Apparently the economy’s doing all right and the game industry is poised for a big rebound, following this month’s launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Some 40 percent of broadband-connected households plan to buy a new game console this holiday season during which they’ll spend more than $1,000 on gadgets, according to a forecast by the Parks Associates research firm.
Consoles are also the most-wished-for holiday gift among teens and in the top five for adults, according to the Consumer Electronics Association’s annual holiday forecast.
The dilemma then becomes, which console to choose?
This is tricky. There’s no simple formula for deciding which console is best for which home.
But here are a few tips and comparisons among the three systems: Nintendo’s Wii U, which went on sale last November; Sony’s PS4, which debuted Nov. 15; and Microsoft’s Xbox One, which goes on sale Friday.
Price: The Wii U wins at $300 for bundles including a top-shelf game such as “Zelda,” “Skylanders” or “New Super Mario Bros U.” The PS4 is $400 and the Xbox One is $500, but the gap narrows if you add-on the PS4 camera accessory for $60. Extra controllers for Wii U cost about $35; they’re $60 each for ones that go with the Xbox One and PS4.
Deals: If you’re not too picky, this holiday season will be a good time to buy an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Their price has fallen to $200 or less and they have all sorts of games available, including the latest releases.
Friends: If you’re buying a console as a gift for someone, find out which console most of their friends will be using. They’ll want to play and socialize together through the consoles, and the different platforms don’t connect to each other.
Online video: All three run the major streaming video apps such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. But if you just want to stream online video, buy a Roku-type device for under $100 or a TV that does this directly.
Alternatives: New gaming PCs based on the popular Steam game service will debut in January. There are several fledgling gaming devices and services available, plus lots of games for tablets such as the iPad. Salad’s fine for some, others want steak.
Exclusives: Wii U has the most exclusives — largely family-friendly games — after its one-year head start with the Wii U. PS4 and Xbox One will have more exclusive action games in the coming year.
Blockbusters: All three run big-name action games but the PS4 and Xbox One have more of them, plus more horsepower to output them in higher fidelity. “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Assassin’s Creed IV” are available on all three, for instance, but “Battlefield 4″ and “Grand Theft Auto V” are not available for Wii U. (“Battlefield 4″ is coming to Xbox One and PS4, GTA 5 is now on Xbox 360 and PS3 and coming to PCs.)
Family games: Wii U has the lead here, including great franchises such as “Mario,” “Zelda” and “Pikmin.” Xbox One and PS4 have a few “kid” games now and more in the works.
Catalog support: Wii U supports games for the earlier Wii, giving it the largest catalog of the three “next gen” consoles. But it takes extra steps and time to load older Wii games on the Wii U.
Fitness games: Wii U runs Wii fitness games, plus the new $20 Wii Fit U game that comes with a “Fit Meter” motion sensor/pedometer to track physical activity throughout the day. Xbox One has an assortment of built-in fitness program trials. PS4 doesn’t have a fitness game yet unless you count “Just Dance 4.”
Size: Roughly the size of a hardback book, the Wii U is by far the smallest of the three but it doesn’t play movie discs like the Xbox One and PS4, so you’ll probably stack it on a DVD player. The Xbox One has the largest box, a substantial power brick and must sit horizontally, while the PS4 has only a power cord and can stand vertically. All three need ventilation, especially the Xbox One and PS4.
Sensor bars: The Wii U and Xbox One require a sensor bar above or below the TV set. The Wii U bar is a twig compared with the blocky new Kinect and the optional PS4 camera, though the Wii U bar has far fewer capabilities.
High definition: All three output 1080p video. The PS4 is likely to support 4K video in the future.
Gamecasting: The PS4 lets you broadcast live gameplay. Xbox One will get this capability next year. Yes, lots of people now watch video of others playing games. Sony and Microsoft want this to happen on their platforms and not YouTube.
Multiplayer: All three support online, multiplayer gaming, but the networks of Microsoft and Sony are more suitable for, and used by, avid multiplayer gamers. Microsoft and Sony also charge $50 to $60 per year for network access, while Nintendo’s Miiverse is free.
Controllers: The PS4 controllers take a bigger leap ahead than the Xbox One controllers. Sony added a touchscreen between the joysticks and a “share” button to launch social features. Xbox One controllers have handy new menu buttons, more precision and better feedback, but they’re the same basic design as the 360 controllers. Nintendo took the boldest leap by adding the tablet-like GamePad to the Wii U, but the console continues to use last-generation “Wiimote” controllers as well.
Extra costs: All three console makers are offering more games that encourage players to make small purchases to upgrade games, similar to the approach taken by popular mobile and PC games.
Second screens: Wii U’s GamePad works as a remote display for video and gameplay within Wi-Fi range, as does Sony’s $200 PlayStation Vita handheld. Xbox One works with Microsoft’s SmartGlass, a free app offering an auxiliary Xbox screen and control on Windows, iOS and Android devices.
TV: Xbox One has an excellent TV guide that replaces the guide on a digital cable box and can be controlled with voice input, but it requires the $60 per year Xbox Live Gold subscription. Wii U also offers a nice TV guide, one that’s controlled with the GamePad, and integrates conversation threads about shows and sports. Both systems function as universal TV remote controls. Sony makes actual TVs.
Sports: The Xbox One has ESPN and NFL apps that play live games if you subscribe to their networks through a cable or satellite package. The PS4 has NHL and NBA apps. With the Wii U TV app you can bookmark favorite teams and post comments online, via the Gamepad, while watching a game.