Consoles: good for more than video games

The next generation of consoles could replace your DVD, Blu-ray player or media hub.
 
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03.Buyers guide

Even if you have an existing PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii, the decision to upgrade will be fairly easy, if you’re a hardcore gamer who can’t wait to play the AAA titles due for end-of-year release.

All the big names in games will be available on seventh-and eighth-generation units, but the type of playing experience you’re after and the technical difference between the consoles will largely determine which console best suits you.

Although the Wii-U has been on shelves for a year , it hasn’t matched the runaway success of the Nintendo Wii. It still offers a gaming experience unique to Nintendo, thanks to the integration of the touch screen controller, but media functions are limited, compared to the Xbox One and PS4. 

If you want to extend the experience beyond games, or if you use a console as more of a media hub, it’s worth waiting for a few months. It will take time for each company to build up a stronger base of media apps and downloadable content, and extend the abilities of the consoles via updates. 

Games for the PS4 and Xbox One will command a higher price here than in the US - see our articles on price discrimination and the Australia Tax for more information.

 

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Xbox One - MicrosoftONLINE_GameConsoles_XboxOne

  • $599
  • Blu-ray/DVD
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM, 500GB internal storage
  • 8 core custom AMD processor
  • Ships with Kinect 2.0
  • Xbox One website

The Xbox One is shaping up to be the console that could replace your media hub, once the advertised features reach our shores. If HDMI pass-through works as promised, the Xbox One could be a convenient portal into your entire home media setup. Every Xbox One ships with a Kinect 2.0, so expect to see a lot of functions that integrate motion sensing as an option.

 

PlayStation 4 - SonyONLINE_GameConsoles_PS4

  • $549
  • Blu-ray/DVD
  • 8GB DDR5 RAM, 500GB internal storage
  • 8 Core Jaguar AMD processor
  • PlayStation 4 Eye (motion sensing) available separately
  • PlayStation 4 website

Sony has opted to focus on the games, while still offering a plethora of home media options. In terms of raw figures, the PS4 is much more powerful than the Xbox One, which could translate to a better gaming experience. Sony has integrated social networking options as well, so you can quickly record and share footage of your games with the press of a button.

 

Wii-U - NintendoONLINE_GameConsoles_WiiU

  • $348 (Basic model), $428 (Deluxe)
  • Proprietary disc (non-DVD)
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM, 8 or 32GB internal storage
  • Tri-core processor
  • Unique touchscreen controller; compatible with Wii-mote motion sensing controller
  • Wii-U website
Nintendo beat the competition to launch an eighth-generation console, the Wii U, in November 2012. But even after a year on the shelves, the Wii U is struggling to gain a foothold in the market. The console includes a tablet-like controller with an additional touchscreen, but it hasn’t caused the same market ripple as the original Wii. Is it a case of too little, too late? Certainly the novelty of motion-sensing pioneered by the Wii has largely worn off, and the introduction of a handheld touchscreen controller doesn’t seem exciting in these days of touch-based smartphone and tablet games.

Sales figures are reportedly well below Nintendo’s initial projections. In the UK retailers are starting to pull support for the Wii U, and big-name developers EA and Bethesda have stopped creating content for the console. The Wii U may still make a comeback, with the appearance of new games that finally make effective use of the Wii U’s unique controller, but only time will tell.


Alternative consolesONLINE_GameConsoles_Ouya

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo - AKA “the big three” - aren't the only console manufacturers on the market. Low-cost, Android-based units called micro consoles are starting to appear on shelves and online. These offer games similar to what you'd find on a smartphone, except they have been designed for use with a controller. The most well-known micro console is the OUYA, which costs US$99 (plus shipping - see our first look) but others are in development.

Games are purchased with a credit card and distributed via download, as the compact size of the consoles leaves no room for a disc drive. The OUYA however offers a wide range of inputs including HDMI, USB and Ethernet , and it's likely that future micro consoles will do the same - except for the GameStick, which is nothing more than a USB with HDMI and Bluetooth.

Yet despite the low cost, critics question the overall value of micro consoles. Most offer games that are either smartphone grade, or ports of smartphone games, which usually don't match the depth and longevity of console games. This however is from the perspective of hard-core gamers, and while micro consoles are unlikely to topple the major players in the market, they have wonderful potential to usher in a new area for casual gamers.

The addition of controller support can bring a much-needed boost to some of the Android titles that attempted to integrate virtual controls but didn’t quite pull it off. Their comparatively low cost and cheap games will make them particularly appealing to families who want a console, but can’t afford one of the expensive units from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo.

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