How to Buy a Video Game Console

Updated February 28, 2014

What the best video game console has

  • A lineup of games that YOU want to play. Choosing a game console largely depends on who will be playing and what type of games they will want to play. Before you buy, visit the manufacturer's website to get a sense of what games are available for the console in question. Each manufacturer lists compatible games on its website.
  • Useful extras. Game consoles are often marketed in bundles with games and accessories. Keep in mind that you'll need to spend extra for things that are not in the box. That includes things like HDMI cables, headsets and additional game controllers.
  • A controller that is fun and easy to use. If you can, play around with a console's controller at the store before you buy. In reviews, users frequently complain that a particular controller style is uncomfortable or that the buttons are too small for their fingers.

Know before you go

  • Who will be playing? The Nintendo Wii's library skews heavily toward family-friendly titles as well as those for younger kids. For teens and adults, especially those interested in realistic graphics and action, the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 are the better choices. Keep in mind that the library for both of those new consoles is limited for now. If that's an issue, the earlier Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 -- and their vast library of titles -- remain available.
  • What about media features? Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can play DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Sony has dropped support for CD and MP3 playback, though user outcry may lead to both features being brought back via firmware updates. Both consoles offer Internet connectivity, but you'll need to budget for either console's online subscription service for online gaming. On the PS4, you can still access entertainment apps like Netflix or Hulu Plus without needing to buy a PlayStation Plus account. With the Xbox One you'll need an Xbox Live Gold membership to do just about anything online. The PS4 lacks DLNA features at present, so the Xbox One is the better choice if you want to stream content from your PC. The Nintendo Wii U does have Internet connectivity, though relatively few streaming partners. The Wii U cannot play DVDs, Blu-ray Discs or audio CDs.
  • Is motion and voice control a must? All three of the major consoles have motion-sensing technology. The Xbox One includes the Kinect voice and gesture controller, and that peripheral is essential to some of the console's most innovative features. The PlayStation 4 supports gesture control via an optional PlayStation Camera peripheral (Est. $70), but relatively few games make use of it. Motion control is a key part of the Wii U and is built into its GamePad controllers.