The current generation of gaming consoles has only been around for two and a half years, but it already feels like a revolution is coming. Powerful new versions of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are rumored to be in the works, and they could potentially deliver 4K resolution and extra-smooth VR performance to console gamers everywhere.
If these upgraded consoles do arrive, gaming systems may be entering a quicker, more incremental upgrade cycle, similar to that of PCs and mobile devices. There's also Nintendo, which is reportedly getting set to unleash its long-rumored NX machine by late 2016, which is just four years after the Wii U's fall 2012 launch.
With that said, does it even make sense to buy a gaming console right now?
Why You Should Wait on PS4 and Xbox One
A significantly upgraded PlayStation 4 could arrive as early as this year, if documents reportedly obtained by Giant Bomb (opens in new tab) are to be believed. Code-named "PlayStation Neo," the system is said to feature a faster processor, as well as spruced-up graphics and more RAM, and may even be able to run PS4 games at 4K resolution. It's rumored to sell for just $399 — only $50 more than the current PS4's retail cost.
Giant Bomb reports that there won't be any Neo-exclusive games, though you'll probably experience much better performance on the upgraded system. Developers may even be able to go back and optimize older PS4 games for the newer machines, with the result that buggy console titles such as Fallout 4 may play as smoothly as they do on high-end PCs. Plus, while PlayStation VR runs fine on the current PS4, a more powerful console could bring the headset more in line with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Xbox fans may be in for something similar. According to a Polygon report from Microsoft's spring showcase earlier this year, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said that "you'll actually see us come out with a new hardware capability during a generation." Spencer later clarified his incredibly vague statement on the Major Nelson podcast, stating that while you won't have to "break open [your] console and start upgrading individual pieces," you may not have to wait up to eight years for a more powerful option.
According to The Verge, Microsoft is reportedly testing prototype Xbox machines that use the same type of upgraded components you'd use to beef up your PC. The publication also dug up an interesting post from NeoGAF user ekim, who discovered a set of supposed Federal Communications Commission filings that hint at a new model number for the Xbox One. The NDA for what could be an upgraded Xbox One appears to lift off on June 25 — just days after this year's E3 conference wraps up.
While it's hard to fully advise against buying a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One until these rumored upgrades become official, I'm much more confident telling people to skip out on Nintendo's Wii U. The Japanese games giant has already confirmed that it's working on its next console (code-named NX), and a Wall Street Journal report from last October suggests that the machine could arrive as soon as late 2016 — just four short years after the Wii U first launched.
The Wii U is still a delightful piece of hardware that hosts some truly great Nintendo games — heck, I even called it the best console you can buy early last year. However, the system is almost a generation behind the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of performance, and save for some kids’ games and indie titles, the Wii U almost completely lacks third-party support. Nintendo also has a fairly solid track record when it comes to backward compatibility, so if you missed out on Splatoon or Super Mario Maker, you might get to play them on the NX.
PC: An Appealing Alternative
If the thought of incremental upgrades is killing the appeal of console gaming for you, you can always switch to the most robust games platform there is. PC gaming is more accessible than it's ever been, largely thanks to a host of impressive sub-$1,000 machines that can slide into your entertainment center just like a console. You have the freedom to buy or build a PC that suits your specific needs, and when you decide you're ready for 4K or VR gaming, you can simply upgrade a few components instead of buying a whole new system.
Of course, PCs have their fair share of bustedgames, and you probably won't be playing console exclusives like Uncharted 4 and Halo 5 on Windows anytime soon. But you'll also get to access the largest game library out there, whether you want to fire up the original Doom, discover cool indies like Hyper Light Drifter or dig into blockbusters like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. And that library will stay with you forever.
So are you completely screwed if you buy a gaming console right now? Absolutely not. Picking up a PS4 or Xbox One gets you access to a huge library of great first- and third-party games, and with blockbusters like Uncharted 4 and Gears of War 4 still on the way, Sony and Microsoft seem plenty invested in bringing great games to their current platforms.
If these incremental console releases become a reality, however, game systems will simply become like phones and tablets in terms of upgrade urgency. Just as an iPhone from two years ago can handle almost any iOS game or app without a lot of issues, your current PS4 will likely be able to play new PlayStation titles for years to come.
Still, console gamers are used to buying a box that they can keep for six or seven years without feeling behind the curve, so this is a significant shift. If you're the type of consumer who needs the absolute best device available at the time, you might want to wait to see what Sony and Microsoft have up their sleeves — that is, if you haven't decided to abandon console gaming entirely.