Update 2009: I have just published our PS3 vs. XBOX 360 Two Years Later article. Once you are finished reading this, you should definitely move on to read that one! CLICK HERE
It has been exactly 1 year to the day since we published our PS3 vs. XBOX 360 article, written for us by a friend of mine who is a lead programmer for a game company working on all three consoles (and PC).
His conclusion was a controversial one at the time. That the XBOX 360 pretty much owned in every category; price, performance, graphics, and game selection.
However, a lot can change in a year. Both consoles saw price drops, and firmware updates have the potential to improve both gaming and non-gaming features. Developers have had time to ‘learn’ the intricacies of the PS3, and several new exclusive titles have been released for both.
One year later, I am going to don my flamesuit, and take a look at each console. Let’s see if the PS3 has made strides! It’s certainly selling better lately.
When our original article was published, it was just after the PS3 had launched. If you recall, they had two versions of the console at that time; a 20GB version for $499 and a 60GB for $599. To contrast, the XBOX 360 was available for $299 and $399 at the time.
However, things have changed since then, and both consoles received price drops. The XBOX 360 Premium received a simple $50 price drop, and is now $349.99. The Core version was replaced by the Arcade version, which is the same as before but includes a 256MB memory card, a wireless controller, and some XBLA games on a disc. That version is $279.99. Finally, there is the Elite Edition (or as we call it, the New Retard Edition) which is exactly like the Premium, but is black and has a 100GB more hard drive space for an extra $100. The Playstation 3’s price situation is a bit murkier, as models have been dropped, new ones introduced, prices were dropped to clear out old models, features were left out on some new models, and so on. We started with the 60GB and 20GB versions, and both of those have since been dropped completely. I won’t talk about all that has happened with the PS3’s SKU situation since then, as that would just confuse things. Instead, just consider that we now have a 40GB model for $399 and an 80 GB model for $499. Besides the hard drive size, the 40GB model lacks flash card readers, 2 USB ports, SACD playback, and Playstation 2 compatibility (the 80GB will play PS2 games, but its software emulation is not even close to 100%).
So now you can get a PS3’s ‘lower’ model for just $50 more than the XBOX 360’s ‘middle’ model. You can’t really look at it that way though, since what sets the Premium XBOX 360 apart from the Arcade is mainly the 20GB hard drive. And the ‘low end’ PS3 still doubles that (and aside from that, it is VERY easy to upgrade the hard drive on a PS3, but that’s best left for another day). Comparing the 80GB to the Elite, the PS3 is again $50 more, but this time the XBOX 360 has the bigger hard drive. I have always said that hard drive space on the XBOX 360 is pretty much irrelevant, but future firmware updates are changing that. With the ability to download XBOX 1 games, you are probably only going to be able to fit 2 or 3 of them on your Premium, depending on how many demos you have installed. Plus, if the rumors are true about the XBOX 360 also getting DivX playback, it is instantly going to turn into a great media player solution (it fails miserably as a ‘media extender’ right now), and thus will require a larger hard drive. Update: The rumors were true! The XBOX 360 now fully supports MPEG-4 Layer 2 video, which includes the DivX codec as well as XviD. However, it can only stream this type of video, from a network or external storage; as of this time there is no way to store these files on the 360 itself.
So after all that, who wins the price war? It’s still the XBOX 360, not just because the respective models are $50 cheaper, but all versions of the XBOX 360 come bundled with some games now. The Elite and Premium versions come with Marvel Ultimate Alliance (yawn), Hexic HD (meh), and Forza Motorsport 2 (yey!). While the 80GB PS3 comes with MotorStorm, the 40GB only includes a copy of Spiderman 3 The Movie on Blu-Ray.
It should be noted though, that the Playstation 3 should no longer be considered stupidly expensive.
Here’s a tough one. On paper, the Playstation 3’s Cell engine is more capable than XBOX 360’s triple-core Xenon CPU. However, as our developer alluded to last year, the XBOX 360 is much easier to develop for. In other words, a lot of the Cell’s power is going to waste. Although that is expected to change eventually, as always seems to happen with Sony’s consoles (compare early PS2 games to current games, and the same goes for PS1), one year later we’re still waiting for someone to fully exploit the system. Another indication that the PS3 is harder to develop for is the fact that almost all multiplatform games arrive weeks – if not months – after their 360 versions.
As we said last year, we fully expect the PS3 to win this category – eventually. To what extent, we’re not sure (very likely it’s only going to be the blockbuster first-party titles that take full advantage of Cell), and when this will occur, we’re not sure either. Obviously, one full year wasn’t enough.
This is a sticky subject for a lot of fanboys. A very common argument in most flame wars is that the Playstation 3 simply “has better graphics”. I’m not sure where that argument came from; Sony obviously did a good job of marketing the system. However, the argument is entirely false. The Xenos GPU on the XBOX 360 is superior the RSX on the PS3. This is one thing that didn’t change in the past year.
Xenos simply has more power – higher fillrate, higher pixel processing power, higher vertex processing power, and better memory architecture. If you look at multiplatform games and contrast the graphics on the two consoles, XBOX 360 almost always leads. Whether they use a higher resolution or higher quality antialiasing, games often look better and/or play smoother on the 360. We looked at a handful of multiplatform games a while back, and this was always the case.
Again, we have to consider that Cell has the potential to help with graphics on the Playstation 3. As developers become more familiar with the platform, they are going to come up with new tricks to help games run smoother, and allow them to look better. However, one year after its introduction we aren’t seeing huge leaps (or even baby steps) towards this, except on a couple exclusive titles.
This category has two things to consider; exclusive titles for each console, and which console is better to play multiplatform games on. I think we covered the latter issue with the graphics category; given the choice between playing a multiplatform game on either console, the XBOX 360 is almost always better. At the very least, games will look the same on both consoles. At the worst, games on the PS3 will run at half the framerate of the 360, and at lower resolutions with less filtering and antialiasing. Also, multiplatform games are often delayed by weeks or even months on the PS3 (a testament to the difficulty of working with the system). Case in point, The Orange Box. The 2nd best selling XBOX 360 game after Halo 3 in October, and it is nowhere to be seen on the Playstation 3. And by early accounts, it is quite choppy on the Playstation 3.
So what about exclusive titles? After all, graphics and performance notwithstanding, this has to be the most important decision to make for most gamers choosing between the two consoles. It has been a full year, and.. well… things aren’t looking too good for the Playstation 3. As ScrewAttack noted in their Top 10 Exclusives for PS3, there aren’t even enough decent games to make a Top 10 list with!
Let’s take a quick look at the exclusive games that have come out for each system since we published our first article 1 year ago:
|Ace Combat 6||Namco||82|
|Call of Juarez||TechLand||72|
|Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars||EA Los Angeles||81|
|Crackdown||Real Time Worlds||83|
|Dance Dance Revolution Universe||Konami||75|
|Earth Defense Force 2017||Sandlot||71|
|F.E.A.R. Files||Timegate Studios||72|
|Forza Motorsport 2||Microsoft||90|
|Fuzion Frenzy 2||Hudson Soft||52|
|Halo 3||Bungie Studios||93|
|Kengo: Legend of the 9||Genki||46|
|Naruto: Rise of a Ninja||Ubisoft||80|
|Project Gotham Racing 4||Bizarre Creations||87|
|Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action||Screenlife/WXP||75|
|Tetris Evolution||Mass Media||57|
|Viva Piñata: Party Animals||Krome Studios||62|
List of console titles exclusive to the XBOX 360 released since November 20, 2006. Score in green = at least 80% on GameRankings. Score in bold = at least 90% on GameRankings. Title in bold = Overall Game of the Year contender for 2007
|Eye of Judgment||SCE Japan||75|
|Formula One Championship Edition||SCE Liverpool||77|
|Heavenly Sword||Ninja Theory||81|
|MLB 07: The Show||SCE San Diego||78|
|NBA 08||SCE San Diego||66|
|Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction||Insomniac Games||89|
|Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune||Naughty Dog||88|
List of titles exclusive to the Playstation 3 released since November 20, 2006. Score in green = at least 80% on GameRankings. Score in bold = at least 90% on GameRankings. Title in bold = Overall Game of the Year contender for 2007
At the Playstation 3’s launch, the XBOX 360 had a 1 year head-start, and had such titles as Gears of War, PGR3, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, F.E.A.R., Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Dead Rising, Burnout Revenge, Fight Night 3, and Rainbow Six: Vegas, all of which which were either titles exclusive to the 360, or weren’t made available on the PS3 until some time in 2007.
Now we can look at nearly an entire year of exclusive releases for each console, and compare them on an even playing field. I took all the games that were released after November 20, 2006, and found their overall scores on GameRankings. Scores over 80% were highlighted in green, as ‘very good games’ (contrary to some, I think a score of 80% is pretty good). Also, contenders for Overall Game of the Year were highlighted as some of the BEST games for ANY console. In other words, people will want to buy the console just to play these games.
As you can see, there were a lot more GOOD games for the 360 in the past year. While the PS3 had some games that squeaked into the 80% bracket, and one or two really good games like Uncharted and Ratchet & Clank, overall it has been a mediocre year for Playstation 3. Many were looking forward to titles like Heavenly Sword and Lair to make a statement, but those games pretty much fell flat on their faces (especially Lair, a total failure).
XBOX 360 on the other hand saw some excellent titles, including some that may be considered among the best games for any console, such as Halo 3, BioShock, and Mass Effect (of course, we all know that none of these are likely going to topple Mario Galaxy for this award, but oh well).
So for game selection, XBOX 360 not only offers a better experience with multiplatform games, but their exclusive titles are more often better than those on PS3, and in some cases extremely good.
Let’s face it, it’s going to be tough for anyone to beat XBOX Live. The interface is excellent, the interaction between players is superb, and extra features like achievements add the small touches that make playing games on the XBOX 360 just a little bit better for certain people.
Playstation Network has the sole advantage of being free for the most part (game makers are still allowed to charge for online play if they want, such as MMO games, etc). However, to play any game at all on XBOX Live, you must subscribe at $50 per year at its cheapest.
One drastic disadvantage of the Playstation 3 is the fact that you cannot send messages to your friend from within a game; in order to reach the XMB or ‘main menu’ of the PS3, you need to quit out of the game you are playing, and go to your friends list that way. There is nothing in the way of voice chat (with the exception of Warhawk), and no cross-game invite system. With XBOX Live, hit one button and you can reach your friends right away. Send them a voice message, or text message, or invite them to the server you’re playing on. You can even add your MSN/Live Messenger list to the 360, and talk to your non-gaming friends any time you want.
Profiles are also more robust on XBOX Live – each gamer has their own tag, their own custom avatar, a list of games they recently played, some achievements they have accomplished, and an overall score to give an idea of how experienced you are. All of this can be viewed in-game. Also, XBOX Live extends to XBOX.com, where you can view and edit profiles from your PC if you prefer.
On PSN, you get an icon, and a small about-me section. None of this can be viewed in-game, and there is no way to tell anything else about the gamer. PSN does not extend to an online version that can be viewed from the PC, either.
With PSN Home coming (the beta is rumored to be starting in December), this section may drastically change. Sony is banking on Home being a huge reason to play games on the Playstation 3 as opposed to the XBOX 360. Public details on Home have been sketchy at best though, so we shall see how things pan out.
XBOX Live Arcade vs. Playstation Store
Another thing to consider is buying games online. Both Sony and Microsoft offer various types of games to download online, and add several each week. Selections range from old-school games from previous systems to refreshed versions of classics, to brand new titles from small publishers and individual designers.
XBLA wins in pretty much every category though; many of PSN’s games are decent, but nearly exclusively from Sony themselves; it seems like it’s much easier for an indie publisher to get their game onto XBLA than PSN. XBLA offers a wide selection of retro arcade games, adding features like online play and leaderboards to many of them. Some of these games have become sleeper hits, like Pac-Man Championship Edition.
One area where the PSN excels (or at least has the ability to) is that Playstation 1 games can be ported directly to a PSP, along with game save files. Best of all, save files can go back and forth. If you are playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and want to take it on the road, simply connect your PSP, transfer the save file, and play it from there. Then when you come home, transfer the save file back to the PS3, and you are set. Unfortunately, there are very few Playstation 1 games available in the US.
Here’s one area that my friend didn’t really consider last year, as he is mostly concerned with making games for the systems, and not watching movies on them. I bought my XBOX 360 around the middle of 2006, and my PS3 at launch, so I am talking about my personal experience here.
For movies, the PS3 wins hands down. Not only does it have integrated Blu-Ray capability, it is a far superior movie player to begin with. We also must consider that the PS3 can be had for as little as $399, while an XBOX 360 with HD-DVD player will cost at least $530 (Arcade Edition notwithstanding, since nobody in their right mind is going to buy an XBOX 360 without a hard drive).
Regardless of comparing playback image quality, sound quality, and interface, there is one thing that gives the XBOX 360 an automatic “zero” in every category – it is excruciatingly LOUD. There is ONE thing that I HATE when I try to watch a movie, and that’s background noise. I alway go out of the way to make sure my living room is utterly quiet when I sit down to watch a movie, and the sickening screech of the 360’s DVD drive and fans makes this completely impossible.
PS3, on the other hand, is completely quiet during movie playback. Whether you are watching a Blu-Ray, DVD, or other video format, the PS3 isn’t going to make a peep.
I also much prefer the PS3’s interface to the bright, flashy, sluggish interface of the XBOX 360. Turning on the PS3 to watch a high-definition movie feels like a classy, almost ‘high end’ experience. In contrast, fire up the XBOX 360 and you are treated to a whining fan, screeching DVD drive, and bright flashy colours on your screen. The console itself looks more like a ‘toy’ and the external USB drive required for HD-DVD only extends the ‘low end’ feel.
Then you have the other media formats. XBOX 360 was only ever meant to be an ‘Multimedia Extender’. In other words, it was expected that by this time, most people would have a PC dedicated to hosting multimedia using either Windows Media Center or Vista Home. The 360 would pull the files off this dedicated media PC over the network. Therefore, the 360’s multimedia capabilities are actually quite poor. It supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and MPEG-4 AVC (h.264), but only in the WMV, MOV, and TS container formats. It supports DLNA, so is able to discover files on DLNA software like Windows Vista.
Playstation 3 was intended to be an all-in-one media center, and the design shows. At first, it did not support DLNA, but we broke the story when DLNA-supporting firmware was released, allowing multimedia to be streamed from Vista to the Playstation 3. All the major codecs are supported by Playstation 3; MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Motion JPEG (commonly found with digital cameras) through AVI, MOV, MP4, and TS container formats. It will even play AVCHD files directly (M2TS files – the same format Blu-Ray uses).
MP4 support is seen as the future of video, and the PS3 has very good support of this. It supports MPEG-4 AAC audio, MPEG-4 Simple Profile video, as well as Main and High profile (also known as h.264). In a big story last week, it was announced that the PS3 would soon be supporting the DivX codec, through the AVI file container. This will be the first time a non-modified console supports this highly popular format. Here’s hoping for MKV h.264 support! ;)
Audio playback is close, with the PS3 having the minor advantage of supporting SACD, although this is no longer supported with the 40GB version. It’s been sad to see Sony drop many of the advantages they held over the 360 in the past year. Playstation 3 will always be better as a standalone music player since it doesn’t sound like a jet engine, but the 360 has the great advantage of being able to access music from within any game.
I have viewed photos on both consoles, and find the PS3 to be a more pleasant experience. Again, the XMB is so much better than XBOX 360’s tabbed Dashboard, and it’s nice to view pictures without noisy fans blasting away in the background. The PS3 supports some printers directly, which may or may not be useful (I can’t imagine using it as a photo printer, but someone might. probably someone in Japan).
There are some other subjective topics to discuss that don’ t necessarily fit into our other categories.
- Import Gaming – The PS3 excels in this, as all games are currently unlocked and can be played on systems from any region. This makes importing games from other countries a breeze. Furthermore, you are free to create PSN accounts for any country, allowing you to download demos from other regions. You won’t be able to make purchases without a credit card from those countries however.
XBOX 360 has many games that are exclusive to Japan and Europe, but with region encoding, they are only playable on consoles from their respective regions. Going the other way, many titles that get a worldwide release don’t have region encoding at all, so owning a 360 outside of the US isn’t so bad if you still want to play US games. Take it from me: import gaming goes both ways!
- Piracy – A touchy subject, but one that must be considered. Although PS3 ISO’s are being released, I’m pretty sure that its game copy protection has yet to be cracked. XBOX 360 on the other hand, has a large scene going for it, and that has to be a consideration for many people deciding on which console to buy. Be warned though; Microsoft actively fights piracy, and has been known to ban consoles from connecting to XBOX Live if a mod is detected!
- [email protected] – This may not be a big deal to you, but perhaps it should be mentioned. If you are interested in joining a worldwide supercomputer cluster capable of 700 teraflops, and want to help find the cure for diseases like cancer, the PS3 may be worthy of consideration. For most though, this function doesn’t make a difference at all.
- PSP Connectivity – With the 1.8 firmware release, the Playstation 3 received some excellent features, not the least of which is the ability to stream media to the PSP – anywhere in the world. Once two devices are partnered, you can turn on the PS3 from your PSP (as of firmware 2.0) and access all the files on it with the PSP – including HD video. This is where Microsoft got things wrong by trying to turn the 360 into a media extender. Sony decided to make the Playstation 3 a media hub, extending to portable devices like the PSP. A very wise decision, and the features get even better with time.
- Reliability – Here’s a huge one that must be considered – XBOX 360’s made prior to October 2007 are pretty much considered time bombs. It’s not a matter of whether your console will stop working, it’s a matter of when. The 360 has such a high failure rate that Microsoft spent over $1 billion to extend everyone’s warranty by 3 years. While having a long warranty is nice, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the console dies, nobody wants to have a dead console in the first place. Newer units seem to be okay, so far (knock on wood).
- Backwards Compatibility – This was one of the major advantages of the Playstation 3 when it first launched last year. Since it had all the necessary hardware from the Playstation 2, it would be fully compatible with all PS2 games. Additionally, PS2 games would eventually be upsampled, improving their image quality for newer HD displays. PS2 owners could safely pass along their old console, knowing that their game library would still be accessible, and look better than ever. However, as Sony started revising hardware to cut costs, backwards compatibility suffered. First to go was the “Emotion Engine” CPU in the 80GB version. Some games were still supported through software emulation, since the “Graphics Synthesizer” GPU remained intact; reports show 80GB backwards compatibility to be around 50%. With the latest version of the PS3 (40 GB), the GPU was also removed, and as of now there is no way to emulate PS2 games on these systems. Although it’s probably not impossible to emulate the GPU with the PS3’s hardware, nothing has been announced and I wouldn’t get my hopes up of this ever happening.XBOX 360’s backwards compatibility is nothing to brag about either; consider it at about the level of the 80GB PS3. Many XBOX 1 games will work, but often have problems.
- Display Connectivity – The Playstation 3 wasn’t the only one to get some hardware revisions in the past year. One of the largest criticisms of the XBOX 360 was the fact that it had no digital video output. However, all consoles released after September 2007 (including the low-end Arcade version) include an HDMI 1.2 digital port. Only the Elite comes with a cable in-box.
- Open Source Operating Systems – Again, this may not be something that will sway your buying decision. While both consoles have some form of Linux support, only the Playstation 3 officially supports it out of the box. XBOX 360 has a project titled Free60 that requires you to hack your system and use vulnerable kernels. If your system has later firmware updates, it may be entirely impossible to do this. On the Playstation 3, you simply select an option in the console, and from there you can install one of several distributions that support it, including Yellow Dog (the distro officially supported by Sony), Ubuntu, Fedora Core 7, Gentoo, and Debian.
Recently I received an email from someone, asking if I still “stand by” our PS3 vs. XBOX 360 review. He asked if the PS3 became better in the past year.
I think after looking back a year, more than anything the statements we made were justified. The Playstation 3 didn’t get much better in a year, and in fact the hardware got worse with each revision. It started out with full PS2 backwards compatibility, and now it has none at all. It started out with SACD support, and now it doesn’t support it at all.
However, it also got better in many ways; more than anything, it’s an excellent multimedia hub. With multiple video format support (and DivX AVI support coming), and the ability to stream to the PSP, it’s clearly superior in that regard. Furthermore, it’s a better home video player, since it not only has a better interface for such things, but it doesn’t sound like a jet engine taking off.
But in the past year, we haven’t seen a single HUGE title drop for the PS3. The closest thing is a very good platformer/shooter with excellent graphics. Instead, exclusive games get delayed (MGS4), or end up failing miserably (Lair), or do not live up to expectations (Heavenly Sword).
Multiplatform games continued to be developed on the XBOX 360, then ported to the PS3. I’m sure that developers aim for simultaneous releases in most cases, but this rarely happens. When the PS3 versions of the games do come out, they often suffer from low framerates and poor image quality.
As of now, there is only one multiplatform game being developed on the PS3 later to be ported to 360, and that’s Haze. Update: Haze is now going to be PS3-exclusive. We’ll see how things go with that in a few weeks. I have heard that Unreal Tournament 3 is looking real good on PS3 too, although I’m sure that’s more of a case of Epic’s confidence that they can knock out an XBOX 360 version in a short period of time. The only major issue they are likely to come across is mod compatibility on the 360.
There will always be the speculation that the Playstation 3’s performance will increase; that it is only a matter of time. After all, we saw that happen with both the PS1 and PS2. Since Sony’s systems are powerful yet inherently difficult to work with, this always seems to happen. However, in the year since its release, the only titles to really WOW us graphics-wise are two Sony-published games, Heavenly Sword and Ratchet & Clank.
Sony has yet to catch up with XBOX 360 in terms of online features, although Home has interesting potential. We’ll have to wait and see if it is feasible as an online interface, or just a silly gimmick. This is one area where we should at least see the PS3 get some vast improvements in the years to come.
So do I stand by our statements we made last year? Absolutely. I’m happy that we were ‘proven right’ in the events of the past year. Do I think XBOX 360 is clearly the better console to buy? Not by a long shot. Each console has their own advantages and disadvantages. Read through this article, and you should be aware of most of them. From there, you can decide which one is right for you.