Friday marks the release of the first new gaming console of the holiday season — the Sony PlayStation 4. And only a week behind it will be Microsoft's Xbox One. They are the two big game consoles vying for the love of fans this holiday season. And after more than seven years without major upgrades from these makers, gamers are hungry to try them out.
To get in on the excitement, we launched an NPR gaming Tumblr, NPR Plays, featuring reviews, links and other items of interest from our geek gamers here at NPR. And our justice correspondent, Nina Totenberg, helped us unbox a PS4:
Our justice correspondent, Nina Totenberg, helps us unbox the PS4. Just because.
Next week, when Microsoft releases the new the Xbox One, don't look for gamer Josh Callender at work.
"I pre-ordered the day one edition console," he says, "and I'm planning on taking the day off to play it all day. ... There's just a great number of games that are Xbox exclusive that I don't think that the PS4 has."
Among those that have him excited is Ryse: Son of Rome, which takes advantage of the Kinect — the motion and voice sensor controller that comes with the Xbox.
In Ryse you command a Roman army, and in another Kinect-powered game, Battlefield 4, the sensors are sophisticated enough to let players look around the corner in the game by doing so in real life.
The Xbox Kinect also lets people turn features on and off using their voices. The new console also includes Skype, making it easier to communicate while playing games and while watching TV. The Xbox One also incorporates cable TV, and it creates a guide that lets you see what's on cable channels and to search streaming services like Netflix. So, if you want to watch Homeland, you can see when it's on cable and you can see which streaming services sell it.
The Xbox One also lets you record moments of great game play. I tried the race car game Forza Motorsport 5 and managed to crash quickly.
My crash was recorded for posterity.
Over my protests, Yusuf Mehdi, chief marketing and business officer for Xbox, quickly uploaded the clip so that other gamers could see it.
I can bust up a car and share it with my friends just as easily on the new Sony PlayStation 4. That's one of the features that's got Andrew Hillemeyer excited to buy a new PlayStation.
"It's going to be a lot more of ... 'I'm in a game, something cool's happening. Hey, dude, get in the game,' " Hillemeyer says.
He'll be able to entice friends with quick video clips. "All of a sudden you send an invite with a little shot of what's happening, and next thing you know your friend's right next to you in the game with you. They've just streamlined that entire thing."
The PS4 doesn't come with Sony's Eye Camera — the company's competition to Microsoft's Kinect. But that means it's cheaper. You can get the PS4 for $399. The Xbox One will cost you $499.
Both the PS4 and the Xbox One have music services, and each will let you listen to your choice of music as you play — though Hillemeyer says he's pondering how to use that feature.
"I do like classical music, but I just don't feel like that would be fitting ... well ... it might be fitting for driving cars. Maybe a little bit of Brahms," he says.
The last new PlayStation came out seven years ago, a year after the last Xbox. Now these two consoles are launching within a week of each other.
"It's going to lead to a lot of competition, and it's only going to be good for gamers," says Chelsea Stark, who reports on games for the website Mashable. "They try to outdo each other and release the best game or the best app — actually the best all-around experience, too."
It's been a long time since new consoles have gotten people excited, and that may be one reason game sales have been down. Jesse Divnich, with the research firm EEDAR, thinks there's a lot of pent-up demand. A few weeks ago, Grand Theft Auto V sold a record $1 billion worth of games in three days.
"We know the market is bigger and more thirsty than it ever has been before. So we do expect in the short term that these consoles are going to outsell their predecessors," Divnich says.
But one challenge for the console makers is that games are expanding to mobile, and there are increasingly sophisticated games for high-powered PCs. Gamers like Anthony Surace used to play console games, but he's turned off by the price of the new consoles.
"At the end of the day all these features are nice," he says, "but I could do them with a PC, and potentially do them more efficiently or better."
Surace says he's pretty happy with the games he finds for the PC.
The new consoles are likely to be a big draw for serious gamers who've been waiting a long time for them. But once that initial rush is over, Sony and Microsoft will have to work a lot harder to expand beyond the hard-core market.