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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Microsoft Xbox One or Sony PlayStation 4 gaming consoles? Do you think of their high-performance hardware, extensive video-game catalogs, or making your friends bow to your gaming greatness? Of course you do—those are their biggest draws, and for good reason. As owners of these systems will tell you, however, these robust, multi-tasking devices are capable of much more, especially for home entertainment purposes. What if I told you that your high-definition gaming console could also serve as a Blu-ray Disc and streaming media player? Does that sound like a good deal? Let us explain why in this case, it is.
Unfortunately, not all devices in our homes are capable of serving double duty; I wouldn’t recommend cooking your Thanksgiving turkey in a microwave—this is speaking from experience. Sometimes though, technologies can converge harmoniously, saving us time and effort by completing multiple tasks with a single unit. This sounds good in theory, but it needs to be properly executed in the real world to make it a worthwhile experience. Frankly, this is where these “gaming” consoles really shine. While this article hopefully won’t flame the PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One debate, we do aim to show you how each of these consoles can integrate seamlessly into your home entertainment systems.
Blu-ray Disc Playback
The Blu-ray versus HD DVD war is long over. Discs were destroyed, studios were divided, and it was a messy time for high-definition media. As Blu-ray emerged as the high-definition disc standard bearer, it only makes sense that gaming systems such as these would embrace this medium with open arms. The PlayStation 4 offers Blu-ray Disc playback out of the box, while the Xbox One requires a simple and free app download. Both of these systems support 720p and 1080p high-definition resolution, a necessity for enjoying Blu-ray Disc-based content. They also include an HDMI cable, enabling streamlined connectivity to your high-definition display. These days, you can probably pick up an inexpensive Blu-ray player from your local supermarket while waiting for cold cuts. But, touching back on our multi-tasking points, do those players also allow you to play high-definition video game titles, powered by an 8-core processor? I think not. This processing power comes in handy while you’re navigating the system’s user interface and exploring additional content, as we will be discussing shortly.
In our Home Theater Receiver Buying Guide, we told you why you should consider letting a receiver be the centerpiece of your audio and video system. We also discussed high-resolution audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, which thankfully, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 support. While the jury is still out on the sonic differences between linear PCM and bitstream audio output, which basically translates to letting the gaming console decode the uncompressed audio, versus your home theater receiver, we can all agree that both of these options provide audible upgrades to traditional Dolby Digital and DTS multi-channel formats—regardless of which side of the fence you’re perched. So rest assured that when you’re ready to watch your immersive high-definition Blu-ray movie from either of these consoles, your audio quality can be equally as impressive. Do you happen to have a collection of 3D Blu-ray movies? Well, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can also handle those discs when paired with a compatible 3D TV and glasses. How about your standard-definition DVD discs? No problem—as long you’ve upgraded your PlayStation 4’s software since its initial launch, your DVD movies are welcome here, as well.
While disc-based media holds a special place in my heart, there’s no denying the advantages of streaming content. And thanks to built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, standard on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, you can access a wide library of streaming content, covering movies, TV shows, music, and more. Internet connectivity also offers other advantages, such as software updates, which both systems are not strangers to providing. These updates often address system bugs and unlock additional features, some of which are mentnioned in this article. While streaming devices have also become fairly common and accessible, few of them offer gesture navigation like the Microsoft Kinect-enabled Xbox One, or the extensive content choices provided by Sony’s PlayStation store.
If you’re worried about your existing streaming subscriptions, you’ll be happy to hear that these gaming systems support popular services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, and more. A vast array of free and paid content await you on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, along with the ability to rent and buy new multimedia content. Having all of these entertainment options is a great thing, but organizing it all can be a daunting task. Thankfully, the Xbox’s Windows operating system and the PlayStation 4’s user interface allow you to navigate your entertainment channels with ease. If you need to take a break from reigning Madden supremacy over helpless opponents, and you want to catch a quick movie, it’s nice to have a have your options laid out in an easy-to-navigate form. As we all know, you could be called back into action at a moment’s notice—keep your controller close by!
Integrating Your Existing Media
The Xbox One offers an HDMI input, which allows you to connect your cable or satellite box and pass those video signals through your gaming console to your connected TV for a unified viewing experience. With this convenient connectivity option, there’s no need to switch remotes or inputs on your TV; everything is integrated for your navigating convenience. Thanks to a recent software update, the PlayStation 4 now supports content stored on USB storage drives, similar to the Xbox One, giving users an easy way to enjoy their stored media. Popular formats, such as MKV, AVI, JPEG, and MP3 are supported.
Taking media integration a step further, the Xbox One and, recently, the PlayStation 4, supports Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) connectivity. If you have DLNA-compatible devices in your home, which many current smartphones, tablets, and computers happen to be, you can share content, such as photos, videos, and music across your network-connected devices. This is a great feature for those of us who have a collection of locally stored media that we want to access conveniently from a central location, even if our content is spread among multiple devices in our home. Apps that enable you to enjoy these connectivity features can be downloaded easily on both systems.
Are These Consoles Up to the Task?
Allow me to answer this question simply: yes! The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are content-delivery powerhouses. Whether you enjoy Blu-ray Discs, locally stored media, or streaming content, these gaming systems offer performance that rivals dedicated source components. Did I mention that they should also be on your short list of high-definition gaming systems? At B&H, our home entertainment experts can help you decide which of these consoles is right for your home theater system. One thing is clear: Sony and Microsoft engineered these systems to do more than just play video games. They weren’t designed to simply fit into your home entertainment system—they are capable of being your system’s dedicated media sources.