The Microsoft Xbox One X vs Sony PS4 Pro debate: There's more than raw horsepower at play here

What makes a great console? Is it just a hardware vs software debate, or is there something more?

Gaming season is upon us. We are, after all, partway through E3 2017, the world’s largest annual gaming expo. Every year, the biggest names in gaming show gamers their wares and every year, we have a debate on who won E3.

This year is a little different because Microsoft finally unveiled its latest console, officially, and confirmed its price and hardware. As promised, the Xbox One X from Microsoft certainly seems like the most powerful console to date. Raw numbers place the console’s power in the 6 TFLOP range – a TFLOP is a measure of computing power – which is 50 percent higher than Sony’s PS4 Pro, which manages a mere 4.2 TFLOPS. Just take a look at the table below:

Xbox One X ($499) Xbox One S ($299) PS4 Pro ($399) PS4 ($299)
CPU 8 custom cores @ 2.3 GHz 8 Jaguar cores @ 1.75 GHz 8 Jaguar cores @ 2.1 GHz 8 Jaguar cores @ 1.6 GHz
GPU 40 custom compute units @ 1172 MHz 12 GCN compute units @ 914 MHz 36 GCN compute units @ 911 Mhz 18 GCN compute units @ 800 Mhz
Memory 12 GB GDDR5 8 GB DDR3 / 32 MB ESRAM 8 GB GDDR5 (plus 1 GB DDR3) 8 GB GDDR5
Memory Bandwidth 326 GB/s 68 GB/s, 219 GB/s 218 GB/s 176 GB/s
HDD 1 TB 1 TB / 500 GB 1 TB 1 TB / 500 GB

These numbers do raise the question, however: What makes a great console? Is it just a hardware vs software debate, or is there something more? There’s no simple answer to that, but two of our colleagues decided to give it a shot anyway.

Anirudh Regidi: When it comes to specs, there’s simply no competition. As is evident from the table above, the Xbox One X simply walks all over the PS4 Pro. The One X is also more expensive of course, but that’s still 50 percent more power for a 25 percent increase in price.

Karan Pradhan: We’re yet to actually see how this increased horsepower, if you will, is going to affect gameplay, mind you.

AR: True. As someone who’s primarily a PC gamer though, I’m just happy that the baseline for graphics is going up. Also, VR, that extra horsepower is going to be of some use eventually. I mean, just look at Forza 7!

KP: Sure, visuals form a major aspect of the overall experience and in that regard, 4K and framerate — aided by far superior tech specs — go a long way. But what about the rather large percentage of gamers out there who just want to play and aren’t particularly concerned with whether or not the reflection of their character in a puddle of water is entirely accurate or if the 14th tree in a line of trees has perfectly rendered leaves? What about those who haven’t yet moved to a 4K or UHD TV set?

The cost difference will prove to be a major reason for that variety of gamers to choose the PS4 Pro over the One X. Consider also that the launch price in the US for the One X is being set at $499 (~Rs 32,000). By the time the console is sold in India — and you’ve taken custom duty into account, the price is likely to be quite a bit higher. Also, in the few months between now and November (when the One X is to launch), Sony could well shave off a few thousand more rupees off the price of the PS4 Pro.

AR: Yes, and given the pricing in India, and the fact that you might actually get a proper gaming PC for the price of a One X, the Xbox is looking a little less appealing. Then again, Microsoft is pushing hard for its UWP apps, which could, potentially, position the Xbox as a living room PC and more than just a game console.

Universal Windows Platforma UWP Microsoft Windows

KP: This is probably the point at which you elaborate on just what UWP apps are/do.

AR: UWP apps are essentially equivalent to the apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Any Windows 10 device will, in theory, be compatible with UWP apps, so a developer will be able to build Windows apps regardless of platform. If there’s a UWP Netflix app, you’ll have the same app on a Windows 10 PC, Xbox One console as well as Windows 10 Mobile device.

KP: Netflix, apps and the like are all well and good, but what’s the real reason people buy a console? Games. And it’s here that the PS4 Pro has a clear and unchallenged edge over the One X. Obviously AAA games and those made by third parties (the likes of Rockstar, BioWare and Big Ant Studios) are available on both consoles — not to mention the PC. But when it comes to exclusives, there’s simply no competition.

Sure, Xbox has Halo, Forza and Gears of War, but can you really compare these to what PlayStation has? Where do I begin? Uncharted, God of War, The Last of Us, Yakuza, the Quantic Dream games (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human) and so many others. Even Nintendo has so many more high-quality exclusive IPs than Xbox does. To me, this is the real clincher. What’s the point of having incredible graphics and sky-high framerates when the games you want to play are on the other console?

AR: Judging by the success of the Xbox 360 in the latter half of its career, people might not actually be buying a console only for gaming. Microsoft discovered that the Xbox 360 was more popular as a media centre than a game console. But yes, games are still a bit of a sore point on the Xbox platform.

However, Microsoft is pushing its Xbox Play Anywhere idea on developers and gamers, the idea being that games developed for the Xbox One will be playable on PC as well. I'll admit that the Xbox is still lacking in worthy exclusives, but the potential of a platform independent gaming experience is very appealing. Today, you can buy Forza Horizon 3, play the game on Xbox One and then continue playing on a PC or laptop later. With the PS4, developers and gamers are restricted to a single platform.

I’m partial to Sony’s games, but in 2017, I don’t want to be tied to a particular platform.

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro PS4 Tech2 720

The Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

KP: Sony has always had the ‘early mover’ advantage — both globally and in India. With the original PS4 launching months before the Xbox One, and the PS4 Pro having launched a whole year before the One X will be on the market, there is a bigger PlayStation ecosystem in place already.

Issues have been smoothed out, bugs have been addressed and most importantly, gamers have bought the console. This means you’re more likely to know people who own a PS4 than those who own an Xbox One (particularly in India). This in turn means that there’s a larger base of people whom you can trade games with.

AR: Speaking of early movers, a point in Microsoft’s favour is backward compatibility. If you’re a long-time Xbox user, Microsoft will soon give you the option of transferring licenses from the original Xbox to your brand new console, all you need is the original game DVD. In fact, Microsoft promises that you can play your original Xbox games with friends via system link. That’s games from three generations of console playable on a single platform. Sony has nothing like it. But then again, I’d rather be playing the new God of War than the original Halo, so it’s not much of a victory.

Xbox original 720

The original Xbox game console

KP: That’s a better deal than what’s on offer in terms of backward compatibility with PlayStation, where you have to buy previous generation games from the online store.

AR: To be fair, the Xbox’ extreme backward compatibility will only benefit a niche audience. How many gamers still have their original Xbox and the accompanying games? I suspect that most people will simply end up purchasing older games from the respective game stores anyway.

KP: There’s one last point I want to bring up in this PS4 Pro versus One X debate and that’s VR. To put this very simply: PSVR is a real thing with real games and peripherals, while Oculus Rift remains only on paper.

AR: Yes, and the PSVR is actually very good. Microsoft has plans for a mixed reality (MR) headset in the future, and Oculus Rift support might actually be in the works, but when it comes to a VR gaming experience today, it’s hard to beat the PSVR.

PlayStation VR is sure to benefit from the PS4 Pro's additional processing power

So there you have it, a not-so-simple, multi-part answer to a question that’s been nagging at our minds for months. And we still haven’t answered the question.

In the end, your definition of a great console will come down to personal preference. Maybe you prefer Forza to Gran Turismo or 4K gaming is more appealing than PSVR.

It’s a tough choice, but one that we feel only you can make.

What do you think? Which console are you leaning towards?


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