- Every major console brand has something different to bring to the table, offering gamers plenty of options.
- The PlayStation 5 is our top pick for most buyers thanks to its exclusive franchises and powerful hardware.
- You can expect low stock for the PS5 through the early part of the year, but it’s worth the wait.
- For more gaming recommendations, check out our deal roundups for PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
Video games have entered a new era in 2021, with the freshly launched PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S encouraging gamers to buy consoles and games at a record-setting pace. Those next-generation systems are expected to keep selling out through the early months of the year as Microsoft and Sony continue to report enormous demand.
The Nintendo Switch continues to dominate the sales charts too, outselling the PS5 despite Sony’s console setting a record for the best console launch ever. The millions of sales are a testament to just how much demand there is for video game systems right now.
Healthy competition between the consoles can make it difficult to choose the right one for yourself or the gamer in your life, but rest assured that the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch hardware all come with their own impressive catalog of games and bonus features.
Below, we’ve detailed what each of the major consoles is best at, and which you should choose for your specific needs, based on our hands-on experience and past reviews.
The best gaming console overall
Thanks to its next-gen hardware and Sony’s blockbuster exclusives, the PlayStation 5 offers the best console gaming experience.
Pros: Incredibly fast solid state drive, industry-leading graphics, unique DualSense controller
Cons: Large design takes up a lot of space, slightly less storage and raw graphics power than the Xbox Series X, low stock due to demand
While there aren’t a ton of PlayStation 5 exclusives yet, the console has access to thousands of backwards compatible PlayStation 4 games. PS5 owners who subscribe to Sony’s PlayStation Plus service will get access to more than a dozen classic PS4 games right away, and more games are added to the PS+ collection each month.
The PS5 will automatically upscale PS4 games when possible, boosting frame rates and overall resolution. Even games with support for the powerful PS4 Pro, like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Ghost of Tsushima, can see improvements on PS5.
PlayStation’s exclusive franchises like The Last of Us, God of War and Spider-Man, and the unique features of the DualSense controller (haptic feedback, microphone) give the PS5 a slight edge over the Xbox Series X and make the console hard to skip for gamers who want to play the latest blockbuster releases.
The PlayStation ecosystem doesn’t offer the great value and benefits that Xbox provides, but online play and communicating with friends is still an easy process when compared to the Nintendo Switch.
PS5 also outclasses the Switch as a home entertainment device, thanks to its 4K Blu-ray playback and support for most streaming apps. However, if you think you’ll be using your console more as a streaming media center than a gaming device, you may want to consider the Xbox Series X.
The PlayStation 5 comes in two versions: the $749.95 standard model and the $599.95 Digital Edition. The Digital Edition does not have a Blu-ray drive, but the consoles are otherwise the same. We recommend picking up the standard edition if you want to buy physical games or have a collection of old PS4 games.
The best portable gaming console
The Nintendo Switch offers great value for a portable console, boasting TV support and a huge library to satisfy gamers of all types.
Pros: Great value, Joy-Cons provide two controllers out of the box, popular Nintendo titles, portable and docked modes
Cons: Online play is limited compared to Xbox and PlayStation, no Bluetooth headphone support, Joy-Con drift issues occasionally require repairs
The Nintendo Switch’s hybrid portable design has made it wildly popular; you can take it on the go and play games in 720p on the small screen or connect it to your TV with the included dock for a full 1080p HD gaming experience.
The standard Switch comes with two removable Joy-Cons that can be used as individual motion controllers, making it ideal for playing with a friend while on the go. Nintendo Switch games come in durable cartridges rather than on Blu-ray discs, making them easy to store in a case and travel with. The console also has expandable storage via MicroSD card, so you can boost the fairly small 32GB internal storage by up to 2TB to save more digital games.
The cheaper Switch Lite is an ideal choice for solo portable play, but it lacks the ability to connect to a TV and it doesn’t use removable Joy-Con controllers. The portable screen is only 13% smaller than the standard Switch, and the Lite is thinner and easier to hold. The Switch Lite battery lasts for about seven hours, while the standard Switch can last for up to nine hours.
If you plan to share your console with friends or family, you should definitely pay the extra money for the standard Switch, since the extra portable controllers, dock, and the TV output are worth the money.
Even if you’re not looking for a portable system, the Switch is still a very capable home console with a large library that’s especially great for families. Popular franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon can only be found on the Switch, and lots of classic titles have been remastered for Nintendo’s portable.
As a minor point of frustration, the Switch does not support Bluetooth headphones, but it does have a headphone jack and USB-C devices like the Genki Bluetooth adapter will let you connect headphones wirelessly.
No portable gaming console can compare to the Switch’s library and value at this price point — it’s just a matter of whether you want to invest in the standard Switch or the Switch Lite.
Of course, if you’re just looking for a way to play games while you travel, you can stream games to your smartphone using a video game streaming service like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or Google’s Stadia and connect a controller to play.
The best gaming console for multimedia
The Xbox Series X excels as an entertainment hub with its 4K Blu-ray player, Dolby Vision streaming, and easy library sharing with Windows.
Pros: Powerful gaming hardware, 4K Blu-ray playback, Dolby Vision HDR for streaming apps, movie and TV show purchases can be shared with Windows via Microsoft account
Cons: Dolby Vision doesn’t work when playing Blu-ray discs, movies purchased through the Xbox store can only be streamed to the console so you can’t download them for offline viewing
The Xbox Series X is a multimedia powerhouse, boasting support for 4K Blu-rays and most popular streaming apps. Unlike PlayStation, Xbox offers movies and TV shows through its digital storefront, allowing you to build an entertainment library that can easily be carried over to Windows PCs and tablets.
Xbox Series X also supports Dolby Vision, a high dynamic range (HDR) format that helps compatible TVs enhance image quality with improved color accuracy and contrast. Unfortunately, the Series X only supports Dolby Vision through apps like Disney Plus for now; Blu-ray discs are limited to standard HDR10. PlayStation doesn’t support Dolby Vision at all yet, though a future update could potentially add that feature too.
Xbox Series X is HDMI-CEC compatible, so if your smart TV supports that technology, you should be able to use your TV remote to control the Xbox. In terms of settings, the Xbox Series X also offers a bit more control than the PS5 with its support for 1440p resolution and variable refresh rate on applicable screens.
The Xbox Series X is arguably more powerful than the PlayStation 5 in terms of performance, but the PS5’s exclusives and unique DualSense controller make it slightly more appealing for most gamers. Still, if you’re looking for a living room centerpiece, Xbox Series X will deliver the best possible experience for both games and movies.
Xbox does have some major titles on the way in the future, especially after Microsoft’s $1 billion acquisition of Bethesda Softworks, the company behind games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout. Microsoft once planned to launch Halo Infinite alongside the Xbox Series X in November 2020, but that game is now due out in 2021.
The best budget gaming console
The Xbox Series S benefits from Xbox Game Pass, backwards compatibility, and Microsoft’s online services, offering great value for less money than the Xbox Series X.
Pros: Great price for next-gen hardware, support for Xbox Game Pass, backwards compatible with thousands of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games
Cons: No disc drive for games or Blu-rays, 364GB storage space can be filled quickly, can only be expanded with a special card from Seagate
This more budget-friendly Xbox console can play all the same games as the more powerful Xbox Series X, with a few significant trade-offs. The Series S doesn’t have a Blu-ray disc drive, so you’ll be limited to digital games on the console’s solid state drive.
Xbox Series S has 364GB of storage space available for games after installing the operating system, and you can buy an expansion card to add another 1TB. While this pales in comparison to the Series X’s 802GB of space, it’s significantly more than the 32GB offered by the Nintendo Switch.
Xbox Series S and Switch share the same price, but budget-focused gamers will get more value out of the Xbox’s multimedia features and other benefits like Xbox Game Pass. For $10 per month, Game Pass gives subscribers a library of more than 100 games, including access to new Microsoft titles like “Halo: Infinite” and “Gears 5” the same day they’re released.
The Xbox Series S doesn’t have the same level of graphics performance as the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, so it’s best to save for those consoles if you’re worried you won’t have the best visual quality. The Series S does support 4K resolution playback though, unlike the Switch.
The best retro gaming console
The Sega Mega Drive Mini has one of the largest collections we’ve seen from a retro console and it’s easier to find than the increasingly rare NES Classic and SNES Classic.
Pros: Dozens of games pre-installed on the console, HDMI support for playback at 1080p, save state features make it easy to pick up where you left off
Cons: Retro console stock is limited so prices can vary based on availability, controllers are still wired
For lots of gamers, their favourite retro titles are a personal matter defined by their preferences and nostalgia. Nintendo started a retro console craze with the release of the NES Classic in 2016, a replica of the original 1983 console with 30 iconic games saved directly into its memory and high definition upscaling for modern TVs.
However, Nintendo released the NES Classic and SNES Classic in limited quantities, leading to steep price increases and not enough consoles to meet demand. The immense popularity of Nintendo’s classic consoles inspired video game publishers like Sony, Sega, and Atari to release their own replica collections for consoles like the PlayStation 1 and Sega Mega Drive.
Ultimately, a key ability is availability, and the Sega Mega Drive Mini is the best retro console that’s regularly available. It has 42 games in total, more than a dozen more than the NES Classic, and you can find it for significantly cheaper than the PlayStation classic or SNES Classic.
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