By Emma Boyle
Back in the day, it was easy to figure out which console was the best. Often there were just one or two on the market that were really viable to buy, and the decision was made by which games you wanted to play – Mario fans always went Nintendo and Sonic fans went Sega. Done!
But these days picking out the best console from the current lot is hard. Sure, there are still exclusives, but 95% of all games that come out are multi-platform. Add to that mid-generation upgrades and technological advancements that promise 4K HDR with some apps and games but not others, and it can be confusing to figure out which console is worth buying.
The good news for gamers is that there are sites (just like the one you’re on now) to help you narrow down the options. We don’t play favorites and we don’t have a preference for one set of titles over another. We’re just here to play by the numbers and give you all the details on the best and brightest new hardware.
That said, we have a few questions to get the ball rolling: Do you need or want 4K? Is there a franchise you feel particularly close to? Do you want something you can play on the go? What’s your budget?
Gamers who want 4K should consider the Xbox One X, PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, while HD gamers can stick to the PS4 Slim and Nintendo Switch. If you’re a racing or a shooting game fan, Xbox has a lot of first-party titles that cater to that genre while Sony has tons of great action-adventure and RPG titles. Nintendo has a mix of everything, but you should go for Nintendo if you can’t live without an annual Pokemon and Mario title in your life.
To help make things a little less complicated, we’ve compiled this guide to the latest consoles on the market and weighed up their most notable pros and cons. We’ve also provided links to our other hubs of information in case you want to dive even deeper with your research.
PlayStation: the affordable all-rounder
Available in standard or slim versions, the PS4 is the baseline console offering from Sony.
Since it launched 4 years ago, the PlayStation 4 has been a firm fan favorite, boasting incredible sales figures.
The console’s single biggest strength is its exclusive games – in world of increasingly service-based online titles, PlayStation continues to push narrative-driven single-player titles such as Uncharted, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us.
It’s also the only console at the moment that offers access to virtual reality experiences (though you will have to purchase the PlayStation VR headset separately if you want to take advantage of this capability).
If you’re interested in the new 4K resolution everyone’s talking about, you won’t find that here. While even the budget Xbox One S offers 4K upscaling, the base PS4 is resolutely 1080p. PlayStation also isn’t great when it comes to backwards compatibility so if you’re hoping you’ll be able to play your old PlayStation 3 library with ease, you won’t.
If you’re looking to enter the latest console generation in the most affordable way possible and you like what games PlayStation has to offer then this is the console to go for.
Buy this if you want: the latest generation games but don’t need 4K, you want PlayStation exclusive games, console VR, and a console for under £250/$250.
Key reads: Make sure you check out our full PlayStation 4 review and our picks of the best PS4 games. Think it’s the console for you? These are the best PS4 deals you can get right now.
Anything the PlayStation 4 can do, the PlayStation 4 Pro can do slightly better. If you’re invested in the 4K resolution revolution and HDR makes you hot under the collar, this is the Sony console for you.
The PlayStation 4 Pro plays all the same games as the standard PlayStation 4, so if you’re upgrading you won’t have to start your library afresh and you won’t need to pay any more for new 4K games either. You may, however, see an improvement in how they look and perform compared to the standard PS4.
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the most powerful console in the PlayStation lineup at the moment, capable of outputting native and upscaled 4K in games that have been patched to make that possible. Even games that haven’t been specifically patched can make something of this console’s greater power – you’ll find images look a little sharper and games will overall run more smoothly thanks to the PS4 Pro’s Boost Mode.
Like the standard PS4, this console has an excellent library of games and some fantastic exclusives as well as Playstation VR support.
Though it’s capable, it’s not every game that will output native 4K on the PS4 Pro – many of them will be upscaled as the console just doesn’t have quite the degree of power required to maintain native 4K resolution and run a large game with consistent frame rates.
The PS4 Pro also has the same problem as the PS4 in that there isn’t good backwards compatibility for previous console generations. There’s also no built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player so if you’re looking for a console that will play your physical 4K media, this isn’t the one. It will, however, still play standard Blu-rays and DVDs, and can stream in 4K from compatible services.
If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV and super sharp visuals aren’t something that will drastically improve your enjoyment of a game then this console might not actually be worth the extra cash you’ll splash on it, particularly if you already own a standard PS4 console.
If you are coming into the new console generation for the first time and a 4K HDR TV is something you’re seriously considering purchasing, then the Pro will at the very least future-proof you.
Buy this if you want: Native 4K and HDR gaming, PlayStation exclusives, VR gaming, native 4K for under £350/$400.
Key reads: Check out our full PS4 Pro review as well as our list of the best games for the console. Think you might make the jump to 4K? These are the best PS4 Pro deals at the moment.
Xbox One: the multimedia monster
Looking for an entry level console but not interested in what PlayStation has to offer? Why not look at Microsoft’s Xbox One S. This console has superseded the original Xbox One for many reasons – it has a much smaller and sleeker design, and it’s just that little bit more powerful.
Something this console can do that the standard PS4 console can’t is upscaled 4K. The Xbox One S’s 4K capabilities aren’t at the same level as the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X as the 1080p images are largely just stretched to fit a 4K screen without any clever checkerboarding but this rudimentary upscaling is reasonably impressive in a console with price starting from only £170/$190.
To make up for a lack of good exclusives, Xbox consoles do have much better backwards compatibility capabilities than PlayStation consoles. On Xbox One S you’ll be able to purchase and play original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles, many of which have become key classics.
If you ever owned an older Xbox console and you still have the games from that, or you really want to catch up on a bunch of excellent titles you missed out on then the Xbox One S is a great way to do this.
An area where Xbox completely outstrips PlayStation is overall home entertainment – while both consoles are able to stream from a variety of entertainment apps like Netflix and Amazon, the Xbox also has a 4K Blu-ray player built in.
This is a feature Sony was criticized for not having in the PlayStation 4 Pro, so if you have a large physical Ultra HD Blu-ray collection and it’s important to you that you’re able to play it then the Xbox One S will definitely win your favor here. If you’ve been thinking about picking up an Ultra HD Blu-ray player anyway, then this console is one of the cheapest ways to do so.
One issue Xbox has compared to PlayStation is exclusive games. Where PlayStation has quite a robust collection of exclusives, Xbox is somewhat lacking. Franchises such as Halo, Gears of War and Forza might call this platform home, but their critical reception hasn’t quite hit the heights of Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted.
Though it does offer upscaled 4K, the Xbox One S’s upscaling method is far less intelligent than the checkerboard method used by the PlayStation 4 Pro so if you’re looking for a truly polished 4K experience, it’s best to splash the extra cash on the PlayStation 4 Pro or the next Xbox console in our round up.
Buy this if you want: Affordable but upscaled 4K, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, excellent backwards compatibility, a console for under £250/$250.
Key reads: Make sure you read our full Xbox One S review as well as our picks of the best Xbox One games to see what you could be playing. Think this is the console for you? These are the best Xbox One S deals right now.
If power is the be all and end all for you, then you won’t find a more powerful console than the brand new Xbox One X. Do bear in mind, though, that you also won’t find a more expensive console either.
The Xbox One X is Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s PS4 Pro and it’s safe to say it’s a pretty good one. Just like the PS4 Pro this console outputs native and upscaled 4K as well as HDR on games that have been patched to support these features. But because of its much better specs the Xbox One X offers native 4K on many more games than the PS4 Pro. And it’s often more consistent in maintaining a 4K output. If you’re looking for the best 4K gaming experience possible on a console, the Xbox One X should be your choice.
Like the Xbox One S, this console has excellent backwards compatibility support as well as a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player for your physical media collection.
However, also like the Xbox One S, it suffers from a lack of console exclusives that really show what it can do.
It’s also the most expensive console on the market by a large amount. As a result, if you don’t have the AV set up to do it justice it’s hard to justify paying quite so much, particularly as the library of exclusive games is rather thin at the moment.
Something also worth noting is that you may find you have to purchase a sold-separately external hard drive for this console. While its 1TB of built-in storage seems like a lot, 4K game files are large and it’ll quickly fill up.
Buy this if you want: Native 4K and HDR support, Ultra HD Blu-ray player, future-proofed gaming, the highest specs around.
Key reads: Read our full Xbox One X review to dig into the details and peruse our list of games that take advantage of the console’s power. Think the king of consoles is the one for you? These are the best Xbox One X deals right now.
Nintendo: the portable paragon
The Nintendo Switch is the new kid on the console block now more than a year old, it’s still proving to be very popular.
This is the most unique option on the market at the moment as you can use it both as a handheld and home TV console.
On Switch you’ll find a quickly growing library of games that’s the most diverse offering from Nintendo in years. From thrilling exclusives like Super Mario Odyssey to essential indies like Stardew Valley, Nintendo’s Switch offers all kinds of experiences.
It doesn’t have nearly the same power as the standard PlayStation 4 and Xbox consoles and it certainly won’t play games in 4K or support HDR (in fact its screen is a pretty low-res 720p) so if you’re looking for a console that will win the spec wars you won’t find it here.
You’re also less likely to find the latest and greatest third-party games on this console. While it now has titles such as Doom, Skyrim and LA Noire, many of these have been available on other platforms for months, if not years. We’re slowly watching that change but the latest and greatest releases may still not make it here purely due to a lack of power.
Of course, where PlayStation offers VR, Nintendo has its very own something special in the form of Nintendo Labo. This cardboard peripheral is one of the most innovative things we’ve seen in years and it has the potential to be great.
It’s also worth being aware that you’re likely to need to purchase a separate microSD card for this console at some point as its internal memory is restrictive.
Buy this if you want: a console that can be played on your home TV and taken on the go, access to Nintendo exclusive games, and you don’t need the highest resolution and the most powerful specs.
Key reads: Looking to know more about the console? This is our full Nintendo Switch review. We also have a list of the best games the console has to offer. Think you’re ready to Switch it up? These are the best Nintendo Switch deals at the moment.
While the Switch is by far the most powerful and multifunctional Nintendo console on the market at the moment, the 3DS and 2DS XL are still excellent handheld-only options.
Their lightness and portability make them perfect for the busy commuter but if you’re buying a console for a slightly younger gamer then the 3DS and 2DS XL are also great choices.
They have an extremely large and diverse library of games to play and they’re more affordable than ever. In addition to this, they’re probably the most sturdy option – dropping your Switch would be a catastrophe but dropping the clamshell DS is less likely to end in a cracked screen.
These are definitely the least powerful options on the market right now and you certainly won’t find the latest games on this platform.
Though Nintendo has vowed to continue to support these consoles, it’s worth noting that their age and increasingly inadequate power means developers are likely to stop releasing their latest games on them.
The Pokemon series, for example, which has always been exclusively on Nintendo’s handhelds will no longer be released on the DS platform and will move to the Switch for the next release.
Buy this if you want: a sturdy console for younger gamers, a portable handheld, some of the best Nintendo exclusive games, a console for under £150/$150.
Key reads: Make sure you check out our full 2DS XL and 3DS reviews and scan through the best games for both consoles. Positive about the portable? These are the best deals right now.