Does the powerful new Xbox unseat Sony's souped-up PS4?
No, it's not yet time for the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox… Two? However, Sony and Microsoft aren't content to let their four-year-old consoles linger as gaming PCs get cheaper and more powerful.
Last year's Xbox One S added 4K media support and upscaling for games, but it's the brand new Xbox One X that truly elevates the gaming experience. With a huge processing boost within, the new console delivers native and upscaled 4K gaming and a level of detail and performance previously unseen on home consoles.
Of course, Sony's own PlayStation 4 Pro has been out for a year now, and it offers a nice step up from the standard PS4 with its own mix of native and upscaled 4K gaming. Microsoft's console offers more power, but does that mean it's the overall best choice to stick under your 4K TV? Read on to find out.
POWER: X MARKS THE SPOT
Before we start this section, here's the TL;DR version: the Xbox One X is by far the most powerful games console you can currently buy. Want to know why, and what difference it makes? Then read on. But brace yourself - because this might get a bit technical.
The PlayStation 4 Pro uses an upgraded AMD Jaguar/Radeon chip that provides 4.2 teraflops of graphics processing capabilities – a massive leap up from the 1.84 teraflop GPU in the original PS4 (both have 8GB RAM).
What does that mean? Well, both PS4 consoles play the exact same games, but on the PS4 Pro, you have the benefit of running at higher resolutions. Some games, for instance the new FIFA 18, can output natively at 4K resolution, which packs in four times the pixels of 1080p full HD, while others run somewhere in between those benchmarks and then are upscaled to 4K.
In either case, you get a crisper-looking result that cuts out jaggies and really lets the game assets shine. And the PS4 Pro's power also allows for steadier frame rates and smoother performance, not to mention additional details and effects. It all depends on how the developers use the extra muscle, of course, but the differences can be impressive.
What about the Xbox One X? Well, much like the PS4 Pro, it's still built on the same platform as the older hardware, so it runs all the same Xbox One games – both old games and new ones. But with a new GPU that allows for 6 teraflops of graphics output (along with 12GB RAM), it's a dramatic improvement over the 1.3 teraflops from the original Xbox One. It also has 40 compute units to play with, over the 12 from the original Xbox One.
And it's certainly an improvement over the 4.2 teraflops on the PlayStation 4 Pro. Microsoft says that all the extra muscle will allow for mostly native 4K games, and many able to run at 60 frames per second, as well – like Forza Motorsport 7. It's easily the most impressive console game we've ever seen, and it's the must-play Xbox One X launch experience.
Look, the numbers are just a handy way of putting a very complex comparison into simplistic terms, but ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Forza 7 looks incredible, Middle-earth: Shadow of War looks much better on Xbox One X, and the stats suggest that Microsoft has a higher ceiling to hit with its box. In terms of raw power, this one's a definite win for Microsoft.
Winner: Microsoft Xbox One X
GAMES: PICK YOUR PLEASURE
You'll find a lot of the same games on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One thanks to third-party developers, and if the upcoming release lists are any indication, that will definitely continue ahead into the future with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, as well.
But when it comes to exclusives, Microsoft just hasn't had the same kind of winning streak as Sony this generation. Exclusive games are what define a console most of all, and games like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Bloodborne, The Last of Us Remastered, Ratchet & Clank, and Persona 5 are incredible reasons to pick a PlayStation 4.
And there's still much more ahead, with games like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, Spider-Man, and Shadow of the Colossus on the horizon.
Look, the Xbox One has had some great exclusives, including Forza Horizon 3, Ori and the Blind Forest, Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 7, and Killer Instinct, but Microsoft hasn't had the same kind of consistent flow of greatness that Sony has rounded up. And Microsoft's upcoming slate isn't really blowing any minds. We'll certainly play Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, and the Ori sequel, but it's a fairly thin slate of exciting exclusives. PC smash PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is one upcoming Xbox One X port that might turn some PS4 owners' heads, but it's only a timed exclusive: it'll hit the PS4 Pro eventually.
Personal preference will drive this category, of course, and some of you might love Microsoft's franchises enough to call this one in their favour. But to us, the PS4 has clearly, without a doubt, had the better generation when it comes to one-of-a-kind experiences. Some multiplatform games will look a bit nicer on the Xbox One X, but we think the PS4 Pro still has the better overall selection by a fair margin.
Winner: Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
MEDIA: XBOX BRINGS OPTIONS
Both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X are 4K streaming champs, capable of outputting supported content from Netflix, YouTube, and other services at 3840x2160 pixels. It's stunning stuff, especially when you're watching Breaking Bad, Stranger Things, or one of the other shows or movies in the ever-increasing 4K pile.
But when it comes to physical 4K media, which can look even better without the little imperfections of internet-delivered video, the PlayStation 4 Pro just can't hang. Sony opted not to put an Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the console, which means it can't run the 4K-capable discs. You're stuck with the standard 1080p Blu-ray discs.
Microsoft did put a 4K Blu-ray player in, however: it's in last year's Xbox One S, and it's in the Xbox One X, as well. For the hardcore sort that still buy movies on discs and want the ultimate in picture and audio quality, the Xbox One X provides that. Streaming will satisfy the majority of users, we imagine, but the die-hards have more options with an Xbox One X.
Winner: Microsoft Xbox One X
COMPATIBILITY: BACKWARDS IS BETTER
Both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X are enhanced versions of the existing devices, which means they both play all previous and upcoming games from each respective platform, and they both work with all of the controllers and other peripherals released for those devices.
When it comes to games that haven't been optimised for the PS4 Pro, Sony has a Boost mode, which provides more power to PS4 games that haven't been specifically augmented to support the Pro's extra power. The Xbox One X doesn't have a blanket solution like that, but many top older titles - including MIcrosoft's own Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and more - have been enhanced to take advantage of the new hardware.
When it comes to the word "compatibility," though, most minds go to backwards compatibility - and the PS4 Pro, like the standard model before it, has very little of that. It won't play any of your past PlayStation console discs, at any rate.
What you can do is play some old PlayStation titles via the PlayStation Now subscription service.
On the other hand, all Xbox One models support hundreds of Xbox 360 games, both disc and digital, as well as a fresh handful of original Xbox games. And now some of those Xbox 360 games look even better on the Xbox One X, including Halo 3 and Fallout 3.
That's a hell of a perk for Microsoft. It might not make the most of your new hardware, but at least your old favourites won't be left behind with this switch to a fresh console.
Winner: Microsoft Xbox One X
VR: ONE-SIDED BATTLE
We assumed that the launch of the Xbox One X would see Microsoft finally outline its virtual reality console plans, whether that meant showcasing its own headset or perhaps announcing compatibility with the Oculus Rift. After all, if the PS4 Pro can handle VR, then surely the more powerful Xbox One X can do the same.
But that didn't happen: Microsoft didn't mention Xbox-powered VR at E3 this summer or anytime since, which means the only console VR experience available right now comes from the PlayStation 4.
We ran into some technical hitches with the PlayStation VR headset during our review testing, but by and large, we've otherwise had a solid experience with it – and the list of worthwhile games keeps growing over time. It works well with the PS4 and slightly better on a PS4 Pro, and in any case, it's not like you'll be experiencing VR on an Xbox One X anytime soon.
Winner: Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
VERDICT: BETTER GAMES OR BETTER VISUALS?
Let's sum it all up. The Xbox One X has more power, better graphics (when games take advantage of that extra power) and backwards compatibility. The PS Pro has the better exclusives and virtual reality. Oh, and it's also cheaper. Plus you usually get a free game bundled in with the PlayStation.
So which should you buy? Well it's actually quite simple - if you've got a 4K TV and want to really get your money's worth from it, you buy an Xbox One X. It'll give you the best gaming experience out there right now, and will also let you watch UHD Blu-rays.
And if you haven't got a 4K TV? Then you buy a PlayStation 4 Pro. Well, unless you throw the PlayStation 4 Slim into the mix as well, but that's another story...