Opinion: Who is Winning the Firmware War?

by on September 24, 2014

One thing we all like to do these days, is give the caveat “in my opinion”. However, one thing I’ll claim as fact is that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched as unfinished consoles. Now, perhaps the Xbox One was more unfinished due to numerous, well documented reasons, but the PlayStation 4, nearly a year on, has still failed to deliver on a few key features that were promised. I’m going to take a look at them, and see who is winning the firmware war, at least in my opinion.

Starting with Microsoft, I’ve been fairly vocal on our podcast in my early disdain for the console’s UI at launch, cumbersome and full of apps. Just recently, though, I find myself defaulting back to the Xbox One for numerous services.

PlayStation 4And it’s fascinating, really. Out of the gate, the PS4 was the absolute, no questions asked default console for me. Streaming? PlayStation 4. That share button has been a godsend for broadcasting gameplay, and only now are Microsoft firmly catching up, as their Twitch integration is rather good, just like the PlayStation 4’s.

Despite varying differences, I even found myself only using Netflix on the PS4, and thus the Xbox One was relegated to an exclusives-only console, which is something Nintendo may be only too familiar with, and, apparently, this was enough to scare Microsoft into action.

The preview program was suddenly throwing out regular updates, and these weren’t just tiny little insignificant things. Twitch, USB audio/video playback, Snap updates. In fact, truth be told, those three are smaller updates in the grand scheme of things. Sony have mentioned DNLA playback, but Microsoft have delivered, and thanks to the latest preview program update, you can now stream audio and video from your PC to your Xbox One without leaving the sofa. But you could always stream to the Xbox One, actually. A little known (or documented) fact, was that you could go to your PC and “Play To” the Xbox One, and it worked reasonably well.

But the biggest thing? Microsoft have not only listened to complaints and feedback, but they have taken action. Also in the latest firmware update, the home area has had a full friends section added. Previously a barren landscape of scattered recent apps and the store, now there’s a friends section that shows you who is online, what they’re doing, what’s popular with your friends, and even leaderboards comparing achievement scores – and if there’s one thing that’s been devalued in the console generation change, it’s achievements.

Of course, plenty of apps still need to boot up, and it still seems daft when they do so. But now, with the updates to Snap, messaging friends or checking achievements are vastly improved. We’ve gone from a system that only accepted “Xbox Snap” or “Xbox Unsnap” to a system that lets you double tap the guide button and choose from four different options. Chat has now become closer to the old Xbox 360 system, and is close to a chat room with the threaded messages. But the Xbox 360 was the best there was at this stuff: someone sends you a message,you hit the guide button and reply. It’s close, and yet still baffling that such a phenomenal, dominating system had fallen so far that it didn’t have these options to begin with.

What of Sony, though? HDCP can now be turned off, which is a promised delivered – but what of the promised DNLA and suspend modes are still absent, conspicuously so. Despite claiming they haven’t forgotten them, where are these features?


However, they are being forward thinking with their new SharePlay feature and YouTube capabilities, coming to firmware 2.0. They’ve also brought in 3D Blu-Ray support (as have Microsoft for the Xbox One), but the XMB is still a vast mess of squares that are crying out for some form of sorting option. I’m sure everyone can appreciate that suspending a game is something that takes a decent amount of work (it was built in for the Xbox One on day one, it’s something that has often been talked about as a potential reason for the lower overall power of the system), surely we can get a folder system like the PlayStation 3 had?

What’s baffling about so many of the missing features is that the previous generation of consoles already had them. The confusing, horrible original Xbox One party and notification systems? Incredible to think that Microsoft dominated thanks to the robust online capabilities of the Xbox 360, which included such ease of use when it came to these very things.

Xbox OneBut Microsoft do seem to be delivering at a faster rate. Sony are putting out firmware updates, and some may consider the video editing software they released to be a great service. Like much of the things I’ve named here, not all of them will appeal to every user.

Both have a long way to go, and both need to deliver on promises. That’s why the answer to the original question is: gamers. That’s who is winning the firmware war. With both Microsoft and Sony going toe to toe for the first time in many, many years (look at the recent 3D Blu-Ray updates, and Minecraft releases for proof), only the gamers stand to gain the most. Both must impress us, over and over again – and despite early thoughts to the contrary, Microsoft have tightened their trouser belts and realised they need to up their game, and that can only be a good thing.

It’s weird to think it, but when it comes to actually playing a game, the PS4 has become my default console. Sony claimed that they were focussing on making a games machine, and in my eyes, thus far (despite some poor “big” new games) they’re succeeding. The Xbox One, however, has become my default device for everything else. Watching Twitch, YouTube, streaming from my PC, Netflix, and more.Very soon we’ll have a bigger war than people might think: DriveClub vs. Forza Horizon 2. Microsoft say that Horizon 2 will run at 1080p, and it might be one of the first Xbox One games to do that natively. This winter we’re going to see some huge games, with Microsoft bringing Halo to their console along with a new IP in Sunset Overdrive. It’s going to be a fascinating war, and long may it continue. What an exciting time to love video games.

As always, our opinion pieces here on GodisaGeek are just the thoughts of a single writer. We’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree or disagree – so hit up that comment section, below.