A question that plagues us non-billionaires
In these economically trying times we all have a need for entertainment, but also a need to be frugal. With the release of a new generation of rather expensive game consoles, it’s fair to ask what you get for your hard-earned money.
Should you buy a next-generation console or stick with something older and more affordable? Is buying the most expensive game consoles worth it?
Putting All the Options on the Table
Which consoles are we talking about here? The “most expensive” consoles mentioned in the title of this article are the PlayStation 5 (with disc drive) and the Xbox Series X. Both of these consoles cost $500. At least they do in key territories before sales tax is added. That’s a lot of moolah!
Then there are cheaper options from the same generation of consoles. There’s the PlayStation Digital Edition, which lacks a disc drive, for $399. On the Xbox side of things there’s the Xbox Series S for $299. The Series S also lacks a disc drive and has a much less powerful graphics chip than its more expensive brother, the Series X.
Next, we have the (now) last-generation console choices. The PlayStation 4, Playstation 4 Pro, Xbox One S and Xbox One X. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are mid-generation upgrades to these older consoles that improved the graphical power somewhat.
We’re not going to include the Nintendo Switch here, because it’s not really competing in the same space as the other two consoles. If you’re wondering whether to get the Switch or the Switch Lite, check out the Biggest Differences Between Nintendo Switch Lite and Nintendo Switch.
Understanding the Benefits of the Latest Consoles
What’s the big deal with these new expensive consoles anyway? Here’s a summary:
- Super-fast solid-state storage for short load times and new game design possibilities.
- Much faster CPUs. making 60 frames per second the new norm, with 120 frames per second possible in some titles (with a compatible TV!).
- Significantly better GPUs, allowing for 4K or near-4K image quality and ray tracing.
- Backwards compatibility with previous generation games, as well as significant enhancements to those older titles.
If you buy one of these new top-end consoles, you’re getting crisper graphics, much smoother motion and improvements to games you already own and love. Apart from the cost, it’s all positive from a gaming perspective!
Now that all the options are on the table and you know what splashing some cash will get you, let’s go through each major decision in turn.
Xbox or PlayStation?
Both Sony and Microsoft have pretty compelling gaming platforms and there’s no such thing as a universally better choice. For an in-depth comparison between these two console brands, have a look at Playstation vs Xbox: How To Choose What’s Right For You.
In the end, this is a personal choice that depends on what types of games you like to play, what your friends are playing, which online service you like more and which brand speaks to you. It also matters whether you care about taking your existing game collection into the next generation or not.
For most people, comparing the two brands of consoles isn’t all that useful since you’re unlikely to be choosing from a neutral position. What’s more important is the choice of making the jump to the most expensive model for your chosen brand or not.
Our Recommendation: Listen to your heart.
PlayStation 5 Digital vs Playstation 5 With Disc Drive?
When it comes to the PlayStation 5, there are two models to choose from. Both are identical in every way, except that the Digital Edition lacks a BluRay drive and costs $100 less, so you make no sacrifices in terms of game fidelity or next-generation performance.
Sounds like a good deal, right? Well that $100 “saving” might actually be a bad deal for you and a great deal for Sony. By saying no thanks to the drive, you give Sony total control over video game pricing.
You lose access to retail price competition, used games, PS4 disc-based games and the ability to play 4K BluRay movies. We don’t think these sacrifices are worth the $100 saving. One could easily make that money back and more through price savings. However, if you’re sure that these specific sacrifices are ones you can live with, then the Digital Edition is a more affordable option in the short term.
Our Recommendation: Buy the standard PlayStation 5
Series S or Series X?
The Series S is a full $200 less expensive than the Series X flagship console. However, unlike the two PS5 models, you’re giving up much more than just a disc drive. The Series S has a (slightly) slower CPU and only one third of the GPU power. However, the Series S targets (up to) a 1440p rendering resolution. It’s best to think of it as a 1080p console to avoid disappointment.
If you have a 1080p television and aren’t planning on upgrading to 4K any time soon, the Series S is a fine choice. Losing disc access creates similar issues as it does on the discless PS5. However, Microsoft does have its Game Pass service, which goes a long way to making up for that.
You can play all the same games as the Series S. You get the same backwards compatibility support as well. Games should play at the same frame rates as the Series X as well. The main differences will be a lower resolution and perhaps slightly dialled-back graphical settings.
The choice here really is based on budget. The Series X is clearly and objectively superior. The difference is undoubtedly worth $200. So if your budget allows for it, get the more expensive device.
Our Recommendation: Buy the Series X if you have the choice.
Sticking With the Last Generation
If you own a PS4, PS4 Pro, One S or One X you shouldn’t feel too much pressure to upgrade. If you’re happy with the resolution and frame rates of these consoles you can still expect new games to be available on your console for a year or two.
If you don’t own any of these more expensive game consoles, the choice becomes harder. It’s better to buy the latest generation console now if you’re a new buyer. Since you’ll be set for the next five years. If you buy one of the outgoing consoles, even at a good price, you’re going to want a replacement much sooner.
Thanks to the backwards compatibility of both the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, it makes less sense to hold onto their predecessors. While visual quality on the outgoing machines is still fine, they suffer from poor framerates. Which is perhaps the largest and most immediate quality of life improvement.
Are the most expensive game consoles worth the asking price? Absolutely. Are they worth it to you? That’s a different question. We think the long list of gameplay experience improvements over the cheaper generation of consoles is substantial. Not to mention that you’ll have a hard time building a gaming PC with these specifications. Then again, a gaming PC might actually not be that much more expensive if you factor in lifetime costs!