Reassessing the Sony PlayStation 4, Again

Posted on July 4, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Games, Xbox One with 30 Comments

Over two years ago, I took another look at the PlayStation 4. But a lot has changed since then. How does Sony’s console stack up today, almost five years after I first purchased it?

Pretty well, actually. It is the market leader, after all.

But in reviewing the evolution of both platforms, I’m most struck by how similar Sony’s strategy is to Microsoft’s, from a high level.

Consider the hardware.

As they did with previous-generation consoles, both companies have moved to slimmer, cost-reduced versions since the initial releases. These are the Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 Slim Edition. And each is notably better looking than their predecessors, though Microsoft had a much bigger challenge to overcome as the original Xbox One was overly large and plain-looking.

Perhaps more intriguingly, both companies have likewise added a second, higher-end model that adds 4K graphics but retains backward compatibility with the original-generation consoles, creating a family of solutions. Here, Microsoft outdid Sony: The Xbox One X is a beast, in a good way, and games tailored for this console attains true 4K resolutions much more frequently than is the case with Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro.

So things have changed quite a bit in two years: In 2016, Sony’s then-current console was quiet and fast, while the Xbox One was hulking and loud. Today, the entry-level Xbox One S, what I once called “the perfect thing,” is subjectively the most beautiful of any of the current-generation consoles. And the Xbox One X is objectively superior to—e.g. more powerful than—the PS4 Pro. That’s a nice turnaround for Microsoft. One that was very sorely needed.

On the services side of the equation, we see a similar push forward by both companies. Each has long had free online services, like PlayStation Network for Sony and Xbox Live for Microsoft. These both come with paid subscription tiers—PlayStation Plus for Sony and Xbox Live Gold for Microsoft—that have evolved, over time, into rewards programs, of sorts for fans and members. For example, each firm likewise offers free games each month to its paid subscribers, like Games with Gold on the Microsoft side.

(The free games you get from Sony will only work while you’re a paying PS Plus subscriber, however. Microsoft lets you keep any games you get from Games with Gold, regardless of the status of your subscription. UPDATE: As a commenter pointed out, you actually do lose Xbox One games if you let your Xbox Live Gold subscription lapse. That said, you can access and play your previously redeemed Games with Gold titles again if you resubscribe.)

Both firms also now offer Spotify-style game subscription services that I think hint at the future of both platforms. Thurrott.com readers are probably familiar with Xbox Game Pass—I think of it as Xbox’s crown jewel—but Sony’s service, PlayStation Now, launched first, and it has many more games.

The two services are similar thematically, in that they offer subscribers access to a library of games for a low monthly fee. But they are implemented very differently: Sony’s is a streaming service, whereas Microsoft’s requires you to download games to your console before you can play. There are pros and cons to each approach, but I feel like both capabilities—streaming and downloading—are important. And I’d be surprised if each service didn’t add the capability it’s currently missing over time.

Regardless of the differences, Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now are both valuable to loyal fans of each platform for the same reasons. That is, in addition to the obvious—the games library—they provide a nice way for owners of the latest consoles to play games that were designed for previous-generation consoles too.

There’s even some PC compatibility here. PlayStation Now works on Windows 10 PCs. And on the Microsoft side of the fence, Xbox Play Anywhere games work on both the Xbox One and Windows 10. And Microsoft has promised a future of true hardware-agnostic gaming. That said, cross-play is a bit limited if not outright problematic. And Sony has been very antagonistic to those who wish to play games across platforms, as any Minecraft or Fortnite fan can tell you.

And then there are the actual games. This is perhaps the most contentious issue to discuss when comparing these platforms.

Many will claim that Sony’s biggest strength is the PlayStation 4’s software library: The firm has more exclusives than Microsoft does. And the platform also supports a VR capability that is never coming to Xbox One. Sure.

But like most, I don’t personally care about VR gaming. And with rare exceptions—Call of Duty DLC content launches first on PlayStation, for example—I’ve never felt like I’m missing out in any way. The Xbox games lineup is excellent. I feel like the two platforms are roughly in the same place, though the subjective nature of which games or which kind of games you like may skew things toward Sony. Or towards Microsoft.

Anyway, I wanted to take another look at the PS4. This is potentially expensive. I own a first-generation PS4, not the Slim Edition or a PS4 Pro. I don’t subscribe to PS Plus, which costs $60 per year. Or to PS Now, which costs $100 per year. I’m just trying to check this thing out, not make an investment in Sony.

So as I did two years ago: I literally dusted off my PlayStation 4, fired it up, and updated it to the latest system software, after suffering through a complaint about it not being shut down properly last time. My immediate observations were familiar: I feel like the dated PS4 user interface is in desperate need of a more modern makeover. And I very much prefer the Xbox One hand controllers.

Neither issue is insurmountable. Indeed, if you accept the fact that the console’s home screen, like that of a smartphone, is really just a thing that stands between you and what you wish to do, then you can stop worrying about what that looks like and just jump into a game. And after just a day of use, I found myself getting used to the PS4 controller layout, in which the left thumbstick and d-pad are “reversed” when compared to Microsoft’s controllers. This is probably a great way to get carpal tunnel syndrome.

(Also, the PS4 controller thumbsticks get slippery, which is an issue I don’t have with the Xbox One controllers.)

Contrary to my comments of two years ago, my first-generation PS4 is no longer quieter than my Xbox One consoles: The Xbox One S and Xbox One X are almost always notably silent. The PS4 emits a low but regular hum. And a more sustained and lower fan sound when playing games. (This is perhaps unfair, since I’m using a console that is literally almost five years old here. But it’s happening.)

For comparison’s sake—I do this stuff for science, folks—I checked out Call of Duty: WWII, which is the game I’m currently playing on Xbox One X. And some older COD games—GhostsBlack Ops III, and Modern Warfare Remastered—that I already had on the PS4 too. It is literally identical to the Xbox version in every way imaginable—graphics quality, play, performance, etc.—though I find it very irritating that I cannot globally silence the other players; on PS4, you need to do that manually for each player in every game. Sigh.

I’ll keep playing: I figure I can stick to the PS4 for a week or so, at least. And then maybe I’ll move on to the Nintendo Switch. After all, I do have a big trip coming up, and a portable games system is of interest.

More soon.

 

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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Reassessing the Sony PlayStation 4, Again”

  1. Maciek

    A small mistake Paul (tried to DM you on Twitter, but apparently you have that option blocked):


    'Microsoft lets you keep any games you get from Games with Gold, regardless of the status of your subscription' - that is true for Xbox 360 games (including those on Xbox One with backward compatibility). However you loose access to 'native' Xbox One games after your subcription ends.

  2. Jay

    Paul - How can you say the Xbox games lineup is excellent when it appears your rarely play anything other than COD, which is a multi platform title? I think to really understand the Sony experience you need to play the games unique to the PS4. I implore you to step out of your comfort zone and try games like Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Uncharted 4, and The Last of Us. I am a Xbox gamer by default and own a PS4 Pro and I can tell you - I see with my own eyes why Sony is market leader. Their quality for adult themed games is just unparalleled.


    Comparing apples to apples the Xbox One exclusive lineup is not on par with Sony’s. Phil and company have heard the backlash from outsiders and Xbox fans, which is why they are investing more in exclusive content - plus they can’t really push Xbox Game Pass without better games. They just can’t.

  3. slerched

    PS4 had one huge advantage a sorely miss on my X. Japanese games.


    Funny thing though. I played the majority of the Japanese games I wanted to play without a PS4, thanks to Steam and decent PC. I picked up a Pro a small hand full of Japanese games I can't get via Steam and Horizon Zero Dawn.


  4. panjjj

    Perhaps we are few but those of us who prefer movies at their best on ultra 4k HDR, dolby atmos discs the included player in the XBOX is quite an addition. Reduces the cost of the XBOX by the cost of a stand alone player and has a strong influence on the equation comparing the two platforms.

    • bsd107

      In reply to panjjj:

      Sure, but for the love of god, when will Microsoft add HDMI-CEC to the XBox One? PS4, and even PS3 have it. Even the Nintendo Switch has it for cripes sake. Having to manually select inputs to play XBox One S or X is so Ghetto....

  5. Darsman

    I assume your readers are aware that you wrote and titled this bait Sony Playstation article for the sole purpose of injecting Xbox promo propaganda throughout it.


    Just post an xbox ad rather than insultimg your readers intelligence and wasting our time reading an ad campaign interwoven in an article.


    Shill or not, it wastes peoples real life minutes that we cant get back.

  6. Mike Widrick

    The news about the xbox one gold games is disappointing. I wasn't familiar with the difference, either, and just subscribed to get a game. And that makes it maddening that Xbox Games Pass is a separate service, too, neither PC compatible. Why not merge the two if it's really the same thing?


    As far as crossplatform play goes, Xbox Plays Anywhere is clearly too piecemeal to matter, less a platform than store code sharing for some random games. Meanwhile, Windows has Yet Another Games Store gaining on the Windows App Store with Fortnite booming. Honestly, soon Microsoft will be the only unsuccessful Windows-based game store - EA's store lost Mass Effect but gained Star Wars and now Madden. If it wasn't for the Mac Store, it would be embarrassing.

  7. Skolvikings

    I haven’t had any issues with the PS4 thumbsticks getting slippery. Maybe my thumbs don’t get as sweaty or I eat less potato chips? IDK


    UPDATE: I just remembered the original controller I got with my PS4 had a harder material thumbstick. The additional controllers I purchased all have a slightly softer, more grippy rubber thumbsticks. That could explain the difference since you appear to be using the original gear.

  8. dontbe evil

    "this was for the players"

  9. Tony Barrett

    First, Sony kill MS on AAA exclusives, and this is something MS can do very little about. The PS4 is this generations console winner by a country mile, and XB is always second best in most respects. MS just seem to roll out a new Halo or Forza every 18 months and hope for the best. The XBX too, on paper at least, is more powerful than the PS4 Pro, but it seems to have done very little for XB sales and exclusives. Most titles are just 'enhanced' a bit, and even then, side by side, most would be pushed to see any difference between an XBX and PS4Pro games, which means the XBX is a 'paper only' win for MS, and Sony don't really seem too worried to they! MS just wanted to win a p*ssing contest with Sony, but I'd say that's pretty much failed for them.


    I actually applaud Sony for keeping with pretty much the same UI since launch. It's quick and does the job it was designed for. MS just don't seem to be able to stop tinkering with the XB UI and keep moving things, and changing locations, dropping features or making them worse. Just leave the UI alone MS FFS!

    • darkgrayknight

      In reply to ghostrider:

      Disagree completely. The Enhanced titles are amazingly better, particularly with titles that were cross-platform (PC mostly), as they increased resolution to amazing. This is all still not actually running on a 4K tv.


      UI changes have been fairly decent on Xbox.

    • Mike Widrick

      In reply to ghostrider:
      This x1000. A console's interface, unlike an iphone or a laptop, is supposed to launch something else and get out of the way. So all of the redesigns and feature additions are actually detrimental in some ways. I remember getting my first xbox one and howling at the useless multi-tasking feature. I'm just trying to race a car here, guys. And the last interface update hid away the important stuff - browsing my already-owned games - in favor of features I'll personally never use. It's a tough challenge and Sony of course is guilty, too.

      I feel like in some ways it's just been constant steps backwards since the OG xbox.


  10. Eric Flickner

    Multi-platform games are all going to be very similar. The only real difference in the platforms now is the exclusive titles. Please, at least try some of those and make a real assessment.

  11. asdcxzfv

    I don't care much about the hardware but in the software department Sony really shines with their exclusives.


    Xbox doesn't have an Uncharted, Last Of Us, Detroit, Last Guardian, Death Stranding, Ghost Of Tsushima, Ratchet and Clank, Shadow Of The Collossus, God Of War


    If you are into extreme AAAAAA polished games with great gameplay, original art direction and superb storytelling the PS4 is the place to be.


    If you are into cartoony open world stuff like crackdown, sea of thieves, super lucky or multiplatform games buy an Xbox


  12. Bats


    Paul Thurrott writes "And the Xbox One X is objectively superior to—e.g. more powerful than—the PS4 Pro. That’s a nice turnaround for Microsoft. One that was very sorely needed." Really? I was sorely needed? By who? 


    IMO, the Xbox One X was a big gamble and a big fail. They should've waited til the NEXT GEN Xbox to do all this. IMO, this was Hail Mary Pass that ended up as an incompletion. What did they expect to happen with the result of the Xbox One X? That the console would substantially cut the PS4's lead dramatically? A couple of sentences ago, I used a football metaphor. Now, here is a baseball metaphor to describe what I think Microsoft should've done instead. They should've let a position player pitch rather than burn a relief pitcher from their bullpen. That's because you know that when the PS5 comes out, it's gonna outspec the Xbox One X instantly. 


    Right now, IMO, there is nothing on the PS4 side that is dissimilar with the Xbox. They practically offer the same services. I've said this before many many times over the past few years. Whatever Microsoft does, Sony will copy it. That's just the name of the game. If Microsoft comes out with a feature where you press (say.....) L1+L2+R1+R2 and actual slice of pizza comes out of your screen for you to eat, then you can expect the PS4 to do the same thing. 


    If someone were to ask me, which console should I get? There is no question, what I would say....it's the PS4. That's because they have all the great games and largely vast online community. Because of the tremendous lopsided marketshare advantage of the PS4, I'm sure more people use that service than the Xbox Live.

  13. Hawaiianteg

    Something you also missed, Remote play on Playstation supports Mac and PC where as Xbox only supports PC.

  14. Travis

    You will be amazed by the simplicity and speed of the Switch interface. It makes Xbox and ps4 both look bad. I recommend starting with at least a128 GB micro SD card because when you upgrade to a new one you have to re download all games.


    It is to the point where I buy all games for Switch if available and use xbox only for games that aren't available on Switch.

  15. dxhelios

    Paul,


    I still does not understand PS Now. Why would you want to stream the game to console if you have console. If you have enough bandwidth to stream then you definitely can download it pretty quickly and enjoy the beauty of downloaded game. You may argue that you do not need high-end graphics for simple games, but simple games are downloaded even quicker than 50GB game.

    Full featured streaming makes sense only to mobile devices and TVs/TV boxes, but not on consoles.

  16. Monte Constable

    Not sure of other's experience, but the PS4 slim could get a bit loud under load and the Pro is a leaf blower. Really surprising how loud it is compared to the One S and One X.

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