The console wars. A test of will, strength, and perseverance almost as old as gaming itself. Over the past few decades companies from every corner of the technosphere have thrown their hat into the ring with one wacky system or another, with only a select few fighting through the fold to make their way to the top of the heap. These days, however, only three major manufacturers have survived to tell the tale: Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony.
Responsible for the Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4 respectively, each company has put their best foot forward to give their customers the absolute best gaming experience possible, but how do you know which one is best for you or your household?
Affectionately referred to as the “Xbone” since it first debuted at Microsoft’s 2013 E3 press conference, the Xbox One is another in a long line of devices that the Redmond company believes can offer gamers a perfect combination of fun and functionality like no other console can. And while Microsoft’s latest outing has struggled to maintain the same lead that the Xbox 360 first established in the previous generation, this hasn’t been through any fault of its own.
The Xbox One comes with a solid lineup of games (primarily cross-platform for now), a bevvy of available media streaming options including (but not limited to) Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and NFL Redzone, and a hardware kit that’s impressive without being overbearing on the customer’s wallet. Until now, it seems the main problem since the One’s release has been a lack of Xbox-exclusive titles, i.e- games that would make you want to pick the console over the more powerful PS4 or family-friendly Wii U.
There are quite a few big hitters slated to hit the shelves sometime next year, but if the idea of waiting until 2016 for some of the console’s biggest games isn’t enough to entice you, this fall users will have the chance to get their hands on Microsoft’s latest attempt at creating a universal OS ecosystem with the debut of Windows 10 for Xbox. The unique console-based operating system will give users the opportunity to run all new types of native apps and software, as well as view files and folders across any type of device, mobile or otherwise.
Popular add-ons like the voice-activated digital assistant Cortana will be integrated into the Xbox’s main Dashboard as well, while the option to browse the web or check emails will be a cinch thanks to a flurry of new apps set to be released via the Windows Store. Not only that, but if you also have a laptop or tablet installed with Windows 10, you can play all your Xbox games on your computer with the One’s internal streaming feature.
From the hardware perspective, the Xbox One and PS4 feature a similar 8-Core AMD CPU, although the Xbox has a slight clockspeed advantage of 1.75GHz, compared to Sony’s 1.6GHz. This is pretty much the only advantage it maintains, however, as we’ll talk about in the next section below.
But did we mention Halo 5? Because, well…Halo 5.
If your idea of ‘winning’ the console wars lies in sales figures alone, it’s hard to deny that Sony’s latest version of the Playstation is the clear frontrunner for the first place trophy. The PS4 has outstripped the Xbox at a rate of nearly 2-1, with Sony’s horse clocking a market-crushing 25.4 million units sold, while the Xbox One and Wii U were only able to muster a total of 24.16 million…combined.
As far as games are concerned, titles like Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted 4, and Team Ico’s hotly anticipated Last Guardian will all be PS4 exclusive, which means that if you’re a fan of any of these popular series, the PS4 could be the system for you. The PS4 controller is also better for different types of gaming immersion, with an internal gyroscope and touchpad that can create all new levels of interaction in your games that the Xbox simply can’t match. Some owners might argue these extras have so far only turned out to be a gimmick, though I believe it’s still too early in the console’s life to claim they’re totally useless just yet.
When it comes to hard specs, while the Xbox One might have the PS4 beat in processing speed, the competition isn’t nearly as close in regards to the all-important factor in gaming: the GPU.
Of course neither console is going to come close to matching the graphical capability of a gaming PC, so the graphics capabilities aren’t actually all that important — as long as the games look good. And with most games these days being cross-platform, the developers aren’t going to waste time making the game look significantly better on one system vs the other one. If you want the absolute best graphics in your games, you are probably already gaming on a PC.
Oh Nintendo, how the mighty have fallen…
Once the dominant player in the console market just a few short years ago, the company has fallen on hard times of late. Stuck with the nearly impossible task of convincing consumers why their system is a clear pick over the technologically superior alternatives that it shares a shelf space with, the Wii U is the problem child that the company never saw coming. Likely blinded by the billions in profit its predecessor had been generating for upwards of half a decade, Nintendo rushed the Wii U out to market with lackluster specs, a pitiful library of games, and a controller that’s better for knocking someone unconscious than it is playing through marathon gaming sessions.
Compared to the top two sellers in the market, the Wii U (released one year earlier than both) barely makes a dent in their specs, featuring a 45nm, 3-core processor clocked to a paltry 1.2GHz. The GPU doesn’t do the system any favors either, logging just 352 GFLOPS and 4.4 GPixels per second at maximum clip. This makes the console barely 1/3 as powerful as the Xbox One, and only 1/6th as powerful as the PS4. Having owned one myself, I can say with confidence that although there’s nothing particularly wrong with these specs (Nintendo’s partner developers are known for their creative use of the limited hardware), its clunky controller and minuscule library of published games have turned all but the most dedicated Nintendo fanboys off to more economically viable solutions like the PS4 and Xbox One.
If you’re really into the competitive Super Smash Brother scene or have a special place in your heart for the latest Mario Kart, the Wii U can still be a worthy enough contender in the race. Outside of those very limited parameters, however, no amount of Zelda games that might show up in 2016 are worth the $299.99 price tag. Sony and Microsoft both have plenty of family-oriented experiences to offer on their own systems (a market that Nintendo used to enjoy all to itself), and both companies have made significant leaps and bounds in creating an ecosystem of media streaming apps that can stand on their own in place of your standard set-top cable box.
Add to this the rumors that both Xbox One and the PS4 will receive firmware updates to enable 4K video playback sometime next year, and the case is all but closed on Nintendo’s eager – yet flawed – attempt at replicating the success of its wildly popular original Wii.
So then, which console is right for you? Well, at least in the case of Xbox One vs. PS4, it comes down to exclusives. Sure, the PS4 is technically more powerful for the same price, but given that most developers will be locking titles to the same framerates and installing the same texture packs for both systems to garner the largest number of sales across each platform, the eventual choice becomes more about which games you’re looking forward to than which console you’re planning to play them on.
Love Halo? Snag yourself an Xbox. Jittering with (justified) excitement over the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake? PS4 is going to be the way to go. Have a kid or need your nightly Smash Bros fix? Wii U is…well, it’s Wii U. So, even though you could look at the technical specifications to decide which console is the “best” of the three, ultimately the decision should rest on the games you want to play the most.