Thanks to the massive success of the Nintendo Switch and the ever-growing libraries of the PS4 and Xbox One, gaming's big three have never been so compelling.
There's the Switch's excellent Nintendo games and portable design; the PS4's huge AAA exclusives and VR support; and the Xbox One's strong overall value and backwards compatibility. To help you decide which console is right for you, here's a detailed breakdown of how the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One all stack up.
The Switch stands out from the Xbox One and PS4 with its ability to, well… switch. You can place the tablet-esque console on a dock and use it through your TV, attach controllers to the sides of it and use it as a handheld system, or prop it up on your desk and use it with a wireless gamepad. The heart of the Switch lies in its Joy-Con controllers, which allow for motion controls, can be used sideways as mini-controllers and pack an "HD rumble" feature that mimics the feel of actual objects.
In contrast, the PS4 and Xbox One are traditional living room gaming consoles, though they're not without any distinguishing features. Both systems play Blu-rays, and the higher-end Xbox One S and PS4 Pro models can even stream 4K content. The Xbox One S also supports 4K Blu-rays.
The Switch already has a stellar lineup of exclusives, including instant classics like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as well as lots of great multiplayer titles such as Splatoon 2, Arms and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
The system is a goldmine of quality indie games including Stardew Valley, Thumper and Shovel Knight, and has even gotten some healthy AAA support in the form of Doom, Skyrim, NBA 2K18 and L.A. Noire. Still, you won't find the latest Call of Duty, Battlefield or Assassin's Creed games on this thing.
If that's a dealbreaker for you, go with the Xbox One or PS4. Both consoles support just about every major blockbuster including Star Wars Battlefront II, Shadow of War and Dark Souls, and are both home to a treasure trove of digital indie favorites. PS4 arguably has the best AAA exclusive lineup thanks to heavy hitters such as Uncharted 4, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Bloodborne, though Xbox is a better fit for fans of the Gears of War, Halo and Forza franchises.
The Xbox One is the only backward-compatible console out of the three, with support for more than 300 Xbox 360 games as well as a small collection of original Xbox titles.
Hardware and Specs
In terms of nuts and bolts, the Switch favors versatility over raw power. The system is powered by a custom Nvidia Tegra processor, which Nvidia says is "based on the same architecture as the world's top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards."
The Switch's 6.2-inch touch screen sports a 1280 x 720 resolution, though the system can output to full 1080p when docked to your TV. The console sports 32GB of onboard storage that you can expand with microSD cards, and it charges over USB Type-C. The system lasts for roughly 3 to 6 hours depending on what you're playing, and allows you to snap screenshots and videos.
The Xbox One and PS4 are capable of much higher graphics fidelity, both packing powerful AMD Radeon graphics cards and 8GB of RAM (the Switch reportedly has 4GB). Both systems start with 500GB of storage that can be expanded with external hard drives. Unlike the Switch, the PS4 and Xbox One can both broadcast gameplay to services such as Twitch and Mixer.
Both consoles also come in premium, powered-up variations: the $499 Xbox One X and the $399 PS4 Pro. The Xbox One X is the most powerful console available right now, and plays lots of games in native 4K with some added performance perks. The PS4 Pro isn't quite as powerful, but still supports upscaled 4K gaming for many titles. The PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One S and Xbox One S all support High Dynamic Range (HDR) for better color and brightness on supported TVs.
While the PS4 Pro can stream 4K content from Netflix and YouTube, the Xbox One S and Xbox One X are the only consoles that play 4K Blu-rays.
Entertainment and VR
The Nintendo Switch currently doesn't do much outside of gaming. The system's lone entertainment app is Hulu, and we're not sure if or when services such as Netflix and Amazon Video are coming over.
The PS4 and Xbox One support a boatload of major entertainment apps, from Netflix and YouTube to more niche services like anime channel Crunchyroll and the WWE Network. Sony offers its own internet TV service dubbed PlayStation Vue, while Xbox One supports a similar service called Sling TV. The fact that the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S can stream 4K content is a nice bonus.
The PS4 is currently the only major console to support virtual reality, thanks to Sony's $299 PlayStation VR headset.
Here's where the Switch becomes a tough sell. Nintendo's new system retails for $299, which gets you the console, the dock and a pair of Joy-Con controllers, but no included games. The price quickly adds up once you factor in accessories; you'll have to pony up $70 for the Pro Controller if you want a more a traditional gamepad, and Joy-Cons sell for a whopping $50 each or $80 for a pair. Want to charge the Joy-Cons while you play? You'll need to buy a separate $30 charging grip.
The Xbox One S and PS4 are a far more compelling value. Both systems are less than $299, and often come bundled with at least one game. The DualShock 4 and Xbox Wireless Controller sell for $60 ($10 less than what Nintendo charges for the Switch's Pro Controller), and both double as PC gamepads. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Xbox One S is probably the cheapest 4K Blu-ray player out there.
In terms of online services, both Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus give you access to online multiplayer and monthly free games for $60 a year. The Switch's online service is currently free, but will cost $20 per year when a more complete version of it launches in 2018. You currently need a separate, cumbersome phone app to chat with your friends in multiplayer games such as Splatoon 2. The service will offer a monthly selection of free retro games when it launches in full, though we're not sure what titles to expect yet..
The Switch, PS4 and Xbox One all excel at different things, and picking between the three comes down to your priorities. Naturally, the Switch is the only place you'll play the latest and greatest Nintendo games, and is the only home console that doubles as a handheld gaming machine.
The PS4 has the strongest overall lineup of AAA exclusives, and is the only console that supports virtual reality. Meanwhile, the Xbox One S is arguably the best overall value of the three, thanks to its 4K Blu-ray player and backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 and Xbox games. There's truly no bad pick between the three — it just comes down to what (and where) you like to play.