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PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One: Parental Controls

While much has been made of the different features – and the different pricing – of the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft, there is another differentiating factor that is not getting quite as much attention, and that’s the issue of parental controls.

With the PS4 and the Xbox One representing so much more than just video game players – they are Blu-Ray players, home entertainment centers, video chat platforms, music hubs, and more – the ability to restrict what your kids can do on these powerful devices is an important consideration.

And while the gap in effective parental controls might have closed – the Xbox 360 was light years ahead of the PS3 – there are still some fundamental differences in both the approach to parental controls and the tools each console provides.

General approach

With the PS4, each adult user has the ability to create a Master Account, and each Master Account can create any number of Sub Accounts. The Master Account then has the ability to restrict the features and content available to the Sub Account based on parental preferences and the age of the Sub Account holder.

The Xbox One does things a little differently, allowing users to group accounts into a “family.” Any child’s account can then be managed by any adult, just as long as they are part of the same family.

Two things make the Xbox One’s approach more practical. First, any parent or guardian can make changes to a child’s account as long as they are members of the same family. There is no need to wait until Dad (or the Master Account holder) gets home to make the required changes.

Second, once an Xbox One account holder turns 18, all the restrictions can be removed without changing anything else on the account. With the PS4, a Sub Account can’t be converted into a Master Account, meaning that an entirely new Master Account would need to be set up, with all the inconvenience and lost content that that could entail.

Game restrictions

When it comes to content, Sony has stuck with the level system that has been in place since the introduction of the PS3. That means parents can choose any level between 1 (most restrictive) and 11 (least restrictive). For games, these levels roughly correspond with the ESRB ratings. For example, Early Childhood (EC) would be level 2, Teen would be level 5, and Mature would be level 9. To find out the level of a game, you can highlight the game in the content area, press the Options button and select Information. The level will be displayed in the Parental Control field.

The Xbox One takes a different approach by asking you to select the age of the user, rather than selecting a restriction level. From there, the Xbox One sets the restrictions for you, matching the age of the user to each game’s ESRB rating.

Other content restrictions

The PS4 level system also extends to other content, such as movies, TV shows, and apps. If a video app such as Hulu or Netflix is at a level above a user’s pre-programmed restriction, then that service will not be available no matter what kind of movie or TV show the user is looking for.

The Xbox One also adopts the same approach for other content as it does for games, assigning an age level to each app. However, the Xbox One allows you to bypass the restriction by entering a passcode, which eliminates the need to go back and adjust settings each time a parent wants to grant an exception.

Web browsing

When it comes to browsing the web, the PS4 adopts the approach of either allowing it or disabling the browser completely. There is no attempt to filter web sites, and there is no restricted area for accessing sites which have been pre-approved by parents.

In contrast, the Xbox One has six different levels of web filtering, including the ability to disable it completely and an “Allow List” for pre-approved sites. A “Basic Communication” level allows access to online social networks and e-mail platforms, while still blocking adult content. However, as with most web filters, the screening and blocking can be hit or miss.

Online interaction

Again, the PS4 approach to online interaction – voice and video chat, texting, online gaming, etc. – is to allow all or nothing. The Master Account chooses whether to enable or disable these functions for the Sub Accounts under its control.

Instead, the Xbox One employs three levels of privacy: child, teen and adult. Under the child default, users can download free games and apps and see and communicate with friends, although parents are required to add new friends. In addition to the child defaults, teens can see and share Kinect content, add friends, participate in multiplayer games, and share to social networks.

Spending limits

One great feature of the PS4 is the Master Account’s ability to set monthly spending limits for each Sub Account under its control. Setting a dollar amount doesn’t fund a Sub Account, it merely restricts the amount of money that can be spent, even if there are extra funds available in the PlayStation Network wallet.


Although the PS4 represents Sony’s first serious attempt to add meaningful parental controls to its PlayStation consoles, it still lags far behind the Xbox One in terms of flexibility and common sense restrictions.

However, one thing that is missing from both consoles is a timer to limit the amount of time each user can spend playing games or interacting with the device in other ways. Although the Xbox 360 had a timer and a timer is available as part of the parental control feature set in Windows 7 and Windows 8, Microsoft has seen fit to leave it off the Xbox One.

Which perfectly illustrates the takeaway from this brief comparison of parental control features: parental controls can only do so much; real parental involvement in your kids’ video gaming and other console activities is still a vitally important component!

Comment by Marni, posted 1/19/2014, 5:55 AM:

I am looking for pS4 online opponents for my 10 year old Son to play the sports games. Particularly Madden football. I am just wondering if you are aware of a website or blog where I can find other parents who want the same thing.( I am not ok w/random adult opponents we do not know. ) Any suggestions greatly appreciated.
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