I’m not all that eager to buy a PS5. I don’t think we need another console generation, but I also recently wrote about why I’d buy a PS5 over an Xbox Series X in a heartbeat. Has something happened to radically alter my perception of Sony’s upcoming console? No; I simply realized that I already have everything I need for a next-gen gaming experience, thanks to my gaming PC.
I’ve always believed that if you can afford one, a gaming PC is the best system you can buy. The best gaming PCs get you a wider selection of games, better graphics and sound quality, access to more inventive peripherals, and a whole galaxy of multimedia and productivity software.
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While I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my PS4, I’ve come to realize that it served a very different role seven years ago than it does now. Aside from a handful of exclusive games, there’s simply nothing a console can do that a gaming PC can’t do better — if you’re willing to dish out the money, that is.
Where PC beats PS5
The list of compelling reasons to get a gaming PC is pretty much the same as it’s always been. People made the exact same arguments before the PS4 and Xbox One came out; they made the exact same arguments before the PS3 and Xbox 360 came out. (The arguments didn’t hold quite as much water back in the PS2/Xbox era, but I think it’s OK to admit that the video game market today is a little different than it was 20 years ago).
Here are some key benefits to choosing PC over a console:
- Game selection. Gaming PCs have access to more games. Most modern games come out for both PCs and consoles, and PCs can run most older games thanks to patches, fan mods and emulators. There’s also a lower barrier of entry for indie developers to release their games.
- Better graphics and sound. The PS5 and Xbox Series X both boast impressive specs, from lightning-fast SSDs to robust graphics cards and tons of RAM. However, you could build a PC with better parts right now — and even better parts will be available by the time the new consoles come out.
- Wider choice of peripherals. With a PS5 or Xbox Series X, you’ll be able to use one official controller, a handful of third-party imitators, a handful of mice and keyboards and perhaps one proprietary VR headset. With a PC, you can plug in almost anything you want, including PlayStation, Xbox and Switch controllers, and a variety of mice, keyboards and VR headsets.
- Multimedia and productivity. A PC that’s powerful enough to run AAA games is powerful enough to handle word processors, photo and video editing, streaming video services, music libraries, chat programs and e-mail clients — often all at once. A good PC is a tool for both work and play.
Whatever else you can say about gaming PCs, I think we can generally agree on those four points. But what’s more interesting, in my opinion, is the way that PC gaming has evolved over the last seven years or so. If you’d made the “just buy a PC” argument before the PS4/Xbox One generation, you’d have to add a lot of “yeah, but” qualifiers to your argument. I think those concerns have largely disappeared.
For example: If you think back to 2013, getting a wireless controller to work with a PC was a fraught experience. There was basically no such thing as a wireless gaming mouse or wireless gaming keyboard, and wireless gaming headsets were often astronomically expensive. If you wanted a PC anywhere except on a computer desk, you’d have to convert your living room into the world’s biggest tripping hazard. Even if you could get a PC hooked up to your TV, your resolution would cap out at 1080p with modest frame rates.
Now, wireless peripherals are a dime a dozen, and TVs reach resolutions of 4K or more, with very little input lag. If you’re not willing to risk that, you can buy TV-sized gaming monitors like the Alienware AW5520QF. Interfaces like Steam’s Big Picture mode give you a console-like navigation experience. Even if you don’t want to set up a PC in your entertainment center, remote play options are commonplace, letting you stream content across your house.
Simply put: There are many fewer inconveniences associated with PC play today than there were before the previous console generation. While PC gamers have always been willing to put up with a few frustrations, this is an important point for folks who are thinking about making the jump for the first time.
What do you want to play?
Like most other people reading this article, I don’t have an extra $500 just sitting around. To that end, I’ve been thinking about whether a PS5 would really be a good investment. And it all comes down to one very important question: What do I want to play?
Forget about specs and tech innovations and controllers for a minute. The primary purpose of a console is to play games, so what you want (or don’t want) to play should always be your paramount consideration. During New York’s informal shutdown, I’ve spent a lot of time playing video games, and one of my favorites has been Final Fantasy VII Remake. That’s a PS4 exclusive; it’s likely that the sequel will be on PS5. But that’s just one game; I’ve also been playing Doom Eternal, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, 20XX, Dead Cells and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
In other words: the vast majority of games I want to play are on the PC. It’s not 100% — it will probably never be 100% — but most of the games I want to play are on a system I already own. And looking to the future, I’ll also be able to play games like Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel’s Avengers and Watch Dogs: Legion, too. Even Xbox Series X “exclusives” like Halo Infinite and Hellblade II will be on PC, obviating the need to pick up Microsoft’s new console.
While Sony is going to hang onto its exclusive properties for the foreseeable future, they still represent only a small portion of the games I want to play. And even if you can’t wait for the next entries in God of War, Uncharted and Spider-Man, they may still be a long way away. There’s no point in buying a PS5 at launch for games that won’t come out for months, or years.
Granted, this calculus is a little different for everyone, and I’ll have to reevaluate my position when we learn about the PS5 games coming at launch. But from the perspective of someone who’s spent a lot more downtime than usual gaming, I find myself gravitating toward my PC more and more. Aside from a handful of exclusive games, there’s nothing a console can offer that it can’t.
What to consider before buying a PC
Having discussed the relative merits of PCs versus consoles with my coworkers very frequently over the past few weeks, there are two caveats I have to bring up. The first is that gaming PCs are extremely expensive, and the next-gen consoles — at least when they launch — will be much more powerful than a comparably priced PC.
I’m not going to get into the economics of this, save to say that consoles are mass produced to an extent that gaming PCs are not, and that consoles are often loss leaders so that companies can sell games. The bottom line is that if you want to get the most powerful gaming system possible for $500 or so, a console is a logical choice. It won’t stay that way forever, and it doesn’t negate any of the earlier points I made about a PC’s benefits, but it’s true, and worth considering.
There’s also an ease-of-use argument, particularly if you want to build a PC from scratch. (Buying pre-built systems is usually much more expensive, and limits the variety of parts you can use.) Even if you could put together a PS5- or Xbox Series X-quality system for $500, you’d still have to assemble it, install an OS, get it connected to the Internet and install all the basic software yourself. Assuming nothing goes wrong (which it often does), it could be days before you play your first game. A new console is usually ready to go in an hour or two, even when you take setup and patching into account.
Truthfully, I don’t have a dog in the “PC vs. console” fight. I’ve owned both, I’ve enjoyed both, and both have been the “right” choice at various times in my life. But if you’re starting to put money away for a PS5 or Xbox Series X, I would still encourage you to consider whether a gaming PC could suit your needs instead. You may miss a few exclusive games, but every other part of your gaming experience could get a whole lot better.