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best video game console

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The Best Game Consoles
Photo: Arthur Gies
The next-generation PlayStation and Xbox were released in the fall of 2020, and if you aren’t already excited for a particular model, it’s a complicated time to decide what to buy. Which games you like to play, what level of graphics performance you value, how you play online, and even which system is available to buy all go into deciding which console is best for you.

With stock issues continuing to plague both new console lines, even used PlayStation 4 and Xbox One last-generation consoles are selling for high prices on online auction sites like eBay. Although there are hundreds of great games to play on those last-gen consoles, we don’t think you should pay more than $200 for a used system. Unfortunately, those previously owned systems are routinely selling for $300 or more at this writing, and new last-gen consoles aren’t being made.

The easiest console to find right now is also the most popular. The Nintendo Switch is a nice console with fun games and few downsides, and it’s a favorite among Wirecutter staffers—both the casual players and the video game pros. You can read more about the Switch (including the new OLED Model), and why it appeals to so many people, in the Switch section below.

If you’re shopping for a console to give to someone else, we recommend sticking with whatever brand of console they last had (and saving the receipt). Sticking with one brand means that they can still play the games they already have and connect with the same friends online. It also means they’ll be able to play the sequels to any platform-exclusive games they already love. A warning, though: The PS5 and Xbox Series X continue to be in short supply well into 2022. If you see one of those consoles available with no price gouging, be ready to jump on it. The Xbox Series S has been moderately easier to find, however, and we think it’s a good alternative.

For everyone else, if you’re ready to jump into the next generation with the PlayStation 5 (disc or digital) or with the Xbox Series X or Series S, we’ve been testing both for more than a year now, and we can help guide you through the differences. If you already know which brand you’ll choose, we also have separate guides dedicated to the new Xbox Series X|S options and the new PlayStation 5 options.

The research

  • Sony PlayStation 5
  • Microsoft Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S
  • Most flexible console: Nintendo Switch, Switch OLED Model, or Switch Lite
  • Sources
The Sony PlayStation 5 with pink sideplates.
Photo: Arthur Gies

The PlayStation 5 launched in November 2020, and most retailers have been consistently sold out of both the $500 PS5 and the $400 PS5 Digital Edition ever since. With the PlayStation and Xbox platforms offering similar graphics capabilities (at least on paper) at similar prices, the reasons to choose a PlayStation over an Xbox revolve mostly around which games you want to play and how you want to play them.

Our pick

Sony PlayStation 5

The best PS5

This version of the PS5 has a disc drive so you can watch UHD Blu-ray movies, as well as play new or used PS5 and PS4 game discs. The rest of the features and hardware are the same as in the other version.

$699* from Walmart
Buy from Amazon
Buy from PlayStation

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $924.

Also great

Sony PlayStation 5 Digital Edition

Same, but no disc drive

The Digital Edition doesn’t include a disc drive, so you can’t watch Blu-rays or take advantage of new or used games, or old PS4 discs. But if you’re comfortable going all digital, it has the same graphics, CPU, memory, and storage hardware as the standard PS5 does.

$673* from Walmart
Buy from Amazon
Buy from PlayStation

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.

The PlayStation 4 had more top-rated exclusive titles than the Xbox One. Previously, most of them were available only on the PS4, while the Xbox One’s exclusives were often available on the PC, too. However, PlayStation has expanded its PC release strategy, and games including God of WarMarvel’s Spider-ManDeath StrandingHorizon Zero Dawn, a collection of Uncharted games, Returnal, and even the upcoming remake The Last of Us: Part I have received or are receiving high-profile PC versions. You can still expect the successful exclusives to get sequels on the PlayStation 5 first, but few are available so far, and in 2022, most of them will still appear on the PlayStation 4, as well.

Both new console platforms will get some of the same major titles, as well, including installments from franchises such as Call of Duty, Destiny, and Madden. Since Microsoft purchased the makers behind major series like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Doom in the fall of 2020, we don’t expect future titles in those series to appear on PlayStation platforms. This may tip the balance in Xbox’s favor when it comes to exclusives—or games available in its subscription offerings—in the future.

A gameplay screenshot from God of War Ragnarok.
God of War Ragnarök, which launches on the PS5 and PS4 on November 9, 2022. Photo: Santa Monica Studio/PlayStation

If you plan on playing online games, get the console your friends have. Although cross-platform multiplayer allowing interaction among players on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC is now fairly common, Sony sometimes doesn’t support this feature on bigger titles. Both the PlayStation and Xbox platforms require subscriptions for access to even basic online functions. For PlayStation, this subscription is called PlayStation Plus; for Xbox, it’s called Xbox Live Gold.

Selected exclusive games coming to each platform soon

Current and upcoming PS5 exclusives Current and upcoming Xbox Series X|S exclusives
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Returnal
  • Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
  • Sackboy: A Big Adventure
  • Horizon Forbidden West
  • Gran Turismo 7
  • God of War Ragnarök (November 9, 2022)
  • Final Fantasy XVI (Summer 2023)
  • Forspoken (Jan ’23)
  • Gears 5 (Series X|S Upgrade)
  • Forza Horizon 5
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator
  • Halo Infinite
  • Grounded (Sept ’22)
  • Pentiment (Nov ’22)
  • Red Fall (Early ’23)
  • Starfield (Spring ’23)
  • Forza Motorsport (Spring ’23)
The PS4 had more top-rated exclusive games last generation, and the PS5 will likely continue some of those series. But neither new console had many new games right after launch.

In June of 2022, Sony revamped the PS Plus subscription service, adding membership options in the form of three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential, Extra, and Premium. The baseline subscription, PS Plus Essential, starts at $60 per year, with annual prices rising to $100 and $120 respectively for Extra and Premium. Members of any tier with a PlayStation 5 console get access to a collection of 19 games—including some major titles. That’s in addition to online play, the standard two free games a month (of varying quality), and special discounts on some titles during sales. You keep the free games as long as you have a PS Plus subscription, but you lose access to them if you cancel, even if you’ve already downloaded them. Those who subscribe to the more expensive PS Plus tiers, Extra and Premium, gain access to additional game catalogs.

You do not have to pay for PS Plus to use streaming video services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. You don’t need PS Plus to use the PlayStation 5’s party voice chat system to voice-chat with friends (and as of mid-2021, Xbox Live doesn’t have this restriction, either).

Exclusive games expected, currently without release dates

Expected PS5 exclusives Expected Xbox Series X|S exclusives
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
  • Marvel’s Wolverine
  • Untitled Last of Us-based Multiplayer Project
  • Ghost of Tsushima 2 (rumored)
  • Horizon: Call of the Mountain (PSVR2)
  • Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II
  • Fable
  • State of Decay 3
  • Avowed
  • Perfect Dark
  • The Elder Scrolls 6
Some of the most exciting games on both platforms don’t have release dates yet, and it may be a year or more before they’re available.

If you’ve already bought into the PlayStation VR ecosystem, note that the PS5 is mostly backward-compatible, so you can play the same games on it. But to do so, you need to use all the same accessories—including the camera, which needs a special adapter to connect to the PS5—from your PS4. If you don’t already have a PlayStation VR setup, consider waiting. Sony will eventually release a new, PS5 native VR headset version called the PlayStation VR2, designed to take advantage of the PS5. Although standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 can be more immersive, the PlayStation VR platform offers a fun way to play favorites like The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimResident Evil 7, and Doom (for more titles, see the full list of compatible VR games). There’s no VR equivalent on the Xbox platform, and the closest thing—motion tracking with the Kinect camera accessory—is absent in the new systems.

Both Sony and Microsoft have made their new consoles backward-compatible (with some exceptions), so when it comes to your buying decision, the difference lies in what older games you own and what older games you want to play. If you want only a single console, a PS5 makes for a clear upgrade over a PS4. But if you’re open to two consoles and not loyal to either online multiplayer network, that might be a compelling reason to switch platforms: If you have an Xbox One now, buying a PlayStation 5 gives you access to many (but maybe not all) PS4-exclusive games you missed (and the same holds true if you have a PS4 and buy a new Xbox).

Horizon Forbidden West by Guerilla Games. Photo: Guerrilla Games/PlayStation

The $500 versions of the PS5 and the new Xbox are similarly competent media centers for a living room. Both output 4K video and have Blu-ray UHD disc drives, so you can watch digital movies or discs that you already own. The PS5 does not support Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos, though—if you don’t know what those things are, don’t worry about it, but if you want to take advantage of either standard, the new Xbox may be a better choice. If you’re considering either of the cheaper versions, the $400 PS5 Digital Edition or the $300 Xbox Series S, you’ll have to be comfortable with giving up a disc drive completely. Those models still support 4K video, but you’ll have to stream or own digital films.

A photo of pink, blue, and purple DualSense controllers, lined up against a wall.
Photo: Arthur Gies

If you’re ready for a PlayStation 5, there’s one last thing to keep in mind: its size. At 16 inches tall with the included base, the PS5 is a huge console, and it won’t fit well in a lot of media centers, vertically or horizontally. If you really want a PlayStation, we don’t think its size is a reason to skip it. But measure your space to make sure you know where it will fit. The standard PS5 with the Blu-ray drive is 15.6 by 4.15 by 10.4 inches.

A photo of the Halo 20th Anniversary Edition Xbox Series X, with a matching controller in front of it.
The Halo 20th Anniversary Edition Xbox Series X. Photo: Arthur Gies

Our pick

Microsoft Xbox Series X

The best Xbox

Get the Series X if you’ll use it with a 4K TV (now or eventually), want the absolute best in graphics like raytraced lighting effects, or if you want a disc drive for games and movies.

$500 from Best Buy
$499 from Walmart
$499 from Amazon

Also great

Microsoft Xbox Series S

Less for less

The Series S doesn’t take full advantage of TVs with 4K resolution, and it lacks a disc drive, which is a downside if you own a lot of physical games or movies or like to buy them used. But it still lets you play the new generation of games, and it’s a great value paired with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

$300 $250 from Adorama

Price reflects in-cart

$294 from Walmart
$290 from Amazon
$300 from Best Buy

The new Xbox launched in November 2020. Though it’s been difficult to find the $500 Xbox Series X, it’s been slightly easier to find the $300 Xbox Series S. With the Xbox and PlayStation platforms offering similar graphics capabilities (at least on paper) at similar prices, the reasons to get an Xbox instead of a PlayStation revolve mostly around which games you want to play and how—that, and Xbox Game Pass.

Last generation, the Xbox One didn’t have as many critically acclaimed exclusive games as the PS4 did, but it still had a solid library of titles you couldn’t get on PlayStation. The Series X and Series S will continue many of those franchises, including Halo and Gears of War, and—because Microsoft recently acquired ZeniMax Media—DoomWolfensteinThe Elder ScrollsFallout, and more. Microsoft has made it clear that new releases in these series will be exclusive to Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, and it has also announced that every Bethesda title will come to Game Pass by sometime in 2021—along with every subsequent game from those studios on day one. Microsoft is also in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, the company behind franchises like DiabloOverwatchWorld of Warcraft, and Call of Duty, but upcoming games like Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 will launch on multiple platforms. Microsoft has also confirmed that future Call of Duty installments will not be exclusive to Xbox consoles.

Game Pass is a major reason to consider an Xbox over a PlayStation. For $15 a month, Game Pass Ultimate gives you access to more than 100 games, plus an Xbox Live Gold membership for online multiplayer. Microsoft’s newly acquired Bethesda library is making its way to Game Pass over time, but the subscription service already offers access to major titles—every Forza title, every Gears of War game, every Halo title, and more. The number of titles, along with Microsoft’s commitment to put the games it makes (or funds) on the service the same day they launch, sets Game Pass apart from the closest equivalent on a PlayStation (PS Plus.)

A photo of an upright Xbox Series S, with a white Xbox wireless controller.
The Xbox Series S. Photo: Arthur Gies

As media centers, the new Xbox and the PS5 are similarly competent and capable of serving as the brain of your living room. Both can output 4K video from digital collections or streaming services. And the Xbox Series X and the standard PS5, each costing $500, both have a UHD Blu-ray drive if you want to watch 4K movies on disc. Unlike the PS5, both versions of the new Xbox support Dolby Atmos audio and Dolby Vision video from streaming services, so if you’ve built a home theater setup around that (or even DTS:X surround sound), choosing one of the Xbox consoles makes sense.

Microsoft also offers an option to buy an Xbox console with monthly payments—something Sony doesn’t do, and something that actually works out to be a pretty fair deal. Xbox All Access, which extends over a two-year term, includes the console and a subscription to Game Pass Ultimate. With an Xbox Series X, the cost is $35 per month, and with an Xbox Series S, it’s $25 per month. If you were planning on getting Game Pass Ultimate anyway, All Access basically represents 0% financing plus a small Game Pass discount. Though we’re slightly subscription shy considering the proliferation of video and software subscription fees, we don’t think you should ignore All Access if it seems like a good fit for you.

A standard Switch console behind a Switch OLED model.
Photo: Arthur Gies

Our pick

Nintendo Switch

For people who like to play games everywhere

If you want a console that you can disconnect from the TV and take with you, or if you just prefer Nintendo’s games, the Switch is for you.

$344* from Walmart
$300 from Best Buy
$318 from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $350.

Also great

Nintendo Switch OLED Model

The most premium Switch experience

The Switch OLED Model has a beautiful screen and other improvements that make it worth the extra money, but it’s probably not the best option for younger kids.

$339* from Walmart
$350 from Amazon
$350 from Best Buy

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $350.

Unlike a PlayStation or an Xbox, the Nintendo Switch isn’t trying to be the center of your entire TV setup. It can’t do anything in 4K, and it doesn’t offer many streaming video apps. But it continues to do the thing that Nintendo consoles do best: play excellent, family-friendly, genre-defining Nintendo games from classic franchises like MarioZelda, and Pokémon. And although some Nintendo systems haven’t given players much to do in between Mario games, the Switch offers a huge library of engrossing indie games and quirky experiments like cardboard robots and fitness accessories.

The base-model Nintendo Switch (and the new OLED Model) can act both as a home console and as a portable device like Nintendo’s 3DS. It consists of a small tablet with controllers attached, and you can connect it to your TV with a dock or use it as a handheld—the games look and play the same either way. The Switch is not as powerful as the PS4 or Xbox One S—to say nothing of the new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S consoles—and it offers graphics quality somewhere between that of a PS3 and a PS4. But Nintendo has discontinued the 3DS and 2DS, making the portability and selection of Nintendo-designed and developed games on the Switch unlike that of any other console you can buy today.

There are three versions of the Switch. The original base model has a 6.2-inch screen, detachable controllers, a kickstand that might let you prop it up on a table if you cross your fingers and wish really hard, and a dock that connects the Switch to your TV. The Switch OLED Model is similarly configured around a tablet with detachable controllers on the sides, but it features a 7-inch screen with a small bezel that makes its viewable screen appear even larger compared with that of the base model. The titular OLED technology behind that screen lends it “perfectly” dark blacks and vibrant colors, and the newest Switch also features improved speakers, more internal storage, and a built-in stand that’s actually useful. In contrast, the Switch Lite has a 5.5-inch screen, built-in non-detachable controls, no kickstand, and no TV output, but it sells for much less.

We recommend the full-size Switch to almost everyone, especially if you’re buying your household’s first Switch or if you want to play multiplayer games like Mario Kart or Smash Bros. on your couch. The Switch Lite is best as a second Switch for a family member with smaller hands, or for someone who doesn’t care about connecting the console to a TV. Don’t buy the Switch Lite just to save money—the games still cost the same amount, and by the time you’ve spent $60 on half a dozen games, the $100 you saved by buying the Switch Lite doesn’t look like all that much.

The Switch’s library is mostly missing big franchises like Call of DutyRed Dead Redemption, and Battlefield, in part because it’s difficult to get graphically intense games running as well on the Switch as they do on a PlayStation, an Xbox, or a modern PC. But it does have a big library of Nintendo-exclusive games that aren’t available on other consoles.

Selected exclusive games on the Nintendo Switch

Current Switch exclusives Upcoming Switch exclusives
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Pokémon Sword
  • Pokémon Shield
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  • Metroid Dread
  • Nintendo Switch Sports
  • Live A Live
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3
  • Splatoon 3 (September 9, 2022)
  • Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope (October 20, 2022)
  • Bayonetta 3 (October 28, 2022)
  • Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet (November 18, 2022)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (2023)
  • Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp

It’s also very well supported by independent developers, which have contributed multiplayer games like Ultimate Chicken HorseOvercooked, and TowerFall; challenging platformers and action games like CelesteHollow Knight, and Dead Cells; and unique experiments like Baba Is You and Untitled Goose Game. None of these games are exclusive to the Switch, but the Switch is the only system that makes it easy to play everything on a train, on a plane, or in bed.

The Switch’s portability and its detachable Joy-Con motion controllers allow it to do some oddball things. A few of the Switch’s multiplayer games, such as Nintendo Switch SportsSuper Mario Party, and Snipperclips, make use of the motion controllers, for fans of Wii-style party games. For action-heavy single-player games, Nintendo also offers the more traditional (and excellent) Switch Pro Controller.

A close-up up the back, bottom left corner of a Nintendo Switch whose left kickstand is lifted to reveal the MicroSD card slot.
The Switch’s microSD card slot is underneath its kickstand. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

Nintendo charges you to play games online, but the subscription is cheaper than PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold. For $20 a year, Nintendo offers online multiplayer, Tetris 99, classic titles from the Nintendo and Super Nintendo eras, downloadable content for some games, and discounts from the Nintendo eShop. And for $50 per year, you can tack on the Online Expansion Pass, which adds select Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 games to its library of previous generation software. There are currently around a hundred NES and SNES games available to Nintendo Online members, but the current libraries for the Online Expansion Pass–enabled Genesis and N64 are more limited. Until Nintendo can make a more compelling case for the service, or unless you want the expansion content for Animal Crossing or Mario Kart, we would advise skipping the Online Expansion pass and sticking with the basic Switch Online plan.

Our pick

SanDisk microSDXC card for Nintendo Switch (128 GB)

Download more games

The 128 GB Switch card will give you plenty of room for screenshots and games once you fill up the Switch’s 32 GB of storage.

$20* from Amazon
$20 from Walmart

May be out of stock

$30 from Best Buy

*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.

Don’t buy the Switch for streaming video. It currently has just a handful of streaming video apps: Hulu, Funimation, Pokémon TV, Crunchyroll, and YouTube. The Switch has a few hidden costs, too. The Joy-Con controllers are tiny and hard to hold, even with the included comfort grip, so you may want to purchase a Switch Pro Controller if you plan on playing with the Switch docked to a TV. Unless you’re committed to buying physical game cartridges for most releases—keep in mind that many of the Switch’s best third-party games are available only via download—you also need a microSD card, because the Switch has only 32 GB of internal storage. A 128 GB card gives you enough space for quite a few games without adding too much to the cost, and a 256 GB card is roomy enough to store dozens of games.

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