E3 2013 – The Definitive Sizeup: Xbox One vs PS4 Controllers



The first, truly critical fact to remember is that both the Dualshock 4 and Xbox One controllers are largely the same.  They have nearly an identical button layout and the contours create a very similar handling.  They’re more alike than ever in terms of heft and balance, now that the SIXAXIS is a thing of the past.  The Xbox One’s triggers feel slightly more taut, but other than that the resistance on the buttons is fluid, making for crisp inputs.

Twins separated at birth?

Twins separated at birth?

Furthermore, both controllers have aped each other and eliminated what are widely seen to be their predecessor’s faults.  Microsoft’s new controller now features the standard cross configuration for its D-pad (like the Dual Shock 3’s), replacing the single piece ‘dish’ and making for more precise inputs.  The Sony controller now has concave thumbsticks (à la the 360 controller), making for a slightly better thumb-grip.

Both are fine controllers – they both wisely take advantage of years of interactive innovation and painful lessons learned to present a responsive, intuitive experience for hours on end.  It’s important to emphasize that both will provide nearly identical experiences on the vast majority of cross platform games.

See a progression here?

See a progression here?



Now that 99% of their functionality is out of the way, there are several little scruples that separate the controllers.  The Xbox One will accept third party rechargeable batteries and AA’s, while the DS4 is stuck with its onboard battery.  It also features a mini-USB port like the PS4’s, so that plugging into a computer should be easier than ever.


The triggers flow into one another.

It’s most significant departure is the greater emphasis on rumble functionality.  Instead of the single grip vibrating nodes for the entire controller, the Xbox One will now specifically shake its rumble unit behind the left or right trigger depending on the context.

A side-by-side of the 360 and One Controllers.

A side-by-side of the 360 and One Controllers.

The only game I played that took advantage of this was Forza, and it was decidedly cool.  Flooring it produced a stirring from the right trigger, while grinding the brakes tickled just the left trigger.  I was told that various games will feature a rolling rumble from one side to another during cut scenes, and other directional combinations that enhance the experience.  All of the sounds fantastic – I can’t wait to see what they whip up.




The Dual Shock 4 went the route of packing additional gadgetry into its frame.  There’s even a speaker now, just like the WiiMote.

The Dual Shock 4 went the route of packing additional gadgetry into its frame. There’s even a speaker now, just like the WiiMote.

First and foremost we have the touch screen pad situated right on face of the controller.  It allows for even a perspired finger to move across it effortlessly, and is large enough that a lack of swipe distance couldn’t conceivably be a limiting factor.  The pad sits suspended on a singular axis in the center, allowing you to click in any side or corner – I can see this having more uses than the touch interface itself.   In the new Killzone it was used to great effect to issue squad commands.

Finally there’s the light bar, a multi-color display centered between the triggers.  Sony has hinted that it could be used in the same manner for motion tracking as the PS Move’s glowing orb, which is as much to say as it won’t be used really.

But the light itself is also viewable from the player’s perspective, and will for instance be used to display your health in the new Killzone, shifting from green to red as your life slips away.  I was also told that the Eye will read the positioning of all your PS4 controllers on your couch and re-arrange split screens to accommodate.

The frame of the controller looks larger in pictures than it actually is.

The frame of the controller looks larger in pictures than it actually is.

The ‘Share’ button is another neat idea with no concrete details concerning its actual functionality.  We know that it will control the video streaming/social media services tied to the PS4, but we don’t know how.  Will it be a one-push stream button?  Will it pause the game and open up the ‘Share Menu’?  I’d the guess the latter.

To the PS4’s detractors it’s all gimmicky; to its supporters it’s innovation.   To me, it’s a question mark.  The historical precedent indicates that this functionality will be largely overlooked by third party developers, that a dozen or so novel implements will surface and that’s it.



Both controllers are expected to ring in at $60, further creating a parallel product.  So which will come out on top?  There are two answers to this question:

1)      Whichever you preferred last generation – they’re so similar ergonomically to their predecessors that it’s difficult to make a case for jumping ship.

2)      Whichever the developers spend more time with – if 3rd party dev teams decide to really do cool stuff with all the DualShock 4 gizmos then it will be the clear winner…but they could also end up spending time with the expanded rumble capabilities for the Xbox One.

Either way there will be plenty of dumb third party gear, trust us.


Author: Wu

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