Best Next-Gen Console on a Budget

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

E3 2014 has come and gone, and each console has shown a promising lineup of games for the coming year. If you were holding off from buying a new system, this holiday is gearing up to be the perfect time to invest. That gives you 3 to 4 months to start saving up, but which console should you buy if you’re strapped for cash? You want to make sure to get the most bang for your buck, which means games and features. Check out the breakdown in prices and value.

Barrier to entry

The first question you have to ask your wallet is how much money can you lay down upfront for a system? Microsoft recently decided to give consumers the option to purchase the Xbox One console separately from the Kinect. This change has allowed the console’s base price to shift from $499 to $399 to better compete with the PlayStation 4 (also $399.) However, both systems are beat out by the Wii U’s $299 price tag. While the Wii U does make some sacrifices in terms of graphics, Nintendo has made sure to announce plenty of first-party titles to complement the system.

Winner: Wii U

Why: There’s plenty of features that allow it to go beyond a game system, much like the PS4 and Xbox One, and allow it to be a great asset in the living room as an entertainment unit. Apps like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video are available for all your streaming needs — especially since the Wii U can output 1080p HD video and comes bundled with an HDMI cord. Storage space is considerably less than its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts (8GB flash drive), but it can be supplemented with an SD card or external hard drive. Also, there’s a 32GB model that only costs $50 more.

While other high-end features like voice chat and live streaming aren’t there, this system offers enough of the basics for entertainment and gaming to be a great choice if upfront costs are a concern.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Long-term costs

How much money are you going to have to throw down on new games and what kinds of deals do these consoles offer? Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games sell at $59.99 new, and depreciate in value over time. Wii U, on the other hand, has games that range from $39.99 to $59.99 new.

However, PS4 and Xbox One offer subscriptions to obtain “free” games. For $49.99 a year, PlayStation will let you download free games to your PS3, PS4, and PS Vita for a year. If you own one or all of these systems, you have access to about two free games per system, per month. However, if you lapse on your PS Plus subscription, those games go away. PlayStation will only allow you to keep those games as long as your subscribed to PS Plus.

For $59.99 a year, Xbox One offers two free games a month for it’s Gold subscribers. The bonus: you get to keep the games if your subscription lapses. They’re yours for life. While the subscription costs more, than PS Plus, consumers have been known to find discounted yearly subscription plans for $49.99 through Amazon or other online retailers.

Both subscriptions pay for themselves after 2 months or so of downloading “free” games with each system’s respective membership. However, gamers are notorious for hoarding digital wares, so one can assume each monthly title won’t be played immediately. That makes Xbox One’s service a much better value since you can go back and play whenever you like.

The games Xbox and PlayStation give away won’t always strike the right cord with some gamers, but the titles are mostly well-rated. Members of both services also receive discounts on virtual titles within the PSN and Xbox Marketplace. Non-members also have the opportunity to receive deals, but the discounts heavily favor PS Plus and Gold subscribers. The Wii U offers no membership plan, but its eShop does offer regular discounts. Not quite as comparable as what members of Xbox and PlayStation’s membership services receive.

Winner: Xbox One

Why: If you’re on a tight budget, the Xbox Gold subscription is a great investment for your game collection. Two free games a month, plus up to 80 percent off of full games will help you build a satisfying library. You may not be up on the latest releases, and you’ll be at the whim of the Xbox Marketplace, but if you’re patient with your purchases, your bank account will thank you. Even if you don’t have $60 when your subscription lapses, after one year, you’ll have a healthy library to wade out your dry spell. While you’re waiting, entertainment services like Netflix and Hulu will still be available (provided you subscribe to those services separately.)

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/diabolikkitsuney/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/diabolikkitsuney/

Overall tally

Let’s do some hypothetical math to tally the overall cost of owning each system. The last console generation for the Xbox 360 and PS3 lasted about 8 years and is still going strong — with the exception of the Wii, which went about 6 years before the Wii U was launched in 2012. No one knows how long this generation will last, since manufacturers can easily push software updates to consoles to improve and patch errors. So, let’s say these systems last about 8 years, and you treat yourself to one new game a year.

Xbox One:
System: $399
Membership (optional): $400 over the course of 8 years
Total potential “free” games under that membership: 192
One new game/ year, over 8 years: $480
Total cost: $1280
Total value: 200 games (for life)

PS4:
System: $399
Membership (optional): $400 over the course of 8 years
Total potential “free” games under that membership: 192
One new game/ year, over 8 years: $480
Total cost: $1280
Total value: 200 games (provided you maintain your membership)

Wii U:
System: $299
One new game/ year, over 8 years (averaging $50/ game): $400
Total cost: $700
Total value: 8 games (plus if you own a Wii, the Wii U is backwards compatible)

If games are your primary concern, there’s hardly any contest here. The Xbox One offers an entertainment system and free games every month (with subscription.) The PlayStation 4 offers the same benefits, but you have to keep up with that yearly membership to maintain access to those games. Numbers and features don’t lie, Xbox One is the better overall value.

Wii U should be considered if entertainment is the primary priority (i.e. using the system for Netflix and Hulu Plus) and gaming is secondary.

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