Xbox 360 Versus PS3: Who Holds What Advantages Where

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Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3

Let’s just make one thing clear before I even launch into this discussion: I play games on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 regularly and I’ve put them each through their paces as media players. Therefore, in this article, you will not have to endure a fanboy’s rant concerning one console’s profound superiority over the other. What I would like to offer instead is an unbiased opinion on what advantages each console holds over the other based on my personal experiences with each of them.

Both consoles are likely to be around for a few more years at least, and the recent release of Kinect and PlayStation Move will undoubtedly extend the lifespan of the Xbox 360 and PS3 beyond initial expectations held when the consoles first launched in 2005 and 2006 respectively. I have only had limited experience with Kinect and Move so I’ll leave their respective merits out of the equation in this discussion.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 both have powerful multimedia capabilities. I prefer to watch DVD movies on the 360 as the upscaling employed on that console seems to produce a sharper image on my HDTV. On the flipside, there are more settings to tinker with on the PS3’s video player including the ability to boost the movie’s volume level. This is handy as you don’t have to turn your TV’s volume all the way up to hear what’s being said in a movie and then blow your speakers the next time you turn it on.

Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - (The) Back-up (Plan) DVD Playing backup DVDs is also better on the 360. I’ve never had a problem getting one to work on the 360 whereas certain backup DVDs won’t load on the PS3, or the volume will cut out while you’re busy watching it.

I also find that there are far more Xbox 360 games that allow you to listen to music or podcasts stored on a flash drive or hard drive while you’re playing them – very few PS3 games support this option. This is a nifty feature to take advantage of when you’re playing a fighting or driving game where sound isn’t so important. What better way to catch up on a videogame-related podcast than while playing a game?!

I did this recently with the excellent Kojima Productions podcast while completing story mode in Street Fighter IV!

The PS3’s big advantage over the 360 in the multimedia department is obviously its ability to play Blu-rays. The quality you get with Blu-rays and the amount of bonus content that can fit onto a single disk makes DVD look very antiquated in comparison. I’ve also read on Digital Foundry that the PS3 plays ultra hi-resolution HD video better than the 360 due to its superior processing power. There’s also the matter of 3D movies. At the moment only the PS3 can play them, provided you have a 3D-compatible TV of course.

Let’s consider the durability of the console’s respective disk formats for a second. I have read that Blu-ray has a stronger coating than DVD, and personal experience appears to validate this information. I have heard many stories of people’s 360 disks getting scratched and one of the Xbox 360 games I was looking forward to renting from (South African videogame retailer) BT Games – Lost Odyssey – was removed from their catalogue because one of the four disks got scratched. I have not heard of any similar issues with PS3 disks. I’m sure it is possible to damage a Blu-ray if you took a weapon of mass destruction to it, but otherwise it is one of the most durable formats around. This highlights another advantage of the PS3: games never come on more than one Blu-ray and therefore disk changes are non-existent and you have fewer disks to manage and protect per game.

This brings me to one of Xbox 360’s best features: the ability to fully install games. Granted, the disk still has to be in the drive to run, but fully installing a game reaps numerous benefits, including smoother gameplay, shorter loading times, less power consumption and (best of all) near-perfect silence from your 360. It really is worth getting a hard drive just so you don’t have to hear that terrible grating noise when the game is loading. It reminds me of the PlayStation 1 days when you knew a CG or FMV scene was coming from a mile away because it sounded like the console was chewing on your disk before it played.

The new 360 models are reportedly ‘whisper quiet’ so if you have one of these you can count yourself lucky. Most single-disk 360 games only take about 10 minutes to install which is a small price to pay considering all the advantages you’ll gain. The console will even play the disk if it becomes badly scratched, provided it’s already installed on your hard drive.

Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - DVD And Blu-rayThere is a massive discrepancy, however, between the maximum capacity each console’s disk format is capable of. The Xbox 360 dual-layered DVD can only house 6.9GB of information whereas a PS3 dual-layered Blu-ray can store 50GB. Unfortunately, few games on PS3 take advantage of this great feature since so many of them were designed with the 360 in mind (i.e. multi-platform titles).

It’s exciting when a PS3 game actually makes use of all the space available on a Blu-ray – for instance God of War III had at least 2 hours of fascinating behind-the-scenes footage, all in glorious HD.

Final Fantasy XIII had stunning CG sequences running at 1080P on the PS3, Heavy Rain had at least 10 language tracks to choose from, and Metal Gear Solid 4 had lossless audio as well as a ridiculous amount of bonus content. PS3 games will sometimes contain additional language tracks as compared to their Xbox 360 counterparts due to the extra capacity of Blu-ray, as was the case with Star Ocean: The Last Hope International which included both English and Japanese dialogue.

The graphical merits of each system are a source of eternal debate (and much antagonism) between fanboys. I have played the big budget exclusives of both consoles and can only conclude that PS3 games like Heavy Rain, God of War III and Uncharted 2 look a lot better than Xbox 360 titles like Alan Wake, Fable 3 and Gears of War 2. Compare a main character model from Alan Wake to one from God of War III, or an environment from Uncharted 2 to one from Gears of War 2 and the difference will immediately be clear to you.

Perhaps the Blu-ray allows for more hi-res textures to be employed, or all the extra processing power of the PS3’s SPUs are a deciding factor. I have heard that the 360 has a superior graphics chip compared to the PS3, which results in benefits like improved anti-aliasing, better draw distance and fill rate. However the PS3 is the more powerful system overall and this is most evident when another AAA exclusive is released for the console.

However, the 360 usually rules the graphics roost when it comes to multi-platform releases. Developers often choose the 360 as the lead platform as it is easier to program for, and more popular in certain parts of the world like the United States. They tailor the game to the 360’s strengths and then convert it to the PS3 at a later date. This sometimes results in compromised gameplay and graphics for PS3 owners. Bayonetta is one such example of this. Even a high profile game like Red Dead Redemption was dumbed down a little for the PS3 version in terms of resolution, environmental detail and draw distance.

Things have improved for PS3 owners over the years though. EA Sports games like FIFA 08 looked better on the 360 but recent games in the series look almost identical. The same is true for multi-platform releases in 2010 such as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - Graphical Equality (Almost)

When it comes to exclusives the two systems are fairly matched. Before Kinect entered the equation I would have said PS3 had a clear advantage, but things are tilting back towards the 360 since this nifty little device entered the fray. The PS3 has some heavyweight exclusives in the form of the LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted, God of War and Gran Turismo franchises. Then there are games like Heavy Rain, Valkyria Chronicles, Demon’s Souls and Yakuza 3 which can only be enjoyed on PS3. The Xbox 360 recently lost exclusivity for the Mass Effect franchise, but series like Halo, Fable and Gears of War keep the fan-faithful entertained and happy, not to mention bolstering Microsoft’s bank account by way of all those Xbox Live Gold memberships.


Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - PlayStation 3 Pricing

Let’s turn our attention to the hardware and price of both consoles. PS3 was hideously overpriced when it was launched and this forced many PlayStation fans to play on their PS2s for a while longer. Xbox 360, on the other hand, was not badly priced for a next-gen console when it first came out, and even PS2 fans with a bit of cash in their pockets were happy to make the transition to the Microsoft family. Now the situation is vastly different and I can definitely spot the trend of more gamers (in Durban at least) migrating to the PS3 since it’s been reduced to around the R3 000 mark.

The 4GB Xbox 360 S is a few hundred Rand cheaper than the 160GB PS3 Slim, but it is false economy to consider it a better deal since you’ll need to purchase an additional hard drive for the 360 if you want to take advantage of its essential features like DLC, patches and full game installations. In my opinion the PS3 Slim is better value for money than the Xbox 360 S at current prices because for a similar figure you get a console with built-in Blu-ray, more sophisticated technology and free online (internet provider fees notwithstanding).

Another aspect of the Xbox 360’s hardware which can’t be ignored is that darn power brick. Even with the latest hardware revision, the power brick is still there and looks just as gawky and out-of-place as ever. Kudos to Sony’s hardware team for fitting the PS3’s power supply into the console case itself. The PS3 slim is flatter and looks smaller than the Xbox 360 S, and it also consumes less power. However, reports say that the 360 S is lighter than the PS3 and its depth (i.e. how far back it extends) is less as well.

The PS3 can support up to seven controllers and the 360 up to four. I guess that you’ll only ever notice this advantage if you’re playing a game like FIFA 11 with a large group of friends in your living room. When it comes to compatibility with accessories the PS3 is king. For example, register any Bluetooth headset you may have lying around with your PS3 and you’re good to go. The same applies with other Bluetooth accessories like a keyboard and mouse. Xbox 360 doesn’t support Bluetooth so your accessory options are far more limited.

Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - Controllers

There are advantages to each console’s controller. They feel quite different in your hands and it’s up to the individual to decide which one they prefer. The Xbox 360 controller is asymmetrical and feels heavier and bigger, but is designed to fit snugly in your hand despite this. The PS3 controller is perfectly symmetrical but feels more plastically and toy-like. The triggers at the back of the 360 controller are superior to those of the PS3 as they are more responsive to slight pressure and depress further.

You can feel the difference when playing a racing game – the 360’s triggers feel much more like a brake or accelerator than the PS3’s. There’s also each controller’s battery life to consider. The PS3 controller has an internal battery that needs to be recharged every twelve hours or so via USB. The 360’s controller takes two regular AA batteries and should give you double this amount of time if they’re good quality. I use rechargeable batteries in my 360 controller and get much more playtime out of them than I do from my PS3 controller’s internal battery.

Xbox 360 definitely gets my vote when it comes to the subject of backwards compatibility. Most Xbox games are playable on the 360 and there aren’t too many compatibility issues from my knowledge. I popped Shenmue 2 into the 360’s disk drive the other day, downloaded a 5MB patch and was playing a perfect version of this classic in upscaled 1080P within seconds. I feel Sony made a huge blunder by removing PS2 emulation from its PS3 consoles after the 60GB model stopped being manufactured. The last thing they should be doing is alienating people who have supported them since the first PlayStation was launched in 1995. It’s sad to look at your classic PS2 collection (Persona 3 FES & 4 in my case) collecting dust on the shelf and wonder if and when Sony will see fit to add PS2 emulation to the PS3 via a firmware update. PlayStation 1 games work well on the PS3 for the most part, although certain titles like Final Fantasy VIII don’t work at all.

Xbox 360 VS PlayStation 3 - Xbox AvatarMost people will agree that the 360’s Achievement system is better than the PS3’s Trophies. The fact that each Achievement contributes to your Gamerscore makes separating the wheat from the chaff that much easier.

The Trophy system is more awkward in comparison, and while I’m sure unlocking a Platinum Trophy is the ultimate thrill for some PS3 players, I really couldn’t be bothered. Some games on the 360 like Fable 3 even make Achievements an integral part of the experience and these can be viewed in the game world itself.

Avatars are also done better on the 360 than the PS3. Sure, Microsoft ripped off the Wii’s avatars, the Miis, by adding them to Xbox 360, but it’s undeniably cool being able to play as your oh-so-stylish avatar in a competitive Xbox 360 quiz or sports game.

Avatar awards are also a neat addition – being able to dress your avatar up in game-centric gear is good fun. The sterile, framed images that Sony calls ‘avatars’ just can’t compete with the cute little virtual beings Microsoft has used to imbue personality into our Gamertags.

The last issue I feel is worth discussing is online features. PS3 features with a decent internet browser whereas you’ll get nothing of the sort on the 360. On the other hand, you can continue your downloads while you’re playing games on the 360 whereas they will pause on PS3 when you go into a game. The Xbox 360 Marketplace is easy and intuitive to navigate, especially on a PC. However, there’s no way you can search for keywords if you’re accessing it from your 360. On PS3 you can search for terms but navigating around the PS Store is not nearly as logical and uncomplicated as you would like.

For example, if you’re looking for add-on content for a certain game there’s no easy way to bring up only the items related to that game. Instead, expect to get dozens of search results for whatever keyword you search for. On the 360 Marketplace you can at least bring up whatever content relates to the game in question, although they’ve recently removed this from the ‘My Xbox’ row and put it somewhere else.

The South African 360 Marketplace is a bit under populated at the moment, so to get a true feeling of what’s on offer you need to log in with a US or UK account. There’s plenty of free content to keep you occupied and it’s all laid out in an attractive, easily navigable way. On the flipside, the PlayStation Network has its own reality show called ‘The Tester’ which is a free download. The second season has just recently wrapped up but I’m sure there’re many more to come.

Xbox LIVE South Africa AvatarI’m not an Xbox Live Gold member so I can’t really compare the online experience with PSN as far as multiplayer goes. What I can say is online multiplayer on PSN is a smooth affair, and more importantly it’s free. There are plenty of people from around the world online at any given time, and what an international community it is!

If I take Uncharted 2 as an example, I’ve heard Spanish, Russian, French, German and ‘Australian’ chatter over the headset during my time online. I can’t comment on how this compares to playing on Xbox Live but I’ve frequently read that PS3 is more popular than Xbox 360 outside of North America.

I think Xbox 360 Gold membership may be worth it if you live in the States considering all the special deals they get, such as recent access to the ESPN television network. Membership also works out a lot cheaper in dollars than it does in Rands, particularly considering that South Africans pay at least 30% more for Xbox Live than in the U.S. or UK. Thankfully if you own a PS3 you don’t need to worry about being on the wrong side of the world because PSN is free.

Xbox Live has a lot more download-only games than PSN, including indie games, SEGA Mega Drive games, classic ‘reworked-in-HD’ titles like Soul Calibur, as well as exclusives such as Shadow Complex. If you’ve got uncapped internet you’re in for a treat because almost all of these games have some sort of demo or trial to check out. There’s also a batch of screenshots and sometime video clips accompanying the games to give you some idea of how it looks. Games on PSN are not as multimedia-rich as this, and there are many titles that are difficult to get a feel for because not many clues are offered to help you understand what they are about or what they look like.

Dynamic themes on PS3 are a flashy feature that I have yet to see employed on Xbox 360. There are a few free ones on PSN but for the most part they sell for around R20 – best to view them on YouTube first before you spend your hard-earned cash. They definitely provide a talking point while you’re navigating the XMB in front of a friend, or a slick distraction while you’re deciding what video clip to watch.

If you’re ever searching for a Japanese demo that’s multiplatform then I would recommend going the Xbox 360 route. The Hong Kong PSN store is in English and Japanese demos sometimes appear there, but logging into a Japanese account on Xbox Live is a sure bet. The other day I was looking for the End of Eternity demo (called Resonance of Fate in the West). An English demo was never released so I had no option but to try out the Japanese one. I couldn’t locate it on either the Japanese or Hong Kong PSN store so I tried the Japanese Xbox Live Marketplace as a last resort. Not only are a few of the words written in English, but it’s straightforward to go over to the demo section and scroll through the thumbnails until you see End of Eternity’s unmistakeable boxart.

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony - One Happy Family

The fanwars over which console is best is not going to go away any time soon. Generally it’s people who only own one of the systems who are the most belligerent of the lot. I believe each console has its own set of advantages over the other, and owning both is the best way to go if you love playing games and can afford it. Having them side by side in your living room is a sure way to satisfy your gaming and multimedia needs, not to mention all the great online features you will benefit from just by connecting them to your home’s internet network.

If you’ve only got one of these consoles I wholeheartedly recommend complementing it with the other. You’ll finally be exposed to that console’s exclusives which will blow your mind and make your living room walls vanish around you as you are sucked into one exhilarating experience after the next. You’ll hopefully make friends with a new controller which will feel weird in your hands at first. And you’ll soon come to realise why it is that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 command the level of respect among console gamers that they do.