4 Best Video Game Consoles - Sept. 2021 - BestReviews
Buying guide for best video game consoles
Video game consoles have come a long way since the days of the original Atari — in addition to playing games from your favorite franchises, they can stream movies, play Blu-rays, and in some cases, they even support virtual reality.
They’re also for everyone: Whether you’re an older gamer looking for classic retro arcade games, or a younger player cutting your teeth on the latest first-person shooters, there’s a console that’s perfect for your living room.
Here’s everything you need to know about the current generation of video game consoles: Which ones are for hardcore gamers, which ones are best for the family, and which ones are just plain fun.
Video game console features
Video game consoles are incredibly complex machines, and an emphasis is placed on being a one-stop shop for all your entertainment needs.
Playing Blu-rays, watching your favorite streaming services, and playing current and retro games are all possible on most consoles.
The factors that play into whether a console is right for you or not will typically come down to what kind of TV you have, and what extra features interest you most.
What are 1080p and 4K UHD?
It seems like just yesterday 1080p was the hot new TV tech on the street, but it's already old news. The new resolution standard is 4K UHD, and these displays pack in about four times the amount of pixels 1080p does.
We're in this weird transition period where the market is still in the midst of making the shift in orientation toward 4K.
This video game console generation came out just before 4K became affordable for the everyday consumer, so the original versions of those consoles were geared towards 1080p.
Original consoles vs. upgraded consoles
Not to be left behind by TV manufacturers, Sony and Microsoft have released an updated version of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One that pack more power and have the capability of outputting a 4K video signal.
However, just because the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X are the newest consoles doesn't mean that the older versions aren't supported any longer.
These new, more powerful consoles are just a half-step up and still use the same games as the original PS4 and Xbox One.
"Check that your new console has backward compatibility so you can play your old games as well as new ones. "
A huge factor in what console you should buy is the kind of TV you have. If the set you want to game on is 1080p, go for the PS4 Slim or Xbox One S.
If it's 4K UHD, then you'll probably want to spend the extra money on the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X.
The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X can output 4K video, and the original models can't. The thing is if your TV isn't 4K you're not going to get the full effect of the improvements these new models offer.
If you're planning to wait a few years before you upgrade to 4K, then getting the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro just isn't worth the extra money.
There's no use in getting a video game console if it doesn't have decent games to play. The Xbox One and the PS4 have very similar libraries, so it comes down to which system has the better exclusives.
Exclusives are games that only come out for one particular console. For example, you'll always see games like Call of Duty come out on both Xbox and PlayStation, but you'll only ever see Halo on the Xbox. There are also some games that may have limited-exclusivity to a particular console or limited-exclusivity for downloadable content.
The Nintendo Switch is in another bracket entirely when it comes to its library. The Switch is a lot newer than the PS4 and Xbox One, so there aren't as many games for it. A lot of the games that are available for it are titles that were originally released for other consoles.
Usually, they don't have as good graphics because the Switch isn't as powerful as Microsoft and Sony's systems. However, Nintendo produces some of the best system-exclusive games, so if you're a huge Mario, Zelda, or Metroid fan, the Switch is the only console where you'll find those.
You can do more than just play games on a console. These robust devices can provide a whole suite of functions to make them an all-in-one entertainment device.
All models of the PS4 and Xbox One have access to major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO GO, Vudu, Crackle, and just about any others you can think of that aren't from Apple (sorry, no iTunes). Sony and Microsoft's consoles are also equipped with Blu-ray drives that will allow you to watch standard Blu-ray movies.
If you're looking for something a little more cutting edge when it comes to media playback, you'll want to get an Xbox One S or Xbox One X. Both of these consoles have 4K Blu-ray players built in, which will allow you to watch movies in stunning quality.
The Nintendo Switch, unfortunately, doesn't have much in the way of non-gaming activities. The Switch also lacks an optical drive, so there's no watching your Blu-rays or DVDs with that console.
We examine the advanced features of each gaming console and how well it takes advantage of the latest in display technology.
Premium controller design is one of the most important parts of console gaming, so we investigate the positives and negatives of each
We review budget handheld gaming consoles, ultra-premium consoles, and many in between.
A big selling point of some video game consoles is the subscription service offered by the manufacturer and what kind of games it gives you access to.
Aside from gaming, we consider what other apps various gaming consoles offer, such as music and video streaming platforms and programs that help you learn skills, like playing music.
When researching video game consoles, we evaluate the popular titles on each platform to help gauge who each console is best for.
Keep in mind that the leading video game consoles each offer exclusive games, like Uncharted and the Zelda series, that are usually some of the best on the platform
We dig deep to find the most fun and exciting video game consoles for kids and adults, regardless of their experience levels.
Console gaming can be a lot more fun with friends, so we pay close attention to how effective couch co-op and multiplayer configurations are.
When selecting a video game console, remember that not every multiplayer game offers cross-platform play. You may wish to consider getting the same console your friends have.
How video game consoles work
In days past, each video game console had its own architecture. This means that each one was designed from the ground up with custom sets of instructions that did not work with any other machines. That's all changed in the latest console generation.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are based on the same technology you'll find in a laptop or desktop PC. They use the same x86-64 CPU instruction set that your Windows, Linux, or Mac computer does, and that makes it easier for game developers to get their products to run on PC and console.
The Nintendo Switch is a bit different. It uses the ARM instruction set, which is the same as the one your phone or streaming box is designed around. It's not too hard for developers to port a game from x86 to ARM, but because the Switch is a bit different, you'll likely see some games come out for it a little later than they did on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Don't hoard games and fill up your hard drive. You can always redownload digital games again.
Video game console lifespans
Buying a video game console is a significant purchase, so it's good to have an idea of when it'll be obsolete. Consoles, unfortunately, aren't like toaster ovens. As the years pass, technology improves and becomes cheaper, and eventually, your console will become outdated.
The systems on the market right now are considered to be part of the eighth-generation of video game consoles. The seventh generation consoles were on the market from 2006 until 2013, and that's about a typical timeframe. Consoles usually have a lifespan of around seven years before the next model is released.
However, as stated above, this generation is a bit different since both Sony and Microsoft released a half-step console, so there's a possibility it might be longer before they release a ninth-generation console.
Did you know?
If you don't want your children to play online, look for consoles that have parental controls so you can choose to lock this feature.
Video game console prices
You won't be getting a current-gen console for under $100.
If someone offers you one, and they're not close friends or family, then odds are it's stolen or broken.
$100 to $200
It's possible that you can get a used model of the original PlayStation 4 or Xbox One in the upper end of this price range.
If buying used, always make sure you see the console tested with an actual game on disc before you buy it. This will show you that it can power on, play games, and that the disc drive isn't bad.
$200 to $300
In this price range, you can find an Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Slim brand new. Often you'll find these two consoles bundled with a game or extra controllers that will help save you some money.
You'll have to spend over $300 if you want to get the very latest models of video game console. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 Pro, and Xbox One X are all going to be in this price range.
Q. Why should I buy a console instead of a PC?A. This is an age-old question that really comes down to a matter of preference. With a PC you get the freedom to spend as little or as much as you want on gaming performance. You'll also have access to a broader gaming library since PC games from as far back as the seventies can still work on today's computers.
However, the initial cost of a PC is higher than that of a console, and dealing with drivers and tweaking settings might not be for everyone. If you want a more personalized gaming experience, you might want to look into a PC. If you want something that just plugs in and works, go for a console.
Q. What kind of input ports do I need to have on my TV to play a current-gen console?A. The only port you need to connect any of the current consoles is an HDMI port. That will provide all you need for gameplay in 1080p. For 4K, though, you'll need to make sure you plug your 4K-capable console into an HDMI 2.0 port on your 4K TV or A/V receiver. Some TVs only have HDMI 2.0 ports, while on others just the HDMI 1 port that is 2.0 capable. You'll have to refer to your user manual to make sure you've got your console connected to the correct input.