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We’ve come a long way since video game consoles simply played games. Now, it’s standard for modern systems to stream movies, play music, and even let you watch live TV. While some would argue that these enhanced features have ruined the fun of gaming, it means that consoles are a better investment than they have ever been before.
Recently, we compared the Xbox One S and PS4 Slim for casual gamers, but now we’re going to take a detailed look at the two consoles with their media capabilities in mind. Let’s put the Xbox One and PS4 head-to-head to see which one offers a better media experience for your money.
DVD and Blu-ray Media Playback
While streaming is quickly becoming the favorite way for most people to watch video content, DVDs and Blu-rays are still viable options, too. Let’s check out how the viewing experience for these physical formats is on the PS4 and Xbox One.
Pop a Blu-ray into your PS4, and it will display on your homescreen with its name and an image. Selecting it begins playback immediately. Using the PS4 controller to watch a movie is pretty straightforward. L2 and R2 are fast-reverse and fast-forward, while L1 and R1 skip an entire scene in either direction. You can use the controller touchpad to “flick” 15 seconds quickly.
You have access to a quick menu for changing the language options, jumping to the movie’s top menu, and checking what the buttons do. Pressing Square brings up the movie’s menu for accessing the scene select, special features, and the like.
The PS4 also has a grid of every command you can access by holding the Options button. However, it’s pretty clunky, so sticking to the controller basics is best. If you like, you can upgrade to the PS4 Media Remote for better control options.
DVDs don’t feature the fancy options that Blu-rays do, and they obviously don’t look as crisp. Aside from a few minor differences, watching a DVD on your PS4 is basically the same as a Blu-ray. The controls match, though there aren’t as many commands in the Control Panel menu.
The first time you put a Blu-ray in your Xbox One, you’ll have to download the free Blu-ray disc player app. This only takes a second and you’ll then be ready to watch your movie.
Controls for playback are a bit different from the PS4, but offer the same functionality. You can skip scenes, fast forward/reverse, open the Blu-ray menu, and toggle subtitles. Xbox also has a menu full of all the commands you can give to a movie, though it’s more obtuse than the PS4 version because the symbols don’t have labels.
The Xbox One plays DVDs exactly the same way as Blu-rays.
Here’s a place the Xbox clearly has an advantage. The PS4 cannot play audio CDs at all, while the Xbox One has no problem with them. We doubt many people are popping CDs into their consoles these days, but it’s a difference worth noting nonetheless.
Drop a CD into your Xbox, and you’ll see a prompt to download the Audio CD Player app. This doesn’t let you play MP3 CDs or listen to them while you play, so you’re limited to using the Xbox as a glorified CD player.
Winner: Xbox One
Both systems do everything you’d expect for watching Blu-ray discs and DVDs. Though only applicable for a limited audience, the Xbox One’s CD playing functionality gives it the edge for physical media.
Video Streaming: Netflix
Let’s move onto something far more people will care about: media streaming. In the interest of space, we won’t compare every single streaming app on both devices. Instead, we’ll take the most popular service, Netflix, and test it on both systems. Then we’ll discuss the various apps both support.
Using Netflix on your PS4 simply requires a quick download of the Netflix app. You’ll find it in the TV & Video folder on your home screen. Once there, sign into your account and you can select a profile based on who’s watching.
After you’ve signed in, you’ll know what to expect if you’ve ever used Netflix before. Pick a show, click it to find out more or select various options, and watch it to your heart’s content. There’s nothing special about using Netflix on your PS4 compared to another device. Use the directional buttons to browse all the content and press Triangle to search.
Like the PS4, you’ll need to install the Netflix app to your Xbox One. Head to the Store tab and scroll down to the Browse Apps section. You should see Netflix — click it to install, then launch it from your Xbox’s home screen.
After you sign in, you’ll see Netflix in all its glory. And it’s exactly the same app as the PS4 has. Aside from the button labels, you’d be hard-pressed to tell a difference between the two.
There is no functional difference between the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Netflix.
Other Video Apps Are Available
Don’t use Netflix? No problem. Both the PS4 and Xbox One have plenty of other video streaming services to choose from.
Open the TV & Video folder on your PS4 to find non-gaming media apps, then scroll down to All Services to see more. The PS4 has lots of lesser-known apps, so we’ll briefly talk about the highlights:
- Crackle — Hand-picked movies and TV shows with no commitment required.
- Hulu — This one’s all about TV. Stream old and new shows, some with PlayStation VR support. Hulu doesn’t offer a free plan.
- Crunchyroll — Anime-streaming service with a free, ad-supported plan.
- Amazon Video — If you’re a Prime member or prefer this service over Netflix, this is a great alternative.
- NHL — Watch NHL Hockey games with an NHL.TV subscription.
- YouTube — App made for accessing YouTube through your console. You can cast videos from your smartphone for easy searching.
- PlayStation Vue — Sony’s live-streaming TV service that takes a different approach to cable. Requires a paid plan.
- Plex — Lets you access your media collection from your PS4.
- HBO GO — Watch HBO’s offerings anytime you like.
- Media Player — An official PlayStation app that lets you play music and video files via USB or a home media server.
- Twitch — Start watching thousands of streamers play games you’re interested in.
There are so many others, including EPIX, Tubi TV, CBS All Access, NBA, WatchESPN, MUBI, Vevo, and Screambox. Most of them are fairly niche, so we recommend taking a look to see what you’re interested in. One thing’s for sure: if you subscribe to it, it’s probably offered as a PS4 app.
On your Xbox One, jump over to the Store tab and scroll down until you see the Browse apps section. Click this and hit the All apps to check them all out. There are lots more than on PS4, but that’s because the Xbox One supports some Windows 10 Store apps. Most of these aren’t related to streaming.
Thus, we recommend scrolling down to the Top Entertainment Apps or Most Popular Apps and clicking Show all to filter out the boring stuff. Most of the aforementioned PS4 apps like Hulu, Vudu, Twitch Amazon Video, and Crunchyroll are available. The Xbox One highlights include:
- Movies & TV — Microsoft’s app for casting media from your PC to your Xbox.
- Sling TV — The à la carte TV service that many use as an alternative to cable.
- STARZ — Lets subscribers watch movies and shows from this service.
- VLC — App for playing local media or media streamed over your home network. You can attach a USB flash drive or external hard drive and play your music/videos using it.
Xbox One also includes some less-important apps that PS4 doesn’t, like AOL Video, AMC, and Dailymotion.
This really depends on what services you subscribe to; we can’t call it either way. Having too many subscriptions costs a lot of money, so you probably don’t have more than a couple. And the chances are the ones you use are Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and the like. You’ll get a similar experience on either console unless you use a specific service that only one offers.
We intentionally left out any apps designed for streaming music above to cover those separately here. Here are the differences for listening to music on your console.
On PS4, the old PlayStation music service has been replaced by Spotify. Both free listeners and those who pay for Premium can download the Spotify app to listen through their consoles. But the sweetest feature is listening to music in the background while you play. Hold the PS button to open the quick menu on the left, then you can control your music even when playing a game. This is great for any game that has music you’d like to replace.
The other two music apps on PS4 are iHeartRadio and SiriusXM. Unfortunately, neither of them will play music in the background, so you have to keep them open the entire time you’re listening. SiriusXM is only available with a subscription, while iHeartRadio is free.
Xbox’s main music app is Groove Music. This is Microsoft’s Spotify competitor, and offers a standard $10/month fee for a Music Pass to listen to unlimited, ad-free music. Groove Music also lets you listen to music you’ve purchased through the service or placed in your OneDrive.
Even if you don’t use Groove Music, you have plenty of other options. Xbox has apps for SoundCloud, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and VLC media player. They all support playing music in the background except for SoundCloud. Pandora and iHeartRadio are both free, plus VLC can play music from a USB drive. This means you have more options for listening to background music on Xbox.
Winner: Xbox One
It’s a close race, but the Xbox’s support for more music apps, plus more of them working in the background, gives it the edge.
Xbox One’s TV Features
Xbox has an entire feature that PS4 doesn’t. With the extra inputs on the back of your Xbox One, you can actually watch TV through your Xbox. Instead of plugging your cable box into your TV, you plug it into your Xbox. With the OneGuide app, your Xbox will walk you through setting up your TV so you can watch it without even changing inputs.
It works with both normal cable/satellite services or antennas for free over-the-air TV. Your Xbox can pause live TV for up to 30 minutes so you can take a break if needed. Plus, you can set up your Kinect (if you have one) to control your TV’s volume. The OneGuide app provides a slick TV guide interface so you know what’s on, and you can even watch TV alongside a game.
Some people mocked this feature upon release, and Microsoft isn’t exactly giving it much attention. Still, it’s pretty neat, and gives the Xbox One another advantage over the PS4.
Winner: Xbox One
The Xbox gains a point here for the TV integration feature. Doing more with fewer devices is always great.
PS4 Pro and Xbox One S: 4K Content
Everything we’ve discussed so far applies to every model of PS4 and Xbox One. But each console has an enhanced revision that changes the scene a bit. Note that you need a 4K TV (preferably with HDR) to take advantage of most of these features.
The PS4 Slim and the original PS4 are functionally identical, and both can output in high-dynamic range (HDR) thanks to a system update. But the PS4 Pro, a more powerful model, packs beefier specs and can output games in 4K. You can also watch supported video from Netflix, YouTube, etc. in 4K, but the PS4 Pro lacks an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive. Ultra HD (UHD) Blu-ray, if you weren’t aware, is the next evolution of physical media after Blu-ray. It supports 4K video and requires a new UHD Blu-ray player.
On the Xbox side, the original Xbox One and the revamped Xbox One S are significantly different. There isn’t much reason to get an original model anymore — the S is smaller, lighter, and supports HDR. The Xbox One S doesn’t play games in 4K (it upscales them), but it does support 4K for video streaming. It also includes a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player.
The upcoming Xbox One X is even more powerful, and supports 4K and HDR for games. It won’t make a difference for media streaming, though.
Winner: Xbox One
The Xbox One S is $250 while the PS4 Pro is $400. For a lower price, the Xbox One S can play 4K Blu-ray discs and supports 4K video streaming. It’s clearly the better choice if you’re focused on media.
And the Best Games Console for Media Is…
If you’ve been keeping track, this won’t surprise you at all.
The best games console for playing media on is the Xbox One, specifically the Xbox One S.
Unfortunately, the PS4 doesn’t win in a single area. The Xbox One can play CDs, features apps for dozens of streaming services, lets you listen to more music in the background, and is 4K-ready at a far cheaper cost. It also packs in the OneGuide feature for watching TV without leaving your console.
Have you decided that both consoles are too expensive for you? Then you may want to check out how to use an old Android device as a media server instead.
Do you have an Xbox One or PS4? Which is more important: media capabilities or catalog of games? Please share your opinion with us in the comments below, or pass this onto a friend trying to decide which console to buy.