Video game lovers are treated to a new generation of consoles every three to five years. In this manner, gaming is unlike any other creative form—like it’s if every few years, someone invents a new method to enjoy music or movies.
Technology has progressed in various mediums over the decades. However, gaming is built on the backs of these so-called console generations.
At any one time, three huge corporations compete for the attention of gamers: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. We’ve seen massive systems from Sega, Atari, Intellivision, and others in previous years, but the big three now completely control the console market.
And, as the firms compete for dominance, each studio’s performance ebbs and flows. In the 1990s, Sega and Nintendo were rivals. In the early 2000s, Microsoft’s Xbox’s online features revolutionized the game.
The struggle is now on between the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5, both of which are vying for a place in gaming history. (Of course, the Nintendo Switch has already proven its worth.)
However, a console’s worth is determined by more than just its specifications and sales. Of course, games are everything. The programs that support on it are only as good as the system itself.
Original and third-party game quality (and quantity) can make or ruin a console. While we’ve had some technologically advanced consoles over the years, only a few have been powered by a large library of outstanding video games.
Taking all of this into consideration, we combed through decades of gaming to find the best—and most influential—consoles ever. Here is a ranking of the finest gaming consoles in history.
1. PlayStation 4 Slim
The ‘PS4 Slim’ is the PS4 console that you can pick completely new right now. It has the same internals as the original PS4 from 2013, however, it has a more streamlined look. It’s still a terrific console, and we say that knowing full well what the 4K-capable PS4 Pro and the new, ultra-powerful PS5 are capable of.
Since the launch of the PS5, several PS4 versions have been discontinued, but the PS4 Slim is still available, and with Black Friday 2021 and Cyber Monday approaching, you might just find some extremely affordable PS4 bundles in the sales. Of course, if you want to be future-proofed and play 4K games, you should try to get your hands on a PS5 Black Friday combo.
The PS4 Slim is not only the smallest PlayStation console on the market, but it is also the cheapest. Of course, there are trade-offs – there’s no 4K resolution and no optical audio output – but if you can live with those, the PlayStation 4 Slim is a fantastic value.
The PS4 Slim’s smaller size makes it easier to fit in most spaces, and it also operates quietly and consumes less power than the original PlayStation 4.
With all of this in mind, is the PlayStation 4 Slim still a worthwhile purchase, or would people hoping to play Sony games be better off with a PS5? That console does offer a significant performance boost over the PS4, and it will be simpler to find than the now-discontinued mid-gen upgrade PS4 Pro, despite power constraints.
Overall, if you want to be future-proofed for the next few years of PlayStation games, the PS5 is the logical option to save for. Yes, many of the most recent releases are available across generations, so you won’t be left behind if you pick up a PS4.
On the other hand, you may find that some modern games aren’t quite up to par with older technology. Plus, the PS5 is backward compatible with PS4 games, so you won’t be missing out on anything from the back generation.
If you don’t care about the latest technology with its 4K bells and whistles and just want a computer to help you catch up on the PS4’s excellent catalog of games, the PS4 Slim is an alternative that might be right for you. Continue reading for more information on the console.
What is the difference between the PlayStation 4 Slim and PlayStation 4 Pro? The PS4 Slim is a thinner, less expensive, and more attractive variant of the original PS4. The PS4 Pro, on the other hand, is more expensive and can play games in 4K. Is there a difference between the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro? No, when it comes to specs.
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the superior console. It offers “genuine” 4K gaming, which is difficult to achieve on other devices without sacrificing quality. It’s also bigger on the outside, the GPU is much quicker on the inside, and the CPU, while fundamentally similar, has been clocked at a higher speed.
However, this does not imply that you should buy one. For those who seek a quality gaming experience and have a 4K TV, the PS4 Pro is the best option. The PS4 Slim might be a better option if you don’t have a 4K TV or a lot of money. Is the PS4 Slim capable of 4K resolution? No, it isn’t.
The PS4 Slim does not support 4K, so if you want 4K gaming plus a 4K Blu-ray player, you’ll have to look at the PS4 Pro or PS5. If you think back to when the original PlayStation 4 was released, you’ll recall that its unusual shape grabbed a lot of attention when it was originally shown.
The scaled-down PlayStation 4, which debuted in 2016, made the main visual identity of the original PlayStation 4, but shrunk down the parallelogram package, even more, flattening out some of the edges.
The original PlayStation 4 was 27.5 x 30 x 5.3 cm in size, whereas the PS4 Slim is nearly a third smaller at 26.5 x 26.5 x 3.8 cm. In addition, the overall weight is less.
The original PS4 had a mix of shiny and matte plastics, but the PS4 Slim has a matte black finish throughout. Small glowing dots over the power button replace the top-mounted colorful light bar indicator that shows sleep, waking, and off statuses (which are harder to see, so take care before unplugging the unit).
The disk drive slot is still on the front, above the little power and eject buttons. Physical buttons were added to the PS4 in later iterations, however, the launch edition PS4 emphasized touch-sensitive controls instead.
The PlayStation 4 Slim has two USB ports on the front, just like previous PS4 models, however, they’re significantly wider apart and slightly easier to plug into. The PS4 Slim comes in 500GB and 1TB capacities, with the latter being significantly more common.
With the console’s emphasis on necessary game installs, the smaller of the two hard drives may find up unexpectedly rapidly, but happily, it’s quite straightforward to upgrade the internal hard drive or install games to an external hard drive.
The power plug socket (no external power brick required), an HDMI port, the PlayStation Camera’s expansion port (necessary for the PlayStation VR), and an Ethernet network jack connection are all located on the back.
The Optical Out port on the back is the one major casualty of the slimmed-down design: HDMI will meet the needs of many gamers for transmitting audio signals, but those hooking up older home cinema receivers or souped-up gaming headsets may miss the Optical Out port.
The PS4 Slim, on the other hand, features a lot of beautiful design details all over its body. The PlayStation brand’s trademark Square, Triangle, Circle, and Cross insignia are imprinted on the console’s side (with the Circle acting as a fixture for those wishing to stand the console upright with a base accessory).
The same symbols may also be found on the bottom of the machine, which serves as feet to raise the unit off the ground for better ventilation.
Overall, it’s a well-thought-out design that more than justifies its “Slim” street moniker. The slim PlayStation 4 is simple to set up, especially if you’re upgrading from the original PS4 (or even a PS3), because all of the same wires can be used, eliminating the need to stretch behind your TV.
Simply connect to the internet using the provided HDMI and power connections to download the console’s numerous patches and upgrades.
Alternatively, you may just plug in a game and forget about Wi-Fi or Ethernet. You can access the home screen without first connecting to the internet and patching, unlike the Xbox One.
Once you’ve connected to the internet, you’ll need to wait for the PS4 to update before making purchases or playing online. Sony’s home consoles have led the pace when it comes to media playback support since the initial PlayStation. The PlayStation One had a wonderful CD player, the PlayStation 2 was many gamers’ first DVD player, and the PlayStation 3 made a Blu-ray deck and USB playback.
While the PS4 does not introduce a new format, it continues the legacy of the PS3, with support for a wide range of streaming services, Blu-ray and DVD playing, USB media capabilities, and even its own Spotify player. This is also true for the PS4 Slim.
The PS4 Slim, on the other hand, does not offer the Xbox One S’s 4K Blu-ray player, opting instead for the original PS4’s conventional full HD Blu-ray player. It’s still a good deck, but those hoping to use the new PS4 to show off their 4K TVs will be disappointed (it’s also missing from the PS4 Pro).
You could argue that, with streaming becoming more popular as a way to watch media content, it’s not a critical function, especially if it keeps the entire cost low.
It will, however, age the PS4 Slim console, making it less future-proof. The entire elimination of the optical out audio socket, which could cause issues for people with older AV equipment, is arguably more annoying.
However, HDR support is an upgrade that is available on all PS4s, even the PS4 Slim. This enhances the detail of light sources in an image and is now pretty much standard in TV technology.
All other PS4 streaming services and applications, including (but not limited to) Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Sky TV in the UK, and HBO Go and Hulu in the US will be available on the PS4 Slim. If you’re seeking the latest Hollywood movies, Sony’s movie renting portal is also available.
YouTube, Twitch game streaming, and a Spotify Connect-enabled version of the popular music streaming service are all available, allowing you to manage tunes on your TV from the convenience of your phone.
2. Wii U
Nintendo’s second-screen console has progressed significantly. The Wii U is significantly more accessible than before, thanks to an overhauled interface that speeds up access to menus and apps, as well as a quick-start menu that allows you to get right into a game from standby mode.
It also has a fantastic library of first-party games that provide unique experiences not found anywhere else. Nonetheless, this system suffers to be neglected by third parties, and its main point of difference, the GamePad, is underutilized.
Although the latter is a magnificent piece of equipment, Nintendo has yet to fully justify it with its software, and it risks being overlooked by consumers as a critical component of the system.
The experience of owning the Wii U has altered as a result of the console’s progress over the last 24 months; as a result, we’ve gone back and re-evaluated it to update our assessment. After looking at it with fresh eyes, it’s clear that this system has quietly evolved from a good to a terrific one.
The Wii U is a tiny system that fits nicely among other consoles in an entertainment center, measuring 4.6 cm (1.8 inches) by 26.9 cm (10.6 inches) by 17.2 cm (6.8 inches). It’s elegant and subtle, with rounded corners and a choice of black (pro) or white (basic) color schemes, while scratches on the pro console’s black finish stand out.
Nintendo offers only 32GB of internal storage on the pro model and a suffocatingly little 8GB on the base variant. Wii U owners can work around this shortsighted decision by acquiring SD cards or an external hard drive, albeit neither storage option is especially fast by today’s standards.
(SDHC SD cards and USB 2.0 external drives are the only formats limited.) If you plan to store many full-sized retail games on your system, such as Bayonetta 2, which weighs in at 14.6GB, you’ll need to purchase more storage.
A 1.24GHz multi-core processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 550MHz graphics core power the system. In terms of sheer power, the Wii U trails behind the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but this is mostly a gameplay-over-graphics console that shines within that framework.
Choosing this system, however, does not imply sacrificing good visuals to have fun—Nintendo is an expert at designing fantastic-looking games that operate on these specs. For example, Mario Kart 8 looks stunning at 720p and 60 frames per second. Instead of focusing on raw power, Nintendo has chosen to focus on the Wii U’s main selling point: the GamePad.
The 16-cm (6.2-inch) touchscreen display on this controller/second screen offers a clean and clear image, and while its 158ppi resolution and lack of multi-touch capability put it behind recent tablets, I’ve found it to be all I’ve needed when gaming on my Wii U.
It’s remarkably light for its weight, at 491 grams (1.08 pounds), considering its 13.5 x 2.3 x 25.9 cm (5.3 x 0.9 x 10.2 inch) frame; this, combined with its curved ridges and symmetrical dual thumbsticks, has allowed me to play for lengthy periods despite its bulk. It’s also long-lasting, which is especially important for parents looking to buy the Wii U for their children.
If your TV is occupied by someone else, you can use the GamePad as a screen for the Wii U (which is a pretty enjoyable alternative), however, the range can be an issue. The amount of distance you can walk away from your Wii U before the image breaks up is determined by the number of walls, floors, and other barriers between you and the console.
I can play Mario Kart 8 immediately above the TV on the second floor of our office, but my game will cut out if I move it to my apartment’s bedroom, which is down the hall from my TV and behind a door. If you reside in a more congested area, being tethered to the console in this way can be aggravating.
However, the system suffers to be plagued by a lack of third-party support. If you only own a Wii U and want to play games outside of Nintendo’s portfolio regularly, you’ll find it difficult.
Third-party big-budget games are scarce on this system, and certain genres, such as sports and shooters, are nearly extinct. Better sales may help turn things around, but since the launch, the trend has only become worse.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Nintendo continues to quietly support independent games, with new titles arriving on the Wii U eShop every month. Older treasures like Lego City Undercover, ZombiU, and Rayman Legends, which are optimized for the Wii U, provide one-of-a-kind experiences.
The Wii U may not be the most powerful console on the market, but it makes up for it with a fantastic first-party game selection and creative (though underutilized) hardware. However, the console’s lack of support from significant third parties such as EA and Activision continues to hold it back, and the holes in its library left by absent multiplatform games are significant.
However, it offers difficult to compete with the Wii U’s unique experiences. The Wii U is tough to overlook, thanks to second-screen gaming, unusual tablet integration, and a slew of generation-defining exclusives.
3. Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X is the ideal Xbox since it is the best console for playing both new and old Xbox games.
It is still easy to buy, but it is definitely worth the effort. The Xbox Series X has a greater lineup of games for lucky owners to try out now that it’s been out for more than a year, including a few new titles as well as upgraded versions of some of the top Xbox One games.
People who were hoping for a new console generation to blow them away from the previous one may be disappointed, as the visual leap from the Xbox One X to the Series X isn’t spectacular.
However, it means that many games that previously chugged on outdated technology will now run considerably more smoothly and at 4K resolution. At the time of writing, the Xbox Series X, which was released worldwide on November 10, 2020, is approaching its first birthday. And it’s still ridiculously difficult to buy.
We’ve been keeping track of Xbox Series X restocks for months, and most outlets are still out of stock. When new stock arrives, it sells out almost immediately. Unfortunately, there are still shortages of semiconductors, which are expected to continue beyond 2023.
If you can find an Xbox Series X in stock, expect to pay $499 in the United States and £449 in the United Kingdom. The Xbox Series X equals the price of the PS5 in those countries, at least on paper.
It is, however, more expensive than the PS5 Digital Edition ($399, or £349). However, these consoles are frequently found in bundles with a higher ticket price.
You could easily mistake the Xbox Series X for a small-form-factor PC, and you’d be correct; at least when it’s standing upright. Its uninspiring monolithic design could be viewed as a flaw. The system’s clean and uncluttered appearance, on the other hand, appeals to me.
It is, however, quite large. The Series X is a huge computer, measuring 15.1 x 15.1 x 30.1 cm (5.9 x 5.9 x 11.9 inches) and weighing 9.8 pounds, though not as large as the PS5. This means you’ll have a hard time fitting it inside an entertainment unit unless you place it on its side.
On one side of the console, a quartet of soft pads indicates which direction it should be positioned when resting sideways. These also help to keep the console from slipping.
The Xbox Series X includes simply a USB 3.1 Type-A port and a Blu-ray disc drive on the front, maintaining the console’s minimalist design. A wireless controller pairing button is also included. This makes it easy to charge a controller or transfer games and saves to and from the Series X using an external hard drive. The Series X has a considerably larger port choice around the back.
One HDMI 2.1 port is available, which is necessary for 8K gaming and enables TVs with 120 Hz panels to take advantage of the 120 frames per second frame rate in some games. There are also two more USB 3.1 connections, an Ethernet port, and a Kensington lock, which are useful for external storage that you plan to remain connected to your console.
Unlike the Xbox One and One X, there is no optical audio connector or HDMI-in port. However, only people with powerful audio systems will notice the loss of optical audio, as the HDMI connection can still carry Dolby Atmos and surround sound signals.
We’re not sure how many people used the HDMI-in, so it’s not a big deal to remove it from the Series X. It also eliminates the possibility of plugging an HDMI cable into the wrong port and then wondering why your TV isn’t receiving a signal, as I’ve done before.
The expansion slot, on the other hand, is the most notable port. This is for Series X’s exclusive external PCIe 4.0 SSD, which adds 1 TB of fast storage to the system. If you were hoping for a significant user interface update with the Xbox Series X, you’ll be disappointed.
Its UI is nearly identical to that of the Xbox One. That’s not a terrible thing, because the UI was quite extensive, with choices ranging from managing games and apps to transfer data between drives and fine-tuning HDR displays and audio equipment.
The ability to remotely access your console and stream games via a local Wi-Fi connection is one of the many unique features that carry over from the Xbox One to the Series X.
We anticipate being able to broadcast games from the Series X via cellular broadband in the future. That, though, was part of Microsoft’s Project xCloud game-streaming program, which has yet to be integrated into any Xbox console.
If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership, you may stream a variety of Xbox games to your Android mobile, and your progress on the Series X or Xbox One will be synced.
One of Series X’s best features is cross-platform syncing. The UI fetched my saves from the cloud as soon as I loaded Xbox One games on the Series X, allowing me to carry where I left off.
A lot of Series X’s UI is focused on showing what’s new on Xbox Game Pass, which is useful if you’re looking for a new game to play. In contrast to the incredibly clean PS4 interface, the Xbox Game pass focus, as well as the overall tile menu style, can make it a little fussy, and oftentimes tough, to find what you’re looking for.
Anyone who is used to the Xbox One UI will feel right at home on the Series X. It also emphasizes how the Series X is more of a flagship for an Xbox ecosystem than a next-generation console. This isn’t instantaneous, but it’s a lot faster than starting again with a new game.
And, despite the advantage that both consoles have been out for a few months, there are now a lot more optimized games for Xbox Series X and Series S that can use Quick Resume.
Quick Resume is a joy to use as well. When you’re playing one game, simply press the Xbox button on the controller to switch to another. Then continue to the first game you were playing, and you’ll be able to pick up back where you left off.
It feels like a true game-changer, and it’s a feature that the PS5 lacks, even though PS5 games load quite swiftly. When you want a quick burst of gaming or want to switch from a single-player game to a multiplayer game when your friends arrive online, I found that Quick Resume is wonderful.
More Xbox Series X optimized games are available now than at launch, demonstrating what the 12 teraflops of graphics power can do when applied to patched games old and new.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the notable titles. While not an Xbox Series X exclusive, it is a game with stunning visuals and graphics games that works best on new console hardware. When it was initially left out on the Xbox Series X, it had some performance issues, including frame rate drops, screen tearing, and an overall performance profile that didn’t compare to the PS5 version.
The Xbox Series X is the one and only Xbox that can do everything. It’s a single machine that can play generations of Xbox games flawlessly. It will also do it without being fussy or making a racket.
Sure, $499 is a lot of money to spend on a gaming machine that hasn’t yet demonstrated any truly amazing next-gen skills. However, I believe it is a fair price for the technology you will pay.
The latest AMD processor and graphics technology promises a lot of power, and the joy of loading games in seconds rather than minutes should not be overlooked.
While SSDs have been available in PCs for some price, it would be difficult to build a gaming machine with this much power and modern storage for less than $1,000, let alone half that.
4. Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch, although being almost five years old, is still as popular as its newer, more powerful competitors. It’s a console you can’t ignore, with exclusives from some of the best game franchises and some unique hardware.
The Switch has been joined by several friends, even though it started alone. The Nintendo Switch Lite is now available for smaller, handheld gaming, as well as the Nintendo Switch OLED, which has a brighter display and a new dock design.
The basic Switch, on the other hand, has a place in the market and will continue to do so until a full-fledged Switch 2 is released. Given that Sony and Microsoft had just announced their next-generation PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles, this could have been a difficult time for Nintendo.
However, with smash hits like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, remasterings of classic games like the recently released Super Mario 3D All-Stars, an increasing number of third-party games from big and small developers, and unique experiences like Nintendo Labo or Mario Kart Live, the Switch feels to be in good shape as Sony and Microsoft transition from one console generation to the next.
The original Nintendo Switch was released in March 2017, and the updated version was released in July 2019. It has a list price of $299.99 (£279.99) and comes with either neon red and blue or gray Joy-Con controllers. Even during massive sales, Switch consoles rarely get huge discounts, but when they tend paired with one or more games, you can sometimes find them for a few dollars or pounds less.
The Switch Lite, on the other hand, costs $199.99 (£199.99) and comes in a variety of pastel color options for the entire console. The Nintendo Switch OLED is only available in black-and-white and costs $349 (£309).
The Nintendo Switch, like most modern consoles, has an uninspiring design: rectangles with a few gentler curves, all portrayed in matte plastics.
You may choose between the Neon color option, which has blue and red Joy-Con controllers, and the plainer all-gray version, which has a more coherent look to it. In any case, the Switch’s centerpiece is a gray rectangle with a display on it.
The dock, which is by default a very drab rectangle of black plastic, is far more interesting than its appearance suggests. There’s a slot for the Switch to fit into, with a secret USB Type-C connector and a port for the AC adapter to slide into.
The dock’s side and back have three USB ports for plugging in accessories and an HDMI output for connecting to your monitor or TV, all of which are hidden behind a molded flap to keep your cables tidy. The Switch, on the other hand, is quite intelligent mechanically.
The console acts as a giant handheld when the Joy-Cons are attached to the side rails. In tabletop mode, you can also slide the Joy-Cons off and utilize them individually. You may either lay the Switch flat or put it up on its built-in stand when playing this way. Finally, there’s TV mode, which allows you to play your games on a second monitor by plugging the console into the supplied dock.
The console’s portability is beneficial, but it’s the only way to play your games at their maximum 1080p resolution (in handheld mode, they default to 720p). It’s how I, and many other Switch users, tend to play. Nintendo’s newer Switch Lite can’t dock to a TV since the handheld mode is so popular.
The Switch is the smallest and lightest main console of this generation, making 4 x 9.4 x 0.55 inches (10.1 x 23.8 x 1.3 cm) and weighing 0.88 pounds (approximately 400 grams) with the Joy-Cons attached. The built-in display is a 720p LCD screen that can also be used as a touch screen, and it is powered by an Nvidia bespoke Tegra CPU.
Both Joy-Con controllers are powered by rechargeable batteries with 20-hour battery life and a 3.5-hour charge time.
The Joy-Cons can be charged by plugging them into the side rails of the main Switch console or into a variety of specifically designed accessories, the majority of which are sold separately. (A single Joy-Con holder is included with the system, which mimics the look and feel of a typical controller.)
The Nintendo Switch lacks the processing power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, let alone the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. The Switch, on the other hand, doesn’t need to equal the competition’s graphical abilities to attract players thanks to its popular exclusive franchises and unique play chances.
A few accessories are included with the controllers in the box. The Joy-Con straps, which slide onto the sides of the controllers to give you a more solid hold when utilizing the motion controls, as well as more comfortable shoulder buttons if you’re using single controllers, are examples of these.
The Joy-Con Grip, meanwhile, allows you to slide both controllers into a more familiar gamepad shape. This could be beneficial to players who are accustomed to using PlayStation or Xbox controllers. But, despite playing the majority of this console generation on a PlayStation 4, I rarely use the Grip.
It’s surprising how comfortable it is to use the Joy-Cons independently. Nintendo, on the other hand, clearly enjoys peripherals, as there are numerous additional interesting ways to play with the Switch.
The cardboard-based Labo toys allow you to build both pre-set and bespoke creations that utilize the Joy-Cons or the Switch console itself to give functionality to the toys. Furthermore, Mario Kart Live allows you to drive real-life little go-karts around your home with the Switch.
You’ll need to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online if you want to play first-party Nintendo games online (such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), back up your saves in the cloud, play NES and SNES games, or use the accompanying smartphone app.
Switch Online includes a few odd features. You do not have to pay for multiplayer in every game, but just a few games offer cloud saves. Because the console cannot support online voice chat, the smartphone app is also required.