If you are looking to get a new games console, there are currently three main 8th generation home game consoles: the Wii U, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. The Wii U has been out the longest, being over a year old, but the other two have only recently been released and, in some markets, won't actually be released until next year.
There are also a larger number of, currently fairly minor, consoles from other manufacturers, that have either been released or announced. Although some of these do have the potential to capture some market share, these are not currently a huge threat to the bigger consoles. The OUYA is an Android powered cheap system, and the upcoming Steam Machines from Valve have good potential to gain in popularity given Steam's popularity and its extensive game catalogue.
Credit: AmazonThere are also eighth generation handheld devices available, such as the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, as well as increasing competition from smartphones and tablets.
The question of which is the best does depend on what you are looking for. The modern consoles have increased multimedia integration, and are being promoted as not being just for games, with the increase in the number of films and television programmes being available for both streaming and, in some cases, download as well on devices. the internet has become much more vital, with games being purchased digitally directly from the device and installed from online stores - an area Steam is very familiar with. Games are still the primary consideration behind console selection though.
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Being slightly newer, the other two have some other advances over this. Both the other consoles accept Blu-Ray and DVDs; the Wii U only runs the Wii U Optical Disc. The console also suffers in overall power, as the processor is also less powerful, the device has less memory than the other two and the graphics capabilities are poorer. Games can be downloaded and added to storage, as well as loaded into the drive, and external storage can be added.
The Wii U is definitely the cheapest console out of the big three as the dollar price for the Basic model is $299.99 and $249.99 for the Deluxe/Premium, which are cheaper than the others. Pound Sterling and Euro prices can vary depending on the retailer, so it can be worth shopping around for the best deal. It is also the one least likely to appeal to those users interested in the Xbox One and PS4.
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The processor and memory power is very similar to that of Sony's PS4, although poorer in its graphics capabilities, and much superior to that of the Wii U in every respect.
The One comes with Microsoft's Kinect motion sensing input device and controller, which plays a much greater role in controlling the console, and isn't just for gaming.
The latest Xbox costs $499.99/£429/€499 on launch, making it the most expensive of the big three consoles.
The PS4 is cheaper than the Xbox, launching at $399.99/£349/€399, but it lacks the PS Camera or the PS Move, whilst the Xbox One comes with Kinect, so to get similar functionality will require spending extra money that negates much of the price difference.
One interesting feature is that the PS4 can interact with the handheld PlayStation Vita in some games.
A large part as to which console to buy comes down to what games are available on each console. It doesn't matter how good a console is if there is nothing good to play on it, or if the games on a competitor are better. The PS4 has better graphics capability than the Xbox One, but it's been said that the starting line up of games is poorer. That, of course, can change as new ones are developed. Neither the Xbox One nor the PlayStation 4 are compatible with games on their predecessor console.
This is the biggest problem the smaller consoles face - the lack of big games for them - and this is where the upcoming Steam Machines will have an advantage given its' existing catalogue which already has a large amount of games, and other media, available through Steam, including many from bigger developers that have been developed for the Windows platform.
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Many of the platform specific games aren't in the bigger franchises and some that are (Xbox's Halo series for example) have no new games coming out with the launch of the new platform. If you are a big Mario fan, then the Wii U is the one to choose.
Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 install games to the device's hard disc. 500 GB may sound like a lot but it can be quickly eroded given the increasing size requirements of modern games. The built in hard drive of the PS4 can be replaced by the user, but that of the Xbox One cannot; however, the Xbox One can have external hard drives attached, whilst the PS4 can't.
The overall technical specifications of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are very comparable. The PS4 is cheaper and has better graphics, but the Xbox comes with Kinect, and getting similar capability on the PlayStation will erode some of the price difference. If you aren't planning on buying both consoles - and some users are - take a look at the game line-ups and buy the one which will have the games you most want to play on it.
The lack of big games makes it less appealing to the average gamer though. Consequently, it's quite likely that buyers of this will have one, or more, of the other consoles, or be games developers themselves. Many of the existing games are of the casual type popular on smartphones and tablets.
One notable feature that currently every game offered through the OUYA store has to have a free aspects, whether that be the game being completely free, have a free trial, or be free with in game upgrades and items purchasable through microtransactions.
Game developing on the OUYA is likely to appeal to the smaller, indie developer - often individuals or small teams - as entry into development is much easier than it is on other platforms. All you need is an OUYA (on top of whatever you might normally use for development anyway) without having to apply for licenses, which can be both expensive and difficult to get.
Some of the indie develops can get pretty big - consider Rovio, the developer of the Angry Birds franchise, for example, or Mojang, who publish Minecraft.
With a price of US$99.99 or £98.58 (which is a terrible exchange rate) the console is way below any of the big three in price. It still isn't likely to appeal much to hardcore console gamers though.