The full lineup of next-generation video game consoles is finally here. The Sony PlayStation 4 (Est. $400) and the Microsoft Xbox One (Est. $500) offer tons of gaming power -- comparing favorably to even high-end gaming PCs, but at a fraction of their cost. The older Nintendo Wii U (Est. $300) is less powerful, but also less expensive.
Modern video game consoles do more than just play games. Multimedia features have come to be expected, and the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U all include at least some streaming capabilities. All but the Wii U can also spin DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. The Xbox One takes multimedia to a whole new level, however, seeking to become your living room's entertainment hub by integrating game play, streaming video and live TV, centralizing it on one device and under voice control.
Which is the right console for you? As is typical, the answer depends on what you expect from a gaming console. The older Wii U has received a lackluster reception from dedicated gamers and video game console reviewers. The second-screen capabilities of its controllers have lots of promise, but reviewers grouse about their clumsy form factor for serious gaming. The Wii U library is light on high-end games and heavy on family- and kid-oriented titles. However, the Wii U is also the only modern video game console that's backward-compatible with previous-generation games, and the family-friendly appeal of the get-up-and-move games in the Wii and Wii U libraries is well established.
Serious console gamers will instead gravitate to the PS4 and Xbox One. Reviewers tend to give a small edge in performance to the PS4, and a bigger edge when it comes to the controller and interface. The price edge also goes to the PS4, though the Xbox One includes the Kinect gesture and voice controller in the box. As already noted, the Xbox One pretty thoroughly trumps the PS4 in the multimedia features race, and the beating is made worse when you factor in that Sony stripped out some popular media features that were available in the previous-generation but still available Sony PlayStation 3 (Est. $200 and up) . One negative is that some of the neatest aspects of the Xbox One's multimedia features rely heavily on the Kinect, and its performance in that regard can be glitch-prone.
Regardless of whether you opt for the PS4 or the Xbox One, don't expect an overwhelming selection of games, at least at first. As we've seen with past video game consoles, it takes time for game makers to ramp up content. For now, there are some good to great titles, with some exclusive to one platform or the other. Reviews we've seen give the Xbox One the initial -- albeit slim -- lead, but add that scheduled titles should let the PS4 catch up in short order.
To find the best video game consoles, we looked at both expert commentary and user reviews to find which ones deliver and which ones disappoint. We consulted with top technology reviewers, including CNET and PCMag.com, as well as those with specific expertise in games and gaming, such as Polygon.com and IGN.com. User reviews come from top retailers, including Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. Using this feedback, we rate video game consoles in multiple areas, including their gaming performance, multimedia performance, usability and aesthetics. We name a best gaming console overall, as well as those that excel in media performance or in delivering family fun.