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Choosing a games console is tough, especially when all three of the big-name manufacturers have so much to offer.

Games consoles have a come a long way since the days of blowing dust out of the 128-in-one cartridge of the family Golden China console. Between 4K and HDR graphics combined with the processing power of the super computers of yesteryear, and the unprecedented detail of the graphics and physics, there are plenty of reasons to invest in a contemporary TV-gaming rig, no matter what PC-gaming purists tell you.

Of course, that extra power brings with it higher cost. If you go for the least potent console, Nintendo’s Switch, you’re still looking at around R5 000 outlay… and that’s before you invest in any accessories or actual games. Both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Microsoft’s current Xbox One S (and forthcoming One X) cost more, as do their add-ons. So, how do you go about picking a system knowing that you’ll likely have to live with it for many years before replacing it, and considering your decision will impact which titles you can play?

Hard-ball from Microsoft

Showmax Xbox One

The Xbox One X – which offers PC-levels of grunt – only goes on sale in South Africa at the very end of 2017. It’s the most powerful console ever made, supporting native 4K output at the gamer-preferred frame rate of 60fps. And it’s expected to be sold at a discount – around R7 500 – at launch to encourage uptake.

That might make seem the obvious choice for those looking to get into console gaming, or those looking to update their existing setup. If only it were that simple.

First, there’s the Xbox One S, which came out eight months ago and which some fans may’ve already upgraded to, making them understandably reluctant to cough up again. Also, when the X launches, the S’s price will likely fall, potentially making it more compelling for those who don’t need the clout of the X.

Then there’s the exclusive titles and accessories to consider. While back in the Xbox 360 days, Microsoft had the best selection of exclusive titles and received downloadable content first, that pendulum has since swung in Sony’s direction. Also, while Microsoft has announced its Mixed Reality Headset for PCs, there no indication if or when it’ll come to Xbox… which puts Sony’s PlayStation VR (virtual reality headset) out in front.

Sony’s playing for keeps

Showmax PS4Microsoft’s primary exclusive titles are Forza and Gears of War. Sony’s catalogue runs much deeper, and includes Spiderman, Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Bloodborne to name but a handful. Plus, Sony will be getting downloadable content and expansions for most cross-platform titles first. Make no mistake, Sony’s paid for the privilege, but with the PlayStation 4 Pro being sooner to market, many games studios have opted to develop for it first, and wait to see how the Xbox fares.

Sure, while the PS4 Pro only supports some games at native 4K (with others being scaled-up 2K or making some frame-rate sacrifices), if the selection of games on offer is superior, the computing-power disparity may not matter. Heck, if the selection is substantially better for PS, any PS4 (you needn’t go Pro) may prove the more appealing option. And then there’s the PS VR headset. Microsoft may top it down the line, but there’s no telling.

Nintendo: the odd one out, as usual

Nintendo Switch - Showmax Soapbox

Of course, if you don’t have a 4K TV and aren’t planning to get one anytime soon, a 4K-capable console is overkill. Similarly, if you’re a casual gamer who’s not committed to Sony or Microsoft’s big-name titles and doesn’t need a console that can do double duty as a high-powered media centre, Nintendo’s runaway hit the Switch is well worth a look.

In addition to being able to connect to a TV or computer monitor like the PS and Xbox, the Switch can be played handheld, or propped up using the screen’s built-in kickstand and played by two people at once thanks to the Joy-Con Controllers that slide off each side and turn into individual controllers.

The output might only be 1080p, but the Switch offers titles like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey: two of the year’s best games. Plus, you’re far more likely to get your non-game-playing partner, parent or even grandparent to pick up a Switch controller and play Mario Kart than you are to get them playing a first-person shooter with you. Of course, that might actually be a mark against the Switch, depending on your kin.

Roll credits

If you want the latest, greatest most impressive hardware, Microsoft’s got you covered. If you want the widest selection of titles and VR you can play today, Sony’s the way to go. And if you’re a little contrarian, love multi-player games or just like Nintendo’s alternative take on gaming, you can’t go wrong with the Switch. Of course, if you have a high-end 4K capable TV already and a hefty end-of-year bonus coming your way, you could always invest in all three.

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About the author

Craig Wilson

Craig Wilson is the editor of Stuff magazine and speaks and writes about consumer technology and trends. He spends most of his time putting new gadgets through their paces, offering technology sector analysis and commentary on radio and TV, and asking people looking for tech support whether they've tried restarting whatever it is that's misbehaving. More about Craig Wilson

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