I was five when my parents bought me a Super Nintendo, and I was so bad at it that I forced them to hire baby sitters who could beat Donkey Kong Country and Yoshi’s Island for me. A good portion of my adolescent years was spent playing Sega Dreamcast: Hydro Thunder, Power Stone and Toy Commander. At 13, I unwrapped an Xbox and multi-friend-sleepovers-a.k.a.-Halo-tournaments prevailed. I then went through several Xbox 360s — and several red rings of Death — before graduating college and purchasing an Xbox One.
At 28 years old and several years into my professional career, I still own an Xbox One and play FIFA online with friends who live all over the country. I’m a big fan of indie titles, too, like Child of Light, Firewatch, Inside and Ori and the Blind Forest. The point is, video games are still a big part of my life. And because I grew up with them, I think they always will be.
2017 is an incredible time to be a console gamer. The Nintendo Switch is here, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the highest-rated games ever. (Polygon gave it a 10/10.) Sony has the PS4 and the PS4 Pro; Microsoft has the Xbox One S and, coming this November, the Xbox One X, which will be the most powerful gaming console ever.
All of which means that 2017 is also a frustrating time to invest in a new console. I’ve never owned a PlayStation console in my life, but because it has so many more exclusive games — Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Bloodborne, The Last Guardian, the list goes on — I’ve considered cashing in on a PS4 Pro. The only thing that’s held me back is that all my friends have Xbox Ones and I pay a monthly Xbox Live subscription to play with them. I’ll probably end up buying a Nintendo Switch when I convince myself it’s a portable console that won’t affect my Xbox hours.
So which home gaming console should you buy next? The decision ultimately comes down to three factors: 1) how you plan on using the console (games and streaming?), 2) which games you want to play, and 3) who you want to play with. To answer these and any other burning questions, we’ve outlined the pros and cons of the latest offerings below.
What to Know: Between the PS4 Slim ($263) and PS4 Pro ($400), the big difference — other than price, which will fluctuate depending on the storage size, bundle and deal — is power. The PS4 Pro outputs and upscales video content at 4K resolution and also supports HDR; the PS4 Slim does neither. If you have a 4K TV and plan to use your console for Netflix, or you plan play buying a PlayStation VR headset ($350), the PS4 Pro is easily worth the money. Sony has also started releasing 4K games that are specifically optimized to fully take advantage of the PS4 Pro’s superior graphical processing power. Both consoles will be able to play the same games, but the visual experience will be different.
The Argument For: Buying into the PlayStation ecosystem really comes down to exclusive games and virtual reality. There are many critically acclaimed games that you get only on PlayStation: The Last Guardian, Until Dawn, Bloodborne, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the Uncharted series. The PlayStation also offers pretty much every mainstream third-party game you could want, like Injustice 2 and the Madden and Grand Theft Auto franchises. PlayStation boasts a large and healthy online gaming network, PlayStation Live, and you can use the consoles to stream content from Hulu, Netflix and HBO; they also function as Blu-ray players. When it comes to virtual reality, the PSVR headset delivers an experience that’s almost on par with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — at a fraction of the price.
The Argument Against: There isn’t one, really. The most important thing is to make sure the console supports the games you want to play. It’s also important to note that Sony will eventually be releasing a PS5 between 2018 and 2019. (For more info on the PS4, read Steve Boxer’s article for TechRadar.)
What to Know: There’s really only one Xbox console you can buy at the moment: the Xbox One S. It’s a smaller, repackaged version of the Xbox One, which Microsoft ceased production on. The most important upgrade is the Xbox One S’s 4K upscaling and support for HDR, just like the PS4 Pro’s. It’s a very good streaming device, too.
With one eye on the future, Microsoft will be releasing the Xbox One X ($499) on November 7. It will be the most powerful gaming console ever, with a custom GPU engine that runs at 1,172MHz (compared to the One S’s 914MHz) and 6 teraFLOPS of graphical processing power (compared to Xbox One S’s 1.4 teraFLOPS). The new console will run games natively at true 4K at 60 fps, which will be beautiful; that said, the console will play the same games as the Xbox One S. Online gamers will compete on the same Xbox Live network.
The Argument For: The Xbox One S is similar to the PS4 Pro in that they have comparable 4K gaming and streaming abilities. The One S has a vast gaming library with some exclusive franchises like Forza, Gears of War and Halo, as well as originals like Titanfall and Ori and the Blind Forest. You’ll be able to play all the mainstream third-party titles, like Overwatch and Call of Duty and FIFA. Through Xbox Play Anywhere, you can play some titles on both Xbox One S and Windows 10 PC.
The Argument Against: The obvious downside to Xbox is that it doesn’t have as many exclusive titles. Microsoft had also previously been stubborn with indie games; indie titles had to launch on Xbox at the same time as on PlayStation and PC, or not at all. However, according to Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge, Microsoft has softened its stance on this issue.
What to Know: Released this year, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid that can be played on your TV or as a handheld device. It boasts numerous traits from past Nintendo consoles: the portability of a GameBoy, the joysticks of the the Nintendo 64, the touchscreen of the Nintendo 3DS, and the motion control of the Wii.
The Argument For: The Nintendo Switch is unlike any other home gaming console because it seamlessly transitions between handheld and console play. If you go on vacation or a work trip, or you just have a lunch hour to kill, you can play the console anywhere, anytime. The other huge differentiator is its exclusive games. On no other console can you play Nintendo titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, along with several upcoming titles featuring beloved characters like Mario, Yoshi, Kirby and Samus.
The Argument Against: The Nintendo Switch isn’t nearly as graphically advanced as an Xbox One S or PS4. When used as a handheld device, its battery life is limited. It doesn’t have a lot of built-in storage, either, so you probably should plan on buying a microSD card. It doesn’t have a huge catalog of games (yet), and you shouldn’t expect it to support quite as many third-party games as its competitors. Its online gaming community is pretty limited as well, and lastly, because demand for the Switch is so high, (and Nintendo continues to under-produce it), getting your hands on this console is still pretty difficult.