It just wouldn’t be the holidays without a deluge of deals on electronics new and old. While Black Friday (now, also encompassing most of Thanksgiving Thursday) and Cyber Monday have come and gone, there is still an entire month to shop for the ones you love.
And, if those loved ones are asking for a flashy new video game console, you may be scratching your head over which version you should pick up. While the choice may appear obvious at the start (isn’t newer always better?), you may be surprised to find that all that glitters isn’t gold.
Below you’ll find a breakdown of the differences between the first and second generations of current console systems (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and WiiU) as well as my humble opinion on whether it is worth picking up the newer flashier models.
Understanding the consoles
First, I want to cover the basic differences between the new and old (really, just less new) versions of each console that are available now to give an understanding of what each console will offer.
To begin, the PlayStation 4 (PS4) now comes in two models—the standard model and the PS4 Pro (with the standard model also coming in a slim version, which is basically the standard now). The standard model typically comes with a 500GB hard drive, 1080p graphical capabilities and all the accoutrements of the current console cycle (Blu-ray player, wireless controller, Wi-Fi capabilities, etc).
The PS4 Pro comes with an upgraded GPU (graphics processing unit), an upgrade CPU (central processing unit), a 1TB hard drive, plus additional USB ports and 4K compatibility.
What this means is the Pro claims to offer improved 1080p graphic performance for most games and the option to run at the new apex of TV quality 4K and HDR. 4K, in its purest sense, means better picture (3840 x 2160 pixels versus the current standard of 1920 x 1080), while HDR (high-dynamic range) provides a richer color palette. What this also means is that the Pro can run games at 60fps (frames per second), which serves to give graphics a smoother appearance when objects are in motion.
In realiyt, most of the big improvements are only available if you have the TV to display the graphical upgrades. 4K TVs are relatively new and cost quite a bit of money, especially if you want one with HDR included. So, if you don’t plan on also picking up a swanky new TV to go with your console, these upgrades are not going to come to any use.
Also, while the upgrade to 60fps sounds nice, the reality is the console is only upscaling these graphics, not actually changing them. So the picture isn’t going to be true 6ofps, unless the developers have specifically changed the graphics through re-releases—like is the case with video game titles The Last of Us and Tomb Raider. Check out Kotaku’s extensive breakdown of the PS4 Pro to get a complete picture of what comes with the new model.
As for the Xbox, the current options are between the standard Xbox One (XB1) and the Xbox One S (XB1S). The differences between these two models are far less dramatic and revolve around primarily cosmetic rather than performance changes.
The XB1S is smaller than the original and includes an internal power supply (so, no more giant brick sitting behind the TV). It also comes with a slightly upgraded hard drive, which is advertised as improving the graphics, though not in any dramatic way.
Unlike Sony, Microsoft is not releasing a 4K compatible console yet, and instead waiting until 2017 to release their Project Scorpio console, which is said to be a far more superior version of the Xbox One. So, yeah…in one more year, there will be another version of the Xbox out there for sale!
Currently, the Xbox One S runs for around $250-$299, depending on the size of the hard drive, and typically comes bundled with a game. The Xbox One is currently priced at around $199 and comes bundled with an assortment of options.
Lastly, there is Nintendo. Currently, there is no new console out, but the Nintendo Switch is looming just beyond the horizon, meaning that soon the WiiU will be a last generation console. While Nintendo has stated that they do not plan to stop developing games for the WiiU, it is worth considering the implications of buying a WiiU right before a new console is released. Additionally, while 3DS buyers may feel safe from this looming release, the Switch’s ability to transition from a home to a portable console may mean that fewer games are developed for the current king of portable gaming.
In regards to the PS4 and the XB1, I suggest sticking with the standard versions. While the newer iterations are certainly nicer, they don’t offer anything exceedingly better than the original models. This is especially true of the PS4 Pro, considering its biggest selling point—4K compatibility—is an upgrade that most buyers can’t afford to utilize.
And, while both consoles advertise an upgrade to the quality of 1080p graphics, the few side-by-side comparisons that I have seen have not revealed any dramatic changes worth mentioning.
Lastly, Microsoft’s Scorpio release during the 2017 holiday season means that the XB1S may soon be dated tech as well. Bottom line, save that extra $100 and put it toward some extra presents!
As for the Nintendo consoles, I have a hard time discouraging anyone from picking up hardware since Nintendo has not announced a release date for the Switch yet. However, the reality is, they will probably release it sooner than later, so you may find yourself with a dated console quicker than expected.
The few reports that I have seen speak of Spring 2017—possibly March—as the likely time for release, which means that your purchase may only be ‘new’ for a few months. This may be even more irritating since the Switch is reported to be cheaper, at launch, than the WiiU’s current price (which will surely drop with the release of the Switch).
So, the bottom line: Avoid spending the extra money this holiday season on the newest toys, and instead focus on the ol’ reliable ones that are actually relatively new themselves. The standard versions of the consoles currently on the market are great and are now being bundled rather generously with a variety of new games and extra accessories. So take advantage and give someone a hardy gaming holiday gift.