The PlayStation 4 Neo and the Xbox Project Scorpio have been confirmed to be real, which means we'll see more powerful game consoles by the end of next year rather than in 2020.
Firm release dates and prices for the new consoles weren't announced at Sony or Microsoft's E3 press conferences yesterday (June 13), but these upgraded consoles will support 4K games and monitors, work with virtual-reality (VR) headsets and play games at smoother frame rates than the existing PS4 and Xbox One.
That's wonderful for gamers who want their consoles to be on the cutting edge of technology, but it's not a great value if you're trading up.
I've been playing video games on consoles all my life. Gaming PCs have been expensive (they still are!) and have never had the console exclusives that I wanted. But I've always assumed that my brand-new console had several years of life in it.
That's not the case anymore. Sony and Microsoft are pointing big neon signs at regular, major upgrades to keep up with each other. That means that if loyal console gamers want the newest model, they may need to buy new consoles every three to four years — twice as often as they're used to.
We're not talking about the mostly cosmetic upgrades involving smaller chassis that console gamers have come to expect. The Xbox One is currently $299, and the slimmer but otherwise mostly similar Xbox One S will be the same price. But if I buy the Scorpio and it's much more expensive (and if there's a big technical upgrade, it will be), then I'm going to be spending much more money than I'm used to in a single generation as a console gamer.
The upgrades will be to run features that gamers can already get right now with a PC. You can get the bare minimum specs for VR compatibility for less than $800. That is likely cheaper than the total credit-card bill for the PS4 you bought in 2013 and the PlayStation Neo you'll buy next year. If it's solely a value play, the PC is looking like a good investment, even if you upgrade some parts every few years.
There is another choice: keeping the console you already have. Sony and Microsoft both say that their current models will sell alongside the Neo and the Scorpio, presumably through the end of this console generation in another three to five years. The manufacturers have also promised that all eighth-generation games will be compatible with both the current systems and their upgraded siblings.
If you don't plan on upgrading to a 4K TV, are still on the fence about VR or don't care about the best possible visuals, the Xbox One and PS4 will still serve you well. (Whether Microsoft or Sony will allow exclusives for the more powerful consoles once the install bases grow is anyone's guess.) But console power users will want the best systems they can get.
PC gaming can't replace the console experience entirely. If Microsoft and Sony proved anything with their press conferences yesterday, console-exclusive games such as the Halo or God of War series are still their aces in the hole. And gaming on a PC hasn't matched the comfort of gaming on a couch, though Microsoft, Valve and a few PC makers like Alienware are doing their best to change that.
Consoles are going to become disposable to a degree, just as smartphones already are: trade your old one in and get a new one every few years. I've been on consoles my whole life and would sorely miss their ease of use and the culture that surrounds them. I'm sticking by them for now, but if they don't find ways to offer me more value, I'll consider a breakup.
When you buy your next gaming machine, it should be something with staying power and value. Those willing to sever their ties with Xbox and PlayStation and want the most bang for their buck should give a long, hard look at a gaming PC.
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Andrew E. Freedman is an editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming as well as keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag, Complex, Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag among others.