Five Years Later, PS4 Is Still the Console to Beat

Five years in, Sony's PlayStation 4 has cemented itself as the most popular home console, and for good reason. It has a slew of superb exclusive games like Spider-Man and God of War, tons of entertainment features and VR support, and PS4 deals make it possible to find the console for well under $299. 

But with the always-evolving Xbox One and the red-hot, portable Nintendo Switch, is the PS4 still the system to get in 2018? Here's a look at how Sony's console has evolved over the years, and whether you should buy one right now.

2013 vs. 2018: What's Changed?

Sony's console has evolved in some subtle but significant ways over the years, particularly in its design. The latest 2016 refresh of Sony's system ($299 as listed), known informally as the PS4 Slim, has a shaved-down design that trades the launch model's sharp angles for soft, rounded corners.

It's a bit slimmer than the Xbox One S, and will slide into most entertainment centers unassumingly. The new design has come at a small cost — the PS4 Slim ditches the original's optical port, so you'll need an adapter if you're using a high-end gaming headset that requires an optical connection.

The PS4 also gained a more powerful sibling in the PS4 Pro. This $399 powerhouse can play games in stunning 4K with HDR support, and while it doesn't quite have the sheer horsepower as the $499 Xbox One X, it's a nice option for folks with a good 4K TV. Both consoles have the same game library and core features, so you're not missing out on content if you go with the base model.

The PS4's functionality has grown quite robust, too — you can use it to watch Netflix and Hulu, stream your gameplay to Twitch and rock out to Spotify. The system's mostly snappy interface has gone unchanged over the years, though for some reason Sony decided to lump all of the system's entertainment apps into an annoyingly slow-loading submenu that you can't customize. On the bright side, you can now organize your games into folders, as well as stream your PS4 games to your PC or Mac via Remote Play.

As an FYI, and  cautious one at that: PS4 jailbreaks are now available, which could open your console up to all manner of homebrew software, but we'd suggest you avoid this as it can cause problems

Game Library

The PS4 continues to dominate by delivering where it matters most: the games. Sony's console has arguably the best overall game library of any system, with huge exclusives like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4, God of War, Spider-Man and all of the requisite third-party hits like Call of Duty, Fortnite and Assassin's Creed. The system is also host to tons of indies and VR experiences (more on that last bit later).

And although it's been out on shelves for five years, the PS4 is showing no signs of slowing down in getting big new exclusives. PlayStation fans can still look forward to hotly anticipated titles such as The Last of Us Part II, Days Gone and Death Stranding from Sony, as well as much hyped multiplatform titles like Anthem, The Division 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 in the next year or two.

PlayStation VR

The PS4 is still the only console to support virtual reality, thanks to Sony's optional PlayStation VR headset, which can be found for between $200 and $300 depending on what bundle you're picking up.

We found PlayStation VR to be an excellent gateway into virtual reality in our review. Despite not having the visual fidelity of PC-powered headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, PSVR is intuitive, comfortable, and, most important, has a solid game library that includes Batman: Arkham VR, Tetris Effect, Resident Evil 7 and Superhot.

PS4 vs. the Competition

The PS4 has solid competition from Microsoft's Xbox One and Nintendo's Switch, which both do things Sony's system can't.

The $299 Xbox One doesn't have quite as compelling a library of exclusive games (unless you really dig Gears of War and Halo), but it's backward compatible with tons of Xbox 360 and Xbox titles. It also offers lots of bang for your buck with services like Play Anywhere and Xbox Game Pass.

The $299 Nintendo Switch stands out with its hybrid design that serves as both a living-room console and a portable games machine, as well as for its excellent library that includes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and troves of indies and third-party hits. If you game on the go or just have an affinity for Nintendo, the Switch is probably a better pick for you.

Bottom Line

Although the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch continue to grow more appealing by the day, the PS4 is still the best overall games console, thanks to its stellar library, robust feature set and VR support.

And if you're worried about the PS4 being replaced anytime soon, don't be. While Sony has confirmed that a next-generation PlayStation is in development, we might not see it until as late as 2021, according to analysts. With a huge backlog of excellent titles and lots of big releases still to come, you can buy a PS4 right now with confidence.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.