OPINION: Is the £249 Xbox One S E3 2016’s ‘winner’?

It feels pretty easy this morning to draw a dividing line between the Microsoft and Sony E3 2016 press conferences.

Microsoft will likely be feeling pretty chuffed with itself. Hardware is always the biggest headline grabber and in that respect Xbox has stolen the show. At 249 for the 500GB model, the Xbox One S is looking like a fantastic deal that can quite legitimately hope to have a good Christmas.

Not only does the console instantly take the lead in the current generation price race, but it also improves on its predecessor, and it’s the cheapest 4K Blu-ray player on the market. And while 4K TV is in its infancy, there are already plenty of sets out there in homes, and that number will only grow with each day. 4K support is a tick, maybe a big one, and can realistically hope to swing a fair few purchases in Microsoft’s direction.

Will the Xbox One S be damaged by confirmation of Project Scorpio? Possibly, and if Microsoft has one worry this morning it’s this. Xbox One S can maybe attract some new console owners, and undoubtedly some will choose to upgrade, but many will prefer to keep hold of their cash until next year – by which time Scorpio won’t be the only option on the table.

What Microsoft has done, however, is sell the idea that people who buy into the Xbox and Windows 10 ecosystem are going to be supported long term. You might have a Windows 10 PC now, you might want to buy an Xbox One S this Christmas, you may want to upgrade to Scorpio next year. Whatever you do, Microsoft’s own first party titles will travel with you. Your Xbox identity will persist. It does feel like a pair of safe hands.

Sony’s decision to hold back PS4 Neo from E3 seems, frankly, ill-judged. The console hung over every announcement. Is it going to fall short of Scorpio’s 6 teraflop performance? How will PlayStation VR fare on what suddenly feels like a slightly underpowered PS4? Where the game demos we saw running on current or future hardware? Is PS4 going to drop in price to match Xbox One S? Why does my launch PS4 sound like a 737 taking off every time I boot it up?

None of this helped Sony, but at the same time there’s no denying that its show had the beating of Microsoft’s when it came to pacing and surprises. Looking back at the Xbox presentation, it was actually pretty light on new news. And its predictable slate of Forza, Gears of War and a Halo game it seems nobody asked for didn’t really get the pulse racing in the way in which you feel it should. Microsoft really needs to tighten up on leaks, too.

Sony, in contrast, had far more left to pull out of the sack and once again knocked it out of the park when it came to software. Kojima’s first solo game (with the most Kojima trailer ever), Resident Evil VII, A Spider-Man game from Insomniac, Crash Bandicoot, new IP Days Gone (the gameplay demo, not the peculiar trailer) – these may not have matched last year’s Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VII double-whammy, but it’s a great slate. And that doesn’t even tough upon VR, either. Batman Arkham VR, Star Wars Battlefront VR, Resident Evil VII VR – these are system sellers in every sense of the word.

But questions remain about PlayStation VR. How will it perform on the current PS4? Are the Move controllers really up to the job? And the camera? Will the experience feel sub-par compared to Vive and Oculus?

Faced with a choice between a 350 PlayStation VR and 250 Xbox One S this Christmas, where are consumers going to place their loyalty? Will Microsoft’s promise of inclusive new power to come win out, or will the excitement of VR – and the knowledge that there will likely be another 350’s worth of incremental upgrade waiting for people this time next year in the shape of Neo – keep the PlayStation faithful onside?

Xbox Play Anywhere seems like a great prospect on paper, but if you’ve got a good gaming rig then why do you care if purchases also net you an Xbox One copy? And if you have an Xbox One, presumably you don’t bother with PC gaming. Don’t underestimate the general air of negativity aimed at Windows 10, either. PC gamers love Steam, and Microsoft’s fencing off of its first party games behind the Windows Store – and all the technical compromises that come with its UWP standard – is a big, big turn off to plenty within the PC gaming community.

Certainly if software is indeed king then Sony seems to have emerged from E3 2016 in better shape. And it’s hard to shake the memory that Microsoft’s really strong E3 2015 showing did absolutely nothing to reverse that machine’s fortunes. But is a smaller, cheaper machine for the now and the promise of better things in the future enough to finally swing the pendulum? It could be.

What a shame that Nintendo won’t be shaking things up with an NX reveal later today.

Be sure to check out or Microsoft E3 2016 and Sony E3 2016 roundups.

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