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Which Game Console Is Best For The Budget-Conscious?

Buying a console is more expensive than just the basic bundle package. How much does each one cost when you get everything you need for it, though? Let’s find out.

When you buy a console, it usually comes with a single controller, no games, and some amount of internal storage, with the option to upgrade. But you usually want to get at least one extra controller (and maybe more). We also tend to recommend a charging station so you don’t end up spending a fortune on batteries. Finally, each console has a subscription for online game play that includes free games. This last one isn’t strictly necessary, but the free games are usually worth it, so we’ll take it into consideration.

With all that in mind, here’s what it costs to get up and running with the basics on every version of the current major consoles.

Xbox One S: $365-$505

  • Console: $250 500GB/$300 1TB
  • First Party Controllers: $45
  • Third Party Controllers: $25
  • Subscription: $40/year
  • Controller Charging Station: $30

Between all of Microsoft and Sony’s offerings, the Xbox One S is by far the cheapest and, in fact, the only one you can get for under $400 when all is said and done. It’s even comparable in price to the Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t hurt that its one of the few consoles left that you can get a 500GB model for. With a single controller, an Xbox Live Gold subscription—which you can reliably get on sale for $40/year, but sometimes goes as low as $30—and a charging station, you’re walking out the door with a price tag of around $365.

The biggest non-console expense is the controller. Microsoft’s official controllers typically cost around $45 a piece. You can shave that down a bit if you’re willing to go third-party with the PowerA wired controller. These are usually around $25 a piece. If you need three extra controllers (for, say, a family of four), then PowerA can cut your cost down from $135 down to a mere $75. If you decide to buy all first-party controllers, and the 1TB console to boot, you’ll be dropping about $505.

The Xbox One S also gets you the most side benefits. It can play 4K Blu-rays, which is one less gadget you have to buy. The Xbox in general also has a wide array of backwards-compatible Xbox 360 games in its library. Games will end up being one of the biggest expenses on your console, but with a robust library of old, cheap, and indie games, there’s a lot of ways to save money on that front.

Xbox One X: $615-$705

  • Console: $500 1TB
  • First Party Controllers: $45
  • Third Party Controllers: $25
  • Subscription: $40/year
  • Controller Charging Station: $30

Ironically enough, Microsoft’s more powerful console is on the complete opposite side of the price spectrum from the One S. The Xbox One X—which, at least on a technical level, is capable of the best 4K gaming graphics—starts at a whopping $500 for 1TB. Fortunately, that’s the biggest expense and the add-ons don’t change much from there compared to the One S, but it can be a tough pill to swallow. For a single controller, Xbox Live Gold subscription, and a charging station, you’ll be paying $615.

Adding three wireless controllers will set you back another $135 (or, again, $75 if you choose to go the third-party, wired route). That brings the maximum total to about $705, which is the highest out-of-pocket bundle in the console game right now. Oh, and speaking of games, you’ll probably need a few. While the Xbox One X has access to the same huge library of backwards compatible Xbox 360 games, if you want to get the most out of your fancy new 4K gaming console, you’ll probably find yourself spending an extra $30-60 per game. But you still get a 4K Blu-ray player, so that’s a bonus.

PS4 Slim: $410-$500

  • Console: $300 1TB
  • First Party Controllers: $45
  • Subscription: $40/year
  • Controller Charging Station: $25

Compared to the Xbox line, the range of prices you could pay for a PS4 is relatively compressed. Sony has discontinued the 500GB model of its PS4 Slim, so the $300 1TB model is the cheapest you can get. Technically you can buy 500GB models from third party resellers, but with shipping, it’s so close to the price of the 1TB model that it’s hardly worth it.

Like with Xbox Live Gold, Sony offers a PlayStation Plus subscription that enables online play and gives you free games every month. Also like Xbox Live Gold, you’re throwing money away if you’re paying monthly or even the full $60 per year. Assuming you can score a deal on a year for $40 (a pretty achievable goal), then a basic console with a single extra controller, a subscription, and a charging station will start at $410.

If you want to upgrade to the family package, three controllers will set you back around $45 each for a total of $135. Unfortunately, there aren’t any decent third-party controllers we’d recommend that are cheaper than Sony’s own offering (though plenty are more expensive). So, if you want to get a full four controllers, the console will cost you around $500. When all is said and done, that’s roughly comparable to what you’ll pay for the Xbox One S with the same accessories and storage.

PS4 Pro: $510-$600

  • Console: $400 1TB
  • First Party Controllers: $45
  • Subscription: $40/year
  • Controller Charging Station: $25

Like the PS4 Slim, the 4K-capable PS4 Pro only comes in a 1TB model, so $400 is about as cheap as you can get for the console itself. Like the Xbox One X, this console lets you play games in 4K. On a technical level, it’s less powerful than the One X, but Sony has a heck of lot more exclusive games that look so good you won’t really care about the difference.

To get everything we recommend with a single controller, the PS4 Pro will cost you around $510. If all you care about is 4K gaming for you and a friend, then that’s about $100 less than you’d spend on a similar Xbox One X. However, the PS4 Pro does not contain a 4K Blu-ray player. So unless you already own one (or don’t care), you might end up spending the difference on a player.

Like the Slim, three extra controllers (for a total of four) costs about $135, for a total package of $600 with the console, subscription, and charging station. You’ll probably want to set aside a budget to buy some 4K games. Unlike the Xbox, the PS4 doesn’t have a library of backwards compatible games, so you might find yourself spending more on newer games, but at least you can save a bit up front.

Nintendo Switch: $350-$440

  • Console: $300
  • First Party Controllers: $70
  • Third Party Controllers: None Yet ($25 in September)
  • Subscription: $20/year

The Nintendo Switch is among the cheapest consoles you can buy, but it still has some expenses. It’s unique in that a single Joy-Con controller can be used by one or two people right out of the box. So you don’t need to buy a second controller in order to play with a friend. You have all the hardware you need to start playing for $300.

However, the low up-front cost of the Switch can start to tear at you on the back end. For starters, compared to the Xbox One or PS4, Nintendo has the smallest library of the newest games. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the launch game for the Switch still runs for around $55, and Super Mario Odyssey is only down to $50. These are two of Nintendo’s biggest games that you’ll most likely want to play, so we’re still clocking a minimum entry of at least $350. There are cheaper games out there, but we imagine very few people won’t want one at least one of these headliners. Nintendo’s upcoming Switch Online service will help out with the game issue. At $20/year, you’ll get access to a collection of classic games as well as online multiplayer.

If you want to play with more than two friends (someone say Mario Kart 8?), you’ll need a second Joy-Con. Nintendo’s official controllers cost, at best, around $70 (third party controllers are coming, but there are still issues with them). That gets you another two controllers, so it’s still cheaper overall than buying two controllers for other consoles. Still, between a second pair of Joy-Cons, a subscription, and a game to play, you’re looking at around $440 for a tricked out system.

The one accessory we skipped is a controller charging dock. Since you can charge two Joy-Cons when your Switch is placed in the TV dock, we consider that satisfactory. It can be a little inconvenient if you have extra Joy-Cons, you might consider a PowerA charger that usually costs around $25. However, unlike Xbox and PS4 controllers, Switch controllers can’t use disposable batteries anyway. Usually we recommend a charger so you don’t waste more money on batteries, but that’s not possible with a Joy-Con so this is definitely in the optional category.

Overall, if you want to get into console gaming and price is your main concern, the cheapest options seem to be the Xbox One S or a Nintendo Switch. More importantly, though, these prices serve as a handy benchmark you can use to gauge how good a bundle or a deal is.

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 »