The countdown to Christmas has begun, and the world’s biggest games console manufacturers are all vying for your hard-earned cash. But which console is right for you? Join Geeknaut for a look at the pros and cons of the gaming hardware on offer.
Going by their superlative-packed advertising spiels, you’d swear that each of the big console manufacturers had created the greatest gaming hardware known to humankind. In reality, there are a number of key differences between the games consoles currently on sale across North America and Europe, and which one is best for you will depend on what you expect your console to do as well as your existing living room setup.
Today, we’re doing away with the jargon and focusing solely on what these four consoles — namely the Xbox One S, Wii U, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro — have to offer. Be sure to study this guide thoroughly before you pick up a console this Christmas or Black Friday.
Xbox One S (MSRP $299~/£249~)
The third in Microsoft’s popular line of consoles and the jewel in the company’s living room crown, Xbox One launched in 2013 in direct competition with Sony’s PlayStation 4. The machine got off to a slightly bumpy start, largely due to its hefty price-point and heavy focus on the bundled Kinect camera (which Microsoft has since abandoned), but has come into its own this year especially. The Xbox One S, on which the focus is here, is the newly remodelled, slimmer and technically more capable version of machine, and the one you’re most likely to find on store shelves today.
The Xbox One S is available in 500-gigabyte, 1-terabyte and 2-terabyte models, so you may want to consider the number of games and applications you expect to download before making your purchase (although buying games on disc is of course still an option and will save you some hard drive space). The console is home to a number of exclusive first-party games, as well as all of the big-name multi-platform titles, many of which are supported by Microsoft’s excellent, albeit paid, online service, Xbox Live.
As with most of today’s consoles, the Xbox One S does more than just play games, though. It also works as an excellent multimedia hub, boasting not only all of the popular streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, but allowing users to connect their various digital TV tuners and satellite receivers to the console via an HDMI-in port (a rarity in consoles) to access live TV via the console. It also has a built-in IR blaster which enables you to turn other media boxes on and off, and can both stream 4K video and play 4K Blu-ray discs — something that Microsoft is keen to stress in its recent wave of promotion.
- Large games library, including Xbox exclusives like Halo and Gears of War.
- Supports more than 100 Xbox 360 games.
- The only console that can play 4K Blu-ray discs.
- Compatible with HDR (high dynamic range) TVs and monitors.
- Great for people who watch a lot of TV.
- Competitive price-point.
- Not as powerful as the PlayStation 4 Pro.
- Online gaming is behind a subscription paywall.
- Microsoft has a new console in the pipeline that looks set to dwarf the current model.
Wii U (MSRP $299/£249)
What is it?
Japanese video game veterans Nintendo’s current home console, the Wii U is the successor to the massively popular motion-control sensation, the Wii. The console is a console/tablet hybrid of sorts, with the main controller featuring a large touch-screen that can be used in conjunction with, or in some cases completely independent of, a TV screen.
In terms of hardware, the Wii U is inferior to its closest competitors, the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4, by a large margin, and for this reason lacks many of the multi-platform games released elsewhere. You won’t find the new FIFA or Call of Duty here. What the Wii U does have is Nintendo’s own games, many of which — like multiplayer racing game Mario Kart 8, paint-based shooter Splatoon, and build-your-own levels-create-a-thon Super Mario Maker— are seriously good fun. Nintendo might take a quirky approach to hardware, but it knows that people will pay good money for software exclusives, and the Wii U has plenty of those to offer.
Sadly, the Wii U didn’t sell anywhere near as well as as its record-breaking predecessor, and Nintendo recently announced that it had ceased production of the console. It will instead focus its efforts on Switch, a new console that is due out in March 2017. By picking up a Wii U, you’d essentially be buying a dying system, but those on the hunt for casual fun and Nintendo exclusives should be able to capitalise on that fact by doing a bit of shopping around.
- The only place you can play Nintendo’s games.
- Plays your old Wii games (Wii remote required).
- Plenty of family-friendly titles.
- Access to a large back-catalogue of classic NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64 games via online shop.
- Free to play online.
- Hunt around and you’ll get a bargain.
- Limited third-party software library compared to other consoles.
- Doesn’t play DVDs or Blu-ray discs.
- Outdated hardware; Nintendo on the verge of releasing a new console
- MSRP still a little high considering the specs of the machine.
PlayStation 4 (MSRP $299/£259)
You may hear this console referred to as the “PlayStation 4 Slim”, but technically the new, slimmed down model of Sony’s popular home console replaces the original 2013 version to become the base model PlayStation 4.
The original model PlayStation 4 has sold upwards of 40 million units worldwide in its three years of sale, making Sony’s platform the clear leader in the current generation of console wars. PlayStation 4 is supported by the vast majority of third-party game development studios and is home to some quality exclusives such as the Uncharted cinematic adventure series and the award-winning The Last of Us. Although the PS4 can’t quite compete with the Xbox One S when used as a media hub (you can’t pipe a TV signal through it and it doesn’t play 4K Blu-ray discs), applications for all the popular video streaming services are available on the PS4, and both DVDs and standard Blu-ray discs can be played on it. The console is available in 500 gigabyte or 1 terabyte models, both of which offer support HDR screens where available for crisp, vivid images. The PS4 also has excellent online capabilities, but, like Microsoft’s machine, a subscription is required for access to online play.
PlayStation 4’s trump card, at least in some people’s eyes, is that it supports virtual reality gaming in the form of Sony’s recently released PlayStation VR headset, making it one of only two consoles currently able to boast the facility.
- Excellent games library.
- Reasonably priced.
- Quiet, compact console.
- Compatible with HDR screens.
- Offers entry-level access to virtual reality.
- Monthly subscription required to play games online.
- Can’t play 4K Blu-ray discs.
- Already overshadowed by the PlayStation 4 Pro.
PlayStation 4 Pro (MSRP $399/£349)
While Sony sought to slim down its original PlayStation 4 with the above “slim” model, PlayStation 4 Pro represents Sony’s full-fat foray into 4K (sometimes upscaled 4K) gaming. Although not technically a new console (all PlayStation 4 games will work with both the slim and Pro models), the larger, three-tiered PS4 Pro can be seen as a sort of mid-generation update, boasting a faster CPU and a much more capable graphics processing unit. Sony, of course, also makes high-end TV sets, so it stands to reason that the PlayStation 4 Pro’s key selling point is that it is built with 4K, i.e. ultra-high-definition, gaming in mind. As a result, developers are able to utilise the console’s extra grunt to render games at a level of graphical detail never before seen on a home console.
The only downside to all this is that you’ll need a pretty high-spec 4K TV or monitor to get your money’s worth. 4K is undoubtedly the future of gaming, so the PlayStation 4 Pro is easily the most future-proofed console on the market right now, even if displays capable of playing host to the PS4 Pro’s ultra-HD/HDR visuals are still quite costly. (Cheaper models of 4K TV are available, certainly, but many do not offer true HDR and have low refresh rates, which aren’t ideal for gaming.)
The Pro retails for $399/£349, roughly $100 more than the base model PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S. You do get an awful lot for your money (an off-the-shelf gaming PC of similar size and technical prowess would cost quite a bit more), but when you factor in the cost of an ultra-HD screen, PS4 Pro suddenly becomes a much bigger investment.
- Excellent software library (plays all existing PS4 games).
- The most future-proof console on the market, with hardware capable of putting out some seriously detailed graphics.
- Optimised for 4K screens — on the right screen, games look absolutely gorgeous.
- More capable hardware promises improved PlayStation VR experiences compared to base model.
- You’ll need a good 4K/HDR-ready TV set to get the most out of the console.
- The priciest console on the market.
- As with base-model PS4, online gaming requires subscription.
For many gamers, the machine you choose this Christmas will come down to the games you want to play. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo thrive on platform-exclusive titles, which play a big role in players’ choices — if you’re a Halo fan, you’ll have to choose Xbox. If you prefer the games produced by Sony’s developers, meanwhile, it has to be PlayStation.
But for the rest of us, it all comes down to a combination of the hardware itself and price. Here are Geeknaut’s recommendations.
- For the budget gamer:
If you’re a gamer on budget but still want something that’s able to keep up with the pack, then Geeknaut recommends picking up the slimmer PlayStation 4 this Christmas. There are myriad reasons why the PlayStation 4 became the world’s bestselling current-gen console, from its competitive pricing and solid technical performance, to its large software library and the lure of virtual reality. The new, slimmer model PS4’s innards are basically the same as those of the original’s, but the newer version runs much more quietly, uses a fraction of the electricity and, thanks to its small form-factor, will slip discreetly into your living room setup. It’s a solid console to own and should last at least a couple of years.
- For the media-hungry gamer:
If you value TV and media playback just as much as your gaming, however, and are looking for a stylish all-in-one device, then you can’t go wrong with the Xbox One S. Microsoft has responded to consumer feedback on the original Xbox One and has delivered a sleek, capable games console-cum-media centre with the Xbox One S that, as well as being packed with features, is available at an attractive price. The fact that the Xbox One S plays 4K Blu-ray discs — a storage medium that Sony invented — while the PS4 and PS4 Pro are limited to 4K video streaming, is a huge boon for Microsoft, and positions Xbox One S as the perfect all-in-one machine for media lovers. Don’t be tempted to go for the larger, original Xbox One unless you can get a real bargain, however — not only is it graphically less capable than both its slimmer sibling and the original PlayStation 4, but it’s large enough to crush a small child.
- For the tech-loving gamer:
For those with a little more cash to splash on their gaming, or who already own a mid-range or high-end 4K TV, it has to be PlayStation 4 Pro. As well as playing every existing PlayStation 4 game and promising better performance than the base model, when combined with a quality display the Pro absolutely shines. There’s a good chance that Microsoft’s next console will go a step further, but details are still lacking on that front, leaving the PS4 Pro as by far the most capable games console available today. It’s difficult to recommend the Pro to those who own an original model PS4, but if you’re in the market for a new console and want something that will run high-spec games for years to come, then it’s definitely worth paying the extra.
- Sorry, Nintendo…
Finally, as much Nintendo’s games are fantastic, unless you can get one for well below the MSRP (think $150/£100) or with a stack of software, buying a Wii U isn’t recommended at this point. The console was relatively under-powered even at launch, and third-party developers struggled to get an awful lot out of it, not to mention find a worthwhile use for the system’s touchscreen controller. With Nintendo Switch due to arrive in roughly four months’ time, and with every chance that some or all of Nintendo’s back catalogue will arrive on or be supported by the new console at some point in its life-cycle, the Wii U just isn’t worth the money, and would likely end up gathering dust the moment you’ve ticked off the handful of Nintendo-exclusive titles.
Which console are you most in the market for? If you own any of the above machines, what do you think of it? Share your thoughts below. Happy shopping!