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Which Game Console Is the Best Home Entertainment System?

You buy a gaming console to play games, but then it ends up being a centerpiece of your home theater. If you’re going to watch movies and TV on it, you may as well get the best one for your needs.

A video game console generation ago this was barely a consideration for most people, and a generation before that it wasn’t even a consideration. Today, thought, game consoles are so much more than just a box you flip on when you want to game. Current generation consoles are capable of HD (and even 4K) video playback, Blu-ray and DVD playback, and they’re more than equipped to access streaming services. Here are the top offerings from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, and how they fit into your home entertainment ecosystem.

Xbox One S/X: Ideal for 4K Blu-Rays and Cable TV

Microsoft’s console might struggle to stand out out based on its game library alone, but when it comes to being a home entertainment system, it’s tough to beat. Not only does it have the normal stable of streaming apps (including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, HBO Now, etc.), but the Xbox One S and One X can stream 4K shows and movies. If you have a 4K TV, this makes the Xbox One a perfect accessory.

On top of that, both the Xbox One X and One S comes with a 4K Blu-ray player. Notably, the Xbox is the only console that can play 4K Blu-rays. Barring a surprise announcement from either Sony (unlikely) or Nintendo (even less likely) this is probably going to stay true for the next few years. Put simply, if you care about 4K content, there’s no better console than the Xbox One.

It’s not just for people looking towards the future, though. The Xbox One can also play audio CDs. You remember those, right? If you still like playing music one CD at a time, the Xbox One is the only console that can do it. Yes, you read that correctly. The PlayStation 4 can play DVDs and regular (non-4K) Blu-rays, but it cannot play audio CDs. Both consoles have music apps like Spotify, only the Xbox can play audio CDs.

Microsoft also made a huge push to support cable boxes and TV antennas when the Xbox One first came out. While the feature wasn’t very popular then (since it seemed to come at the expense of games), it’s still there. Plug in your TV input and set up OneGuide and then you can browse channels and watch TV without changing input. If you still have a cable subscription or just want to watch some over-the-air channels, the Xbox One is the most friendly console for that.

PS4 Pro: Great For Internet TV and 4K Streaming

Like the Xbox One, you can watch most streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, and HBO Now. Also like the Xbox One, the PS4 Pro supports streaming in 4K, where those services allow it. Unlike the Xbox One, that’s where 4K support ends. Despite Sony technically owning the Blu-ray spec, the company chose not to add a 4K Blu-ray player to its upgraded console model.

If you don’t mind the lack of a 4K Blu-ray player, that can give the PS4 an edge for you. The PS4 Pro supports 4K gaming and it’s about $100 cheaper than the Xbox One X. The PlayStation also tends to have a better selection of exclusive games. While we’re focusing on home theater use cases today, it is worth keeping that in mind. If you’d rather have more 4K games and don’t care about 4K Blu-rays, then the PS4 is going to be more appealing to you, even as an entertainment center.

In a strange twist, while Sony wasn’t very forward-thinking in regards to 4K Blu-rays, it is better at switching from cable to internet TV packages. Specifically, the PS4 also has PlayStation Vue. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a subscription service that lets you stream live TV over the internet. Depending on your needs, it could conceivably replace your cable package. The Xbox One does have an app for Sling and Hulu Live TV (neither of which are available on the PS4), but for our money PS Vue is currently the best of these live TV services and you can only get it on the PS4.

Switch: Good For Literally Just Hulu

The Nintendo Switch is a fantastic console. Even months after getting it, we still loved how the hardware worked, Nintendo has cranked out a ton of exclusive games and the game train isn’t stopping any time soon. There are a lot of good reasons to buy a Switch. Watching movies or TV shows is not one of them.

We tried hard to find a good reason to watch movies or TV shows on the Switch. Technically you can! And you’d think that having a portable device would make a great media console, if nothing else because you can watch things in a hotel or on a plane. However, there’s a problem. Here is a comprehensive list of all available video apps of any kind for the Switch:

  • Hulu

That is it—a one bullet point bulleted list. When Nintendo announced that it would allow streaming video apps, Hulu was the first out of the gate. In the seven (seven!) months since then, not a single other app has been added to the Switch lineup. As recently as a couple months ago, Netflix didn’t sound too hopeful about getting a Switch app, either. The company, citing a vague “opportunity cost,” said they hope that an app could happen “at some point.” That doesn’t sound promising, especially from a company that has apps on almost every platform known to man.

It’s unclear whether this is because media companies don’t want to create apps for the Switch (strange given how many people have Switches), or if they need help from Nintendo that they’re not giving (more likely). It also doesn’t matter, the end result is the same. If you want to watch anything except Hulu, the Switch isn’t for you right now.

Overall, both the Xbox One S/X and PS4 Pro will be great home entertainment machines, it just comes down to how you prefer to consume your media. If you want to watch 4K Blu-rays or plug into your cable subscription, the Xbox One is for you. If you’d rather stream all your 4K content, and maybe get some live TV from PS Vue while you’re at it, then pick up a PlayStation 4 Pro. Whatever you do, though, don’t get a Switch unless you only care about Hulu and nothing else.

Eric Ravenscraft Eric Ravenscraft
Eric Ravenscraft has nearly a decade of writing experience in the technology industry. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, PCMag, The Daily Beast, Geek and Sundry, and The Inventory. Read Full Bio »