It’s a great time to buy a game console. There’s a new array of improved hardware, such as Sony’s PS4 Pro, Microsoft’s Xbox One X, and sub-platforms like PlayStation VR. And if you’re on a budget, the original versions of these consoles are now sold at more affordable prices.
Of course, the war between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo goes on. This console generation is quite competitive, and there’s reasons to pick every one of these — but we think Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is ahead of the pack.
Why should you buy this? It’s the best version of the most popular console, and has the highest number of high-fidelity games.
Who’s it for? Everyone.
How much will it cost? $400
Why we picked the PlayStation 4 Pro:
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the best version of the most popular game platform available today. With 4K, HDR 10 compatibility, and the PlayStation 4’s exclusive game library, it is currently the best plug-and-play gaming platform.
A very large majority of both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One libraries are available on both platforms. Though both platforms have popular exclusive franchises, the PlayStation 4 (Pro or standard) sees more exclusive games each year. The PS4 also has access to a small number of less well-known indie games and niche titles, such as Japanese role-playing games, that the Xbox One does not.
That’s the main reason for our pick. The PS4 has the best games, and the PS4 Pro makes them look as stunning as possible. The Xbox One X is technically even more powerful — but its lacks must-have exclusives. There’s just not as much to play.
Picking PlayStation 4 also opens the door for you to pick up PlayStation VR, which, as we’ve noted, is the most affordable premium VR headset available. Microsoft, meanwhile, has confirmed that VR support is not coming to the Xbox One X.
While it can be difficult to take advantage of the PlayStation 4 Pro’s advanced features, namely HDR support, the improvements it provides to even un-optimized games make it the most technically impressive way to play the largest number of games on a console. Depending on how well its adopted by developers — and whether 4K and HDR catch on — the PS4 Pro could represent the future of console gaming.
The best console for 4K gaming
Why should you buy this? With a 4K Blu-Ray player and HDR, it offers access to both great new games and high-resolution video.
Who’s it for? Players who want to to play games and watch movies at the highest possible image quality.
How much will it cost? $500
Why we picked the Xbox One X:
Sony led the charge on the mid-generation console update with the PS4 Pro but, by taking its time, Microsoft gave us the better hardware in the Xbox One X. It offers the same 4K Blu-ray and HDR video playback as the One S, while also bringing that visual enhancement to games. Microsoft wasn’t exaggerating when they told us that the Xbox One X is the most powerful home gaming console ever sold. It won’t be getting VR, however — which may disappoint those hoping it could be an inexpensive entry point to high-quality VR experiences.
The PS4 may still have a stronger gaming library than the Xbox One, but the Pro’s improvements are only noticeable in games that have been specifically enhanced for it. The Xbox One X has proven far better at using its extra horsepower to improve the visuals of all games on the platform, enhanced or not. Microsoft is also doubling down on investing in first-party studios, such as Rare, which recently released Sea of Thieves.
For those of us who haven’t made the jump to 4K, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S are great consoles with large game libraries. You will be able to play the vast majority of new and upcoming games, including a few exclusive franchises like Halo, Gears of War, and Forza. Plus, if you are (or were) an Xbox 360 owner, a very large number of last-gen console’s games are now compatible with the Xbox One, which could expand your game library and keep at least some of your old games in rotation.
The best portable game console
Why should you buy this? You want a full console gaming experience, but on the go.
Who’s it for? Everyone
How much will it cost? $300+
Why we picked the Nintendo Switch:
Nintendo sidestepped the current console arms race by changing not how you use your console, but where. The Switch is a “hybrid” device that plugs into a television like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but also works as a handheld.
While it doesn’t quite have the oomph to play the latest 4K, 60 fps releases for Xbox One or PS4, the Switch can play Doom (2016) at a smooth 30 fps anywhere you want to, and that’s more than good enough for a lot of gamers. In addition to contemporary titles like the upcoming Wolfenstein II port, the Switch has also proved itself as a fantastic venue for reviving modern classics, such as Skyrim, L.A. Noire, and the recently announced Dark Souls Remastered.
More than just a clearance house for lightly-aged AAA titles, the Switch also offers an ever-growing catalog of fantastic first-party games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as excellent indies such as Stardew Valley, Celeste, and Battle Chef Brigade. Add in some forward-looking experiments with Nintendo Labo, and the Switch is looking like an incredibly well-rounded platform with something unique to offer everyone.
It’s also a great companion console for people who already own a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. It can do things they can’t, and offers many appealing titles that will never appear on them.
The best retro console
Why should you buy this? It has 20 of the best games ever made for only $80.
Who’s it for? Nintendo fans old and new, and those who grew up with video games.
How much will it cost? $80
Why we picked the SNES Classic Edition:
The 16-bit era saw Nintendo at the peak of its creativity, releasing popular acclaimed games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid alongside cult hits like Earthbound. Third-party companies didn’t take a backseat, with Square Enix’ Final Fantasy VI and Konami’s Super Castlevania IV among the best games of the entire decade.
With the plug-and-play SNES Classic Edition, you can experience all over your favorite classic Nintendo games like you remembered them. There’s even a CRT filter option mimicking the look of your old television.
With the addition of a save-state feature, playing old Nintendo games on the SNES Classic is significantly less frustrating than it was 25 years ago, and when you’re ready to sit down and game with a buddy, classics like Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting give you a chance to compete for bragging rights.
The SNES Classic Edition is also the only way to play Star Fox 2, a game Nintendo canceled just before its original release date. To unlock it, you just need to beat the first level of the original Star Fox, though it will be very tough to pull yourself away from that game once you start playing.
How we test
Choosing the best video game console is, honestly, more philosophical than technical. Since gaming PCs currently produce the highest framerate and highest resolution, picking the best gaming console comes down to a number of factors including its design, features, and game library.
We do test them, of course. We’ve spent a lot of time playing video games on these consoles and we even more thinking about what they can do. We make sure that everything we like about these game consoles works and delivers what’s advertised. That includes playing all kinds of games, checking the console’s internet connectivity, looking at the console’s exclusives, and checking if developers are making games for the platform.
4K, HDR, and buying game consoles
Two of our recommendations, the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X, support high-resolution gaming that can take advantage of emerging display standards, 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Most people, aside from enthusiastic A/V fans, do not have a 4K TV yet, and fewer still have HDR, which is currently broken down into some sub-standards.
Given that there’s a relatively small selection of games for each console that take full advantage of these features, we currently do not recommend that you buy a new TV for the sake of high-resolution console gaming. Currently, no game console requires you to own a 4K or HDR-compatible TV, so you can buy that new console and hold off on buying the TV until you’ve done more research, found games you feel are worth upgrading for, or are otherwise ready to commit.
If you do decide to purchase a new TV for the sake of the console, you should look for a 4K TV that runs at 60Hz and supports HDR 10, as opposed to HDR “Premium.”