStation 4 doesn’t have any of that, with Sony choosing to go with higher bandwidth GDDR5 memory over the Xbox One’s GDDR3 primary memory. GDDR5 memory is also more expensive than GDDR3 memory.
From a video game developer perspective, the Xbox One will be much better than the PlayStation 4 in situations where lower latency is critical. This is because GDDR3 is double-pumped and produces two bits of data per clock, which means you need a larger and more expensive memory bus in order to keep up. But Microsoft went with the cheaper 256-bit memory bus instead of 512-bit. GDDR5 is quad-pumped and produces four bits of data per clock on the same 256-bit memory bus but at the cost of higher latency. Memory latency affects all sorts of things in the graphics rendering process, so in some ways the Xbox One will be much more efficient than the PlayStation 4, which in the end could equalize the two consoles.
Still, all in all the PlayStation 4 memory bandwidth of 176 GB/s is about twice that of the Xbox One (68.3 GB/s for main memory and 102 GB/s for eSRAM). Because of this the biggest visual difference between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games might be in the shadow mapping. There are various shadow mapping techniques but in general increasing quality requires much higher memory bandwidth and consumes more VRAM.
The last factor to consider is business strategy. Nintendo originally came up with the business model of selling video game consoles as a loss leader. But while they lose money on console sales they make up the money with a percentage of games sales. Both the Xbox 1 and Xbox 360 were sold at quite a loss by Microsoft. It’s possible Microsoft made the decision this time around to try and not lose so much money at the front end of the game.