Gaming at Home – Part 2: Consoles – PlayStation or Xbox?

The Heavy Hitters

Be prepared for an answer you might not be expecting

So everyone hears about the ‘Console Wars’ every few years. The apparent winner is the console that sells more consoles.

Like all statistics, this can be a good indicator and very misleading. The Xbox 360, for example, got a sales boost with early adopters especially having to buy a second console after the ‘Red Ring of Death‘.

Now before you jump on me for being a PlayStation fanboy (which I have already admitted I am), I will always agree Xbox 360 won that generation. Not because of sales numbers though. In my opinion, it won on the strength of its gaming experience.

The PlayStation 3 was an incredible technical achievement. The Cell processor was ahead of its time in many ways, and capable of computational feats that only enterprise level processors could rival.

The achievement of the Cell processor was, unfortunately, paired with ‘interesting’ decisions from Sony. The cell processor made developing games for the PlayStation 3 difficult even for Sony backed development studios. These difficulties translated to strange performance comparisons with the Xbox 360. Not only that, but there were also many PlayStation only bugs and titles that had to be cancelled because it was too hard to build well.

Xbox 360 vs PS3
One was a technical powerhouse. The other worked better most of the time.

Why am I going on about old consoles? Gamers (fanboys in particular) can have a selective memory span. Every piece of tech has problems, and consoles are amalgamations of lots of technologies – both hardware and software.

I loved my PS3, and the exclusive titles were so much fun! I don’t regret my PS3 at all, and I wish mine still worked for some of the games. Wihle I have fond memories, the hard truth is in terms of performance it was generally better to get the Xbox version for a more consitent gaming experience.

Remember – while the internet hype/consenses have degrees of truth, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily true for you. Looking at a lot of the PS5/Xbox Series X headlines, think about last generation where the ‘technically inferior’ console was the better gaming experience. Numbers aren’t everything.

OK, history lesson delivered. What has this got to do with today?

My Xbox One S is my first Xbox console. I played the Resident Evil 3 demo first on it. I am having almost as much fun on it as my PS4 Pro. Why am I having more fun on my PS4? Because I have more of the games I want to play on the PlayStation.

That’s it. Graphically, both run nicely. I haven’t played many cross-platform titles, but that will be changing with the Resident Evil 3 demo. That’s why I am using a title that isn’t for everyone in the comparison pictures below – it’s the only game I have to compare them.

Can you pick which console is which? I am using a section with reflections to help.

Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 1
See those reflections? That is a simple take on what Ray Tracing does, and neither console supports it!
Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 2
Both photos were taken with the internal capture capabilities. I didn't match the brightness unfortunately.

On the left is the PS4 Pro, on the right the Xbox One S. Yes one is sharper, but I think that is more the capture software of the PS4.

Bottom line though, don’t they both look amazing? Playing the demo on both systems was amazing. The only real difference is radio chatter comes from the speaker in the DualShock 5. It sounds silly, but this was a nice touch.

From a gaming experience perspective, it’s hard to go wrong with either choice. That’s right – it doesn’t matter from a hardware perspective if you choose PlayStation or Xbox. What does matter is that the console has the games you want to play.

Want to play God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man or other PlayStation exclusives? Get a PlayStation. Really want to play Halo? Get an Xbox. That’s it. Hardware-wise, that’s all you need to know about the consoles.

That’s it? Buy the one I want? What kind of advice is that?

If that were the end of this little piece, it would be a very unsatisfactory ending. Also, I didn’t say buy the one you want – I said if you’re going to play certain games, you need to buy a specific console. There is still a lot that needs to be looked at and evaluated.

All I am trying to say now is there is no real way you can make the wrong choice from a hardware perspective. However, the console choice is only ever the start of the story.

There are many other factors to take into consideration, and now at the dawn of the generation crossover, you can look at these factors with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight rather than hoping you picked the right crystal ball.

Subscription Services

It doesn’t matter what console you choose, I do recommend getting there respective online gaming subscription. You need to if you want to play online, but when looking past that requirement, there are different pros and cons.

PlayStation Plus
Microsoft Game Pass

PlayStation Plus gives you a couple of free games a month, store discounts, and access to cloud saves just in case. PlayStation Plus will set you back AUD$80 a year if you pay upfront, or AUD$12 a month if you renew monthly for a total of $144 a year.

Over on Xbox, technically you need Xbox Live, or Gold, or Live Gold – it gets confusing. I keep talking about Game Pass. This is the service that made me finally buy an Xbox. Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive than PlayStation Plus, but you get a lot more included for the price.

Game Pass Ultimate is Game Pass for Xbox and PC combined with Xbox Gold (the Xbox version of PlayStation Plus) all wrapped up in one. So for AUD$16 a month, you get online multiplayer, 2 free games, and access to over one hundred titles you can play for free while on Game Pass.

Even better, the Game Pass games include all Microsoft Studios Games released at the same time as their retail versions. Want to play all of the Halo games? The Master Chief collection is waiting, and Halo Infinite will be available straight away.

So while Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive, having the ability to play hundreds of games for no extra is phenomenal value. PlayStation does have the PlayStation Now service, but here in Australia it’s not an option for us so it’s not a fair comparison.

Virtual Reality

PlayStation Virtual Reality
There is a lot of extras required to play VR, not just a headset. Kits like this are the best way to go.

I love VR, but I will be the first to qualify that the tech is still trying to find it’s feet. The PSVR is a lot of fun, and I am waiting to set it back up properly in the new house. I miss Beat Saber! :p

As much as I love VR, it is an expensive experiment. I am not trying to tell you to stay away from it – if you are interested, that’s awesome! But there are only a handful of what I would call great VR games. Everything else are good VR ‘experiences’.

With the introduction of the Oculus Quest, PSVR (PlayStation Virtual Reality) isn’t the cheapest way to get into VR gameplay anymore. Also, while the PS5 will be compatible with the current PSVR, there is a newer revision coming, and the PSVR showed it’s age tech-wise even when first released.

So while I wouldn’t recommend VR as a must-have accessory today, if you want to experience VR on a console PlayStation is your only choice without going Oculus Quest or a PC system capable of VR gaming.

Must-Have Accessories

Second controllers, Charging Stations, Vertical Mounts – the accessory list for both consoles barring PSVR is almost identical, both in functionality and costs.

Overall, I would recommend a second controller when you buy a system. Even if you live alone, you never know when you might need a charged controller after a long session. Even better, you don’t know when you might have someone over to share a game with!

There are lots of different levels of controller available, from cheap budget wired versions to almost console priced ‘Pro’ controllers. I would buy the standard controller that came with your system. i.e. if you go PlayStation, get a DualShock 4. If you go Xbox, get an Xbox controller. Both cost about the AUD$90 mark and both controllers will work the same if you switch.

Controllers
Yes you can do better, but with the stock controllers you know what you are getting for your dollar

If you do go Xbox, I would also add a rechargeable battery pack and charger to your accessory list. You can get combos like the Energizer Xbox One Dual Charger for AUD$50, and this gives you two charge packs with white and black backs to match your controller with a charging stand. Why would I do this? Xbox still uses AA batteries for their controllers and buying those adds up in both cost and waste.

There are a lot of other things you can upgrade your console with, like new bigger hard drives (even SSDs) and the like. When you start looking at costs like this, I would suggest a reliable external USB 3 hard drive for simplicity. Both systems let you install games to an external drive, and the performance is comparable to the internal storage. I would only worry about that when your installed library grows down the track.

Xbox One Charger Stand
Because of the AA battery requirement, kits like this are better for Xbox users

The big question – do you upgrade to the PS4 Pro or Xbox Series X?

This is the tricky one. Do you go the ‘base’ experience or the ‘unrivalled power’ of the upgraded units?

The Heavy Hitters
Do you need to go big straight away? Remember - wanting isn't needing :p

Will you be playing on a 4K TV? If not, then I would seriously weigh up spending the money on the beefier consoles. You will generally get smoother frame rates with the Pro and One X, but playing with the base system is still a great experience.

I play with my Xbox One S on my 4K TV in 4K mode, and only once have I been tempted to drop to 1080p for frame rate issues. Playing The Outer Worlds and the Resident Evil 3 Demo in 4K on my Xbox One S was fun and worry free, even after coming back to it from my PC.

As I said, if you do experience frame rate stutters, you can just drop the output resolution. 1080p on my TV still looks beautiful, but your TV may be different. I only see the image problems when using 720p and lower resolutions. Remember, 4K gaming is gorgeous visually, but it means outputting 4 x 1080p screens worth of pixels at once, and all but ultra-high-end PCs can do this reliably. Even those systems will have issues at times, so don’t be too hard on your console if it has problems now and then!

There is one exception to this rule for me. If you are going to buy a PSVR, I will recommend the Pro over the base PS4. Playing games like Beat Saber on the base PS4 is fine, but if you get into beefier games like Skyrim VR and even Moss, more people will suffer motion sickness on the base system than on the Pro. Why? The Pro can push out more frames, giving a smoother experience.

Once you get past the 4K TV question, most of the other items kind of melt away. If your TV supports HDR, your system will turn on the nice lighting features for you. There are factors you would have heard like Input Lag and Response Times, but this has everything to do with the TV and little to do with the console. I will talk about all of these things when I speak about monitors in future articles.

So what do you think I should get?

Today, unless you know you wanted specific PS4 titles, the Xbox One S with Game Pass Ultimate is the best deal around. For a known fixed price, you can play all of the major Xbox exclusives without spending any more cash.

There is also the advantage of Microsoft saying there will be no Xbox Series X exclusives for the first two years of the new console. Now, this doesn’t mean there won’t be new titles, and Microsoft has also said that if you get the Xbox One version of any of their games, you will upgrade to the Xbox Series X version automatically. So you know with certainty that if you buy a console today, you won’t be missing out on new titles for a while still having a vast catalogue of games to play in the meantime.

If you have a 4K TV and want the most out of your console, now that the current generation is ending the Xbox One X will be coming up on sale making the upgrade cheaper if you time it right.

But again – unless you want to play the other consoles exclusive games, it is very hard to go wrong. The only way to have a ‘better’ experience is going PC, and that involves more money and a bit more tweaking on your part.

Yes – PC gaming tends to involve more involvement on your part than just playing games! That is why I recommend either console if you just want to get into gaming. Both consoles are a solid entry choice, and will let you enjoy thousands of hours of gameplay.

Soon, I will start talking about the world of PC gaming and why it is a rabbit hole of chocies to tackle.

But that, as they say, is for a future series. 🙂

Questions?

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Gaming at Home – Part 1: Consoles and What about Next Gen?

Overkill Lounge Gaming Setup

What should you look at while gaming at home?

So on Tuesday, I talked about the Switch and why it is (to me) the best portable gaming choice. The great thing about mobile gaming is you can play it at home just as well as on the bus! So if the Switch games library is what you are looking for, you can stick with the Switch happily 😀

You may be looking at playing games though that aren’t available on the Switch. As much as I would love to play Cyberpunk 2077 on Switch, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Aren’t first world problems the worst? 🙂

So, you want to play certain games (or have a more extensive choice within particular game genres), you have two basic options.

And those options? PC or Console. Hah – you thought I was going to say PlayStation or Xbox, didn’t you? Well, this will boil down to that discussion. But first, I want to talk about why I am not talking about other options.

PlayStation or Xbox Alternatives

So I talked about the Switch in reasonable detail. It’s a great gaming experience and is a solid choice for gamers as their only device. Because it’s portable, I class it as a portable console. If the Switch works for you, you already know why, so I don’t need to compare it to other consoles here.

Something I have looked at a lot (and made grabby hands for but can’t justify) is multi-arcade home cabinets. I would love one of these. I technically have the skills to build my own – well, electronics side. Rabbit’s assistance would probably be needed for cabinet building. After all, you have to know your strengths and limits.

As cool as these cabinets are, they have a limited retro library and cost a lot. They also take up a lot of room – not always practical. I would love a room full of pinball machines with an arcade cabinet in one corner, but that takes a lot of power, space and maintenance. I can’t justify the time and money required for me. If this is what you are looking at doing, go for it and know I am incredibly jealous. But like the Retro Handhelds I touched on in the last piece, I think this setup is a niche one, so I won’t talk about it any more.

Home Arcade
I would love a setup like this. But there is more than just the $ holding me back

Retro or ‘mini’ consoles are also an alternative. I have almost all of the mini-consoles I want, which I love. But I don’t play on them very often. I consider these consoles a niche nostalgia purchase as well. Sure, you game on them, but you are limiting your choices to the included titles.

The prominent alternative is, of course, PC gaming. Making a mini-PC to sit under your TV is a popular build, and so plenty of cases now allow you to install beefy graphics cards.

I am not putting PC gaming in today because even though you might put it in as a console, it is still PC gaming. PC gaming is great and offers many more hardware choices than consoles. It also comes with much higher costs than consoles.

Mega Drive Mini
Mini or Classic consoles are a great toy, but they aren't much more than that these days

Over the coming weeks, I will be talking about PC building and various componenets with all the pros and cons a lot. Also, comparing even the Xbox One X (the fastest console hardware right now) to a mid-tier PC is as unfair as comparing it to the Switch. Different target goals, different equipment, different experiences possible. Each will give you an enjoyable gaming experience, but the ‘good, better, best’ comparison will be made – especially if you have access to all three.

So to keep things simple and as Talking Tech is more for people just starting in video gaming, spoiler alert – Console Gaming wins for at-home gaming. Now to look at what console would best suit you.

What about next-gen? Will you be comparing PS5 and Xbox Series X as well?

Not really. I will be touching on some confirmed features when comparing the current generation of consoles, and describe my plans for the next console as of today. But for now, I won’t be describing the gaming experience on next-gen consoles. Why not? Because it’s all guesswork.

As I am writing this, Microsoft has revealed a bunch of hard technical specs for the Xbox Series X. I believe when this article is released, Sony will have finished their technical system presentation.

These specs are great, but numbers aren’t everything. A lot of this information is also being presented with marketing spin. I am not saying that the data is wrong, but we all know numbers can be presented to give a better impression than what you see in reality.

For example, Xbox’s 12 teraflops is a fantastic amount of computational power. That’s cool! What does it mean for you right now? Very little. It’s just a number. Even with that power available, until developers can make use of that capacity, it doesn’t mean much. It’s like having a car with a top speed of 400 km/hr. Until you can go somewhere you can drive at those speeds, it’s nice to see on your speedo, but it doesn’t truly help your daily drive to work.

Xbox Series X Specs
The specs sounds impressive (and they are), but they aren't everything

A hard detail is the Xbox Series X will have expandable SSD drives. I think this is great. Storage has always been a concern for me on a console. No pricing was given, so I don’t think it’s an attractive feature – yet. These are custom drives, so I am expecting a price jump on what I can buy NVMe for my PC.

What’s good to know that I can use an external drive for backwards compatible games (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One) and the Series X will need the new internal or custom expansion drives.

Xbox Series X Expansion Drive
Easy to use expandable and portable drives are something that people can evaluate today

This feature is a detail I can evaluate today. Game load times from an external drive will be about the same (maybe slightly better depending on your external drive) as what I have now. So I can use my 2TB external that I currently use for video capture as my ‘old’ games library drive, and the performance is what I have now – an immediately known quantity. This quantity is something that you can decide if you need now or even pre-plan for, but it doesn’t sound as catchy as ’12 teraflops!’.

This difference in information and its overall impact on your daily gaming experience is what I will continue to refer to as Marketing Hype. Remember, both PS5 and Series X are mostly running the same hardware. The differences are how the respective companies tweak their designs.

Think of it this way – you want a 2070 Super graphics card. One from Asus has higher numbers here, one from Gigabyte has better figures there. Which one do you choose?

Both are 2070 Super Graphics cards, and that gives you a baseline expected gaming experience. If a manufacturer makes a card that doesn’t meet that minimum expectation, the internet screams about it. Consoles are the same thing, just for more than one component. So while I am excited about the next generation of consoles, keep in mind a lot of what we will be seeing is Marketing Hype. At least until around October/November when reviewers get their hands on actual hardware and titles.

Also, keep in mind next-gen will be more expensive than the current hardware as well. Why do I say this? Because for the first time, console hardware is going to be ‘better’ than mainstream PC hardware.

RTX 2070 Graphics Cards
Each card is right for different reasons, but mostly you can't pick the wrong one

Wait, console will be better than PC?

Overall, no. Technology jumps, and while the new consoles will be ‘better’ than a lot of computers we use today, it’s only for a little while. The new consoles have access to tech that just hasn’t quite cracked the PC market – it’s available, we are just waiting for someone to sell it to us.

As advanced as the newer generations of consoles are, they are still mainly PCs. Not everyone likes to admit this, though. They run CPUs, RAM and GPUs just like any PC build. Yes, the SoC (System on a Chip – the CPU and GPU combined) is custom-built for the console, but that doesn’t invalidate that it still uses PC parts. Many physically smaller PCs like the NUC systems use custom SoC in the same way consoles do.

Consoles traditionally have used components that have tried and true manufacturing methods and availability. Examples were things like slower hard drives when PC people had started moving to SSD drives. For not much money, you get lots of storage! However, it can take 2-3 minutes to load your game every time you die. Pros and Cons, always.

With this generation, it looks like the consoles will have access to new tech that hasn’t made it to PC users yet. So for modern consoles, for the first time, they aren’t built like computers 2-3 years earlier.

Pro – Sacrifices in new games won’t need to happen on a brand new console like this generation. Con – consumers will be paying a premium for new products, including padding for higher failer rates, production troubles and the like.

Xbox One X Components
The layout is a little different, but any PC or Laptop has the same core components

So what are you doing with the new generation?

Barring what I think are lousy business or hardware choices when all the details about PlayStation 5 come out, I will be buying one. I am a Sony Fanboy, as I have said.

As for the Xbox Series X, it looks like it’s going to be a great launch. But I won’t be upgrading my Xbox One S for a while. Microsoft has said no Series X exclusive games for a couple of years, so I can play anything I want on Xbox still. Once the manufacturing process has settled down, I should be able to get a second revision Xbox Series X with any hardware improvements made.

I have a friend who is doing the exact opposite of what I am doing – Xbox Series X day one, PlayStation 5 maybe down the line. This plan (for both of us) is what I call ‘Fanboy Thinking’ – you have already made up your mind to get something based on brand loyalty over facts.

I am saying this upfront as an example of doing what I say, not what I do. The decision to stick to PlayStation 5 is a byproduct of my 25 years with PlayStation. S’s decision is a byproduct of her long experience with Xbox. The purpose of Talking Tech isn’t to tell you that my choice is the right one, but to help you decide what is right for you.

So should I wait to buy my first console when the next generation is released?

If you are looking at buying your first console, I would suggest a current-gen console with all the production kinks all worked out over the PS5 or Xbox Series X.

The end of life current-gen consoles are now almost always on sale – this helps the costs. Buying an established product minimises the chance of faulty products and some things that can reduce your experience. For example, when playing Destiny 2 my original PS4 Pro sounds like an aeroplane. I have barely heard my Death Stranding PS4 Pro fans at all. It’s not a better console – it’s just had a manufacturing revision that lets it run quieter. A ‘faulty’ product would be the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death.

The drawback of waiting is potentially missing out on some unique upgrades. You won’t have the super-fast load times of the next generation, for example. This is why I appreciate Microsoft committing that first-party games won’t be Series X exclusive for a couple of years – you know you won’t be missing out. But any decision you make on next-generation consoles will be a best guess decision. My advice is to wait and see what the consoles can do close to release when people have actual products.

Xbox One X EB Games
It's a guess, but the top of the line Xbox now will be about half the cost of the Series X

So if you decide to buy current-gen, looking at the PS4 and Xbox is exactly with me will be exactly what you need! If you choose to go next-gen only and wait, good news – looking at what the systems offer now is still what you need 😀 There is more to a console than just the hardware, and I will be looking at the current ecosystems as well. While it might all change for the next generation, you should have a firm understanding of what they are changing from to let you know what works for you.

So PlayStation vs Xbox – what are we looking at?

I hope today you can look at the information coming out on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and feel comfortable that you shouldn’t understand what they can offer you fully just yet. Until you can see one running (or listen to someone you trust what they say about their hands-on experience), it’s all an unknown.

So in Part 2, I will start delving into the pros and cons of the PlayStation and Xbox One families. Not just the base console hardware, but the services, ecosystem and additional abilities of the consoles as well. PSVR vs 4K Blu Rays for example.

Questions?

Again, this is all a lot to take in, and I kind of jumped to why you shouldn’t stress about next-gen today. I tried to explain all the main concepts, but this is all complex stuff.

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

The next big video gaming choice: Where do you want to play?

Switch on a plane

It’s not quite time to be talking hardware – there are other things to keep in mind still

Welcome back! So now you know we will be looking at the first step of hardware choices. Where do you want to play?

Most people will be saying “At home”. The gaming den is the dream of gamers everywhere. But this isn’t always the case. Spend a lot of time on public transport? That time could be spent gaming! Or maybe you catch up with friends for a LAN party regularly? Some people even need to move on short notice, and large gaming desktops computers do not like being transported easily.

This goes with your mindset. This is probably the most significant overlooked criteria I see when people look at what they want to do. It’s great to know you want total immersion, but if most of your free time is when you are out and about gaming on a desktop is all but out.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There is no right answer here, it’s all about the right solution for you. So let’s have a look at some starting choices we will be building on as Talking Tech continues.

Some solid starting choices

Looking at all of the available games is daunting. Knowing what you want to play is even worse. Different people have different tastes. I love RPGs, and I am lucky that I can play them on almost anything. But how do you know what you want to play? 

Unfortunately, it’s like movies, books, music, or even cars – until you try them, you don’t know for sure. And you can’t try them until you make an investment. Of course, if you know someone that plays games and can try them out on their machines, it helps. But it’s not always that easy.

So if you are looking at playing a wide range of games, below I have some reliable starting places that you can look at as a safe starting choice. 

These aren’t recommendations – don’t look at them as such. But these will let you look at some options and the costs involved to get started from scratch and a feel for budgets, and we can build from here going forward.

At home gaming only

Bang for buck starting out, I would suggest an Xbox One S and Game Pass subscription. You can play hundreds of games for $15 a month (for ultimate), keep some freebies and try lots of different types of games.

Why do I recommend Ultimate Game Pass? It comes with Gold, which gives you free games each month for the extra $5. Plus right now, I can crossplay games with my desktop!

If the game is a Microsoft Game Studios one, you can even play it at launch on Game Pass. Look at spending AUD$400 + Game Pass subscription to get a good starter and excellent gaming experience.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

You would have seen many headlines that PlayStation ‘won’ this console generation. While true in sales, that’s not really the whole story. I prefer PlayStation as a platform (I am a PlayStation fanboy), and it has more exclusive games than Xbox. That alone doesn’t make it the best console out there, but you can’t go wrong either.

PlayStation provides a great gaming experience, and you can usually get deals on the base PS4 and a couple of games for $500. Add $80 a year for PlayStation Plus, and you will get to keep a couple of new games each month as a part of the deal. If you want to dip your toes into VR as well, PlayStation is your console choice.

Today, you get access to some fantastic exclusive titles as well – more about that later.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

You can’t really go wrong on either platform unless you must play a title exclusive to one over the other. Have to play Halo? Don’t buy a PS4.

Looking for the Switch? Well, I consider the Switch a portable, even in docked mode. Check out ‘Gaming on the go’ for some Switch thoughts 🙂

For more power, choice and flexibility you would be buying/building a PC. You can get a system with a GTX 1660Ti/RX 5600 graphics card that will rip through games at 1080p for around AUD$2,000. This includes a monitor, keyboard etc. – the computer itself will be around the $1500 – $1600 mark. You can still take advantage of Game Pass, plus have access to Steam Sales and GoG.com which has great titles for much less than the console equivalent. Even Epic gives away a free game a week.

Does a system like that have all RTX this and 4K HDR that? No. But then again, I haven’t talked about the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One X either. The highest performing graphic cards cost AUD$1400+ by themselves!

Basic Gaming PC
No flashy lights and bling, but works well (once you put the side panel back on :p )

Everything I have outlined here is for what I consider a solid baseline experience – 60 frames per second for smooth gameplay at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions. I wouldn’t look at anything less than these choices for a great experience. There are exceptions, but these are niche situations and should be looked at as such. For example, I would love a multi-game arcade cabinet at home, but I can’t play Resident Evil 3 on it!

Can you do better? Yes, in every single case. But future articles will start explaining these options.

Gaming on the go

If you want something you can take with you, then primarily you are looking at a Nintendo Switch or a Gaming Laptop.

For the Switch, budget about $330 for the Switch Lite (handheld only) or $500 for the version you can plug into your TV for choices. Add $60ish for a case and screen protector – you want to protect your portable! It’s a vague amount because the case you like could be cheaper or more expensive. They all do the job at the end of the day.

Then add about $80 per game you want to buy. Switch Online gives you some classic games, but no new titles like Sony or Microsoft. The Switch is a great platform, and quickly became one of my favourites. The downside is that games for it are expensive compared to every other platform.

The Switcher
Yes, there are compromises playing on a 'weaker' platform. But there are positives as well!

For a Gaming Laptop, I would budget for about $2,000 – $2,500 for similar specs to the gaming desktop I talked about before. It will still rip through games at 1080p and has all the same benefits as the desktop. It won’t be quite as fast performance-wise as the desktop though.

Don’t get put off by this statement – a lot of people talk down about laptop performance, and the hate talk is not justified. The differences in many titles will be within a couple of percent of frames showing per second (think the smoothness of gameplay). This difference is for a bunch of good reasons, and I will be making a comparison between Desktops and Laptops in a couple of weeks.

Asus Gaming Laptop
Looks and size are a big part of the price, but if you want to pick it up and game, laptops are always there

Portable means you can game almost anywhere, you just need power and maybe internet access.

The thing to remember though is if you want portable, you sacrifice computing and graphical power, and pay a premium. The same goes for the Switch compared to PS4 and Xbox by the way!

The trade offs for a Switch vs Xbox/PS4 are pretty obvious, but it’s still a great experience. I know a lot of people (and roll my eyes at lots of comments) that complain the Switch doesn’t have 4K HDR. It could, but you would be carrying around something the size of laptop anyway! It’s all pros and cons.

Another portable console that gets shunned by the general gaming community is your phone. Yes, I said it. Your phone can be an awesome gaming platform!

Will it play the latest games at fast frame rates and have all the bells and whistles? Nope. Mobiles rarely have the newest AAA games released on them. Gaming will eat through your battery as well. But a lot of us have pretty high-end phones we purchased on a contract.

But if you just want to check out Fortnite? You probably already have a way sitting in your pocket!

Rog Phone 2
You don't need this phone specifically, but gaming on mobile is fun

For playing on your phone long term, I would probably suggest investing in a Bluetooth controller. The PS4 DualShock works well for about $90. There are lots of different controllers but think of the DualShock as a reliable general choice.

So how do I know what I want to game on?

Really, it comes down to what you want to play. 

If you want to play first-person shooters, adventure games or role-playing games? Good news – you can play on pretty much anything. Real-time strategy? Not many come to console, but they exist. Personally, I prefer PC – keyboard and mouse is still better than controllers. 

The release of the Epic Store has introduced confusion because Epic has paid companies to only release their games on the Epic store. Mostly it’s what is known as a timed exclusive, meaning that you can only buy and play it from Epic for 6-12 months. Want to use your Amazon gift card to buy it? Sorry. You can’t. Well, not for a while at least. And then you have to get it when some other game you want to play is being released. This is a big part of the ‘uproar’ of Epic Games.

This has gone against the industry trend as a whole. Microsoft Game Pass (yes, I keep going on about it) is releasing Xbox games on PC. Older games need work most Xbox games aren’t available. Still, going forward Microsoft has been releasing their games made by Microsoft Studios to work on PC and Xbox. So in a few years, you won’t necessarily need an Xbox to play console games – your ‘gaming PC’ and Game Pass could be all you need for any Microsoft games.

Epic Games Store
Choice is rarely a bad thing, but gamers can be very vocal in their disapproval

Before last year, if a game came out on PC, it used to be on PC. Steam is the defacto PC store, and you could buy it there digitally. You could still buy it from other places though – you didn’t have to buy it only from Steam. Go anywhere that sold physical versions like EB Games, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi and you got the same thing. There are services like EA Origin that only sold their titles. Still, they didn’t have such a significant impact across so many titles. Eventually, such services ended up releasing simultaneously on other platforms such as Steam anyway because sales suffered.

These days, a lot of games come to both PC and consoles across the range. The idea of ‘exclusives’ are both dying off and taking strange turns locking you in, which does make choices confusing for new shoppers.

What are exclusives? Generally, it means a title tied to one platform. If you must play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Marvel’s Spider-Man you need a PS4. Your choice is really between buying a PS4 or PS4 Pro. Want to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Buy a Switch. It’s not on anything else.

Cyberpunk 2077 Preorder
Apart from First Party (Hardware Makers) titles, it's rare to not be able to play on a lot of platforms these days

Even Sony has started to back down on its exclusives. Death Stranding is coming to PC, and rumours of Horizon Zero Dawn are out there as well. True, this approach isn’t as aggressive as Microsoft, but the fact they are backing down at all is a significant step for them.

Streaming is another factor in all this, but not one you need to worry about today. What streaming means is you can play games from your subscription on almost anything. As I said, for today, don’t worry about it. The tech is still new and not widely available, so while it’s coming don’t be put off by the next big thing. We will get benefits down the line, just not quickly enough you need to prepare for it.

How does this help you pick what you want to game on? If you don’t know what you want to play, you need a platform with the most choices for games.

Project XCloud
Streaming will mean you don't need specific hardware - but it's a ways off yet

As a rule of thumb, PC has the most comprehensive selection of popular games, followed by PlayStation with their exclusives, Xbox, and then Switch. Each platform has strong titles only available on that platform. Unless you need to play that one particular game/series, don’t let it be the only thing that guides you.

But now I am even more confused!

Possibly. And I am sorry about that. There is a lot of information and choices to take in, especially in one go. But what I have outlined today is only a small amount of the possibilities out there. The amount of choice is staggering. Even veterans get confused at this stage. I promise this is the only time I will have so many options laid out like this.

Not every choice is viable for everyone. If you only want portable gaming, then you can see there are only a couple of easy options now. You can get cases with screens for making your PS4 and Xbox portable. You can get small form factor desktops with handles to take with you. There is still more to think about, but if you want quick and easy, hopefully, the choices aren’t as intimidating now. All the other stuff is extras, like getting customisations on your car.

If you only want to game and/or keep costs down, consoles are a great choice. If you have spent a lot on a work desktop system, you can just add a better gaming graphics card. You might be surprised at how many games a ‘work’ laptop can actually play! All of this I will be breaking down in the coming weeks.

We need to know what you really want your experience to be so that you can explore the options that best suit you. Next week, we will take a look at console gaming in more detail.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD