Console gaming is getting better—and in some ways, cheaper—than ever before. 4K gaming is finally becoming a thing, Nintendo made its main home console portable, and some incredible games have landed in 2017. If you’re still thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, let us help you figure out which console is right for you.
Before we get started, a couple notes: We’re not including PC gaming in this guide. If you’re shopping for a console, we’ll assume you don’t want to plug a desktop into your TV and fiddle with making a third-party controller work. You just want a console that you can plug in, download a few games, and it works.
We’re also not going to highlight every tiny detail about every console. Most modern consoles have a lot in common and there’s no point in picking every nit. These are who we believe each console is best suited for overall, and no console is obviously superior to any other in all ways.
Xbox One X: For the Hardcore Pixel-Pusher
If you’re the type who wants to get the absolute best picture detail out of your games and you don’t care how much you have to spend, the Xbox One X (pre-order) is for you. Set to land November 2017, it packs more processing power than any modern console. This is extremely helpful if you want to play games in 4K HDR and at the highest frame rate.
4K HDR gaming gives your games crisp, pixel-perfect detail with a higher range of beautiful colors (as long as you have a 4K HDR- compatible TV). Most modern games also aim to have a high-frame rate, typically aiming to hit 60 frames per second for super smooth motion. Both 4K HDR rendering and 60fps games require massive amounts of processing power for modern, graphically intensive games. In side-by-side comparisons, the Xbox One X seems more capable of achieving more detailed pictures, or pushing higher frame rates.
If you want your console to be the center of your media center, the Xbox One X is good news for you as well. The Xbox One X comes with a built-in 4K Blu-Ray player, which means it’s the only console on the market that’s capable of true 4K HDR gaming and playing 4K HDR movies. While the Playstation 4 Pro can play games in 4K, it still only has a standard HD Blu-Ray player inside.
All that power will come at a premium, though. The basic 1TB model of Xbox One X costs $500. Meanwhile, the Playstation 4 Pro—which can also play 4K games, but doesn’t have a 4K Blu-Ray player—costs $400 for a 1TB console. If you want all that power, you’re going to have to pay for it.
- 4K HDR Gaming
- More 60fps games
- Most expensive console on the market
- Fewer exclusive games
- Still waiting on independent graphics tests
Xbox One S: The Cheap Console With 4K Video
Coincidentally, Microsoft manages to hold both the most expensive console on the market and the cheapest. While the company has discontinued the original Xbox One, it has replaced it with the slightly upgraded Xbox One S ($245) The new model can play 4K Blu-rays—though it can’t play 4K games, like the One X—and stream 4K video from services like Netflix.
Aside from the new 4K and streaming features, the One S is largely the same as the original Xbox One. It plays Xbox One games, plus select original Xbox and Xbox 360 games. With an Xbox Live Gold subscription, you get a few free games every month. If you also have a PC you like to game on, you can buy some games for Xbox and play them on your computer for free with Xbox Play Anywhere.
The only major downside to the Xbox over other consoles is its lack of exclusives. Outside of franchises like Gears of War and Halo, the Xbox has very little by way of games you specifically need this console for. In contrast, both the Playstation and the Switch have a library of games that you can only get on their respective consoles. However, if all you want is a cheap console to play games in your living room, the Xbox One S is the cheapest way to do it. For now.
- Cheapest entry level console (for now)
- Some backwards compatible games
- Windows cross buy for some games
- 4K Blu-ray player
- Few exclusive games
- Can’t play 4K games
- Not much better than an old Xbox One
Playstation 4/Playstation 4 Pro: Get It For the Games
All the bells and whistles don’t matter much if a console doesn’t come with some good games, and on that front the Playstation 4 brings its A-Game. Whether you think exclusives are good or bad for the industry, the fact is there are a lot of big games you can only play on a Playstation. They also tend to look amazing.
To name just a few franchises, Bloodborne, God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, Persona, Spider-Man, Uncharted, and Until Dawn all have either previous or upcoming games with wide acclaim that are exclusive to the Playstation. A few of the Playstation’s exclusives are also available on PC, but many don’t even have that. If you want to play some of the best games in the industry right now, you need a Playstation. Simple as that. You can browse through the massive list of games that are either partial or complete Playstation exclusives here.
The games are the biggest reason to buy any Playstation, but which one is largely determined by what TV you have. If you have a regular 1080p HD TV, then you’ll probably want the Playstation 4 Slim, which starts at around $300. If you have a 4K TV (or are planning to upgrade in the near future), the Playstation 4 Pro will give you a better graphical boost for your buck, starting at $400.
- Massive library of exclusive games
- Free games every month with PS Plus subscription
- Cheapest console 4K Gaming with PS4 Pro
- No 4K Blu-ray player on any model
- No backwards compatibility except through PS Now
Nintendo Switch: For Nintendo Fans and Portable Gamers
Nintendo always occupies a weird place in the battle for your living room. It doesn’t compete as much for the big games that other consoles get, and it doesn’t chase the pixel-pushing dragon like Microsoft and Sony do. So, instead of making a living room console that plays the same games as everyone else in 4K, Nintendo made a console that plays Mario and Zelda games. Except this one, you can pick up and take with you.
The biggest advantage of the Switch ($299) is the one Nintendo always has: Nintendo games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a popular enough game to outsell the Switch itself. Mario Kart 8, despite already having been out on the Wii U, is almost a better fit on the Switch, where you can take your Switch out with friends to play anywhere. Mario Odyssey is set to drop soon, and there are new games in the Kirby, Metroid, and Yoshi franchises due out next year. Unlike other consoles, Nintendo’s first-party games are usually the best ones on the console. The only problem is that it takes a while between game releases, so some of the (hopefully) best games on the console aren’t even out yet.
The Switch also has a major advantage over the Xbox One and PS4 purely in the hardware: portability. If you’re playing Breath of the Wild in the living room and want to take it on the road, you can snap the controllers onto the side and take it with you immediately. You can play games wirelessly with other people who also have Switches. While Nintendo’s ads featuring millennials playing games at their trendy rooftop parties border on Sam Raimi levels of campiness, it sort of lives up to the promise.
Of course, you pay a price for that portability in terms of graphics. Since the Switch uses a run of the mill NVIDIA processor, it can’t come close to the visual detail that consoles like the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro can handle. In fact, for some games it can’t even reach a full 1080p, and the Switch’s built-in screen is only 720p. Some games still look pretty good, but if you’re a stickler for the absolute finest picture quality, Nintendo isn’t going to be the company for you (and it really never was).
- Portable console
- Nintendo’s exclusive games
- Wireless multiplayer with other Switch owners
- No 4K gaming
- Fewer third-party games
- No backwards compatibility
- Library is still slowly building