- Console gamers have lots of choices this holiday season
- The PlayStation 4 has dynamic graphics, improved controllers and middle-of-pack pricing
- Xbox One is an entertainment hub with a smooth interface
- Wii U is most affordable and has a year's worth of games to choose from
As the cold, hard reality of the holiday shopping season dawns in earnest, literally millions of shoppers will be considering video-game consoles when they hit the stores (or stay warm shopping online) this week.
Whether on the hunt for yourself or, more likely, looking for a gift for a friend or family member, the decision isn't an easy one. Both Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One hit stores in the past week or so, and both are off to huge starts. Each sold more than 1 million units in their first 24 hours.
Nintendo -- the third player in console gaming's Big Three -- has its year-old "next generation" console, the Wii U, to consider as well.
To be sure, there are lots of factors to consider when making a choice. But if you're trying to decide which box should end up under the tree, take a look at some thoughts what we see as a big advantage for each console.
You'll want a PlayStation 4 if ...
you want a solid social gaming machine offering intricate, beautiful games that players can share easily with friends.
The next generation of consoles has more power than its predecessors, so games look more robust and offer expanded environments of play and more intricate detail. In "Knack," the PS4's power is on display when hundreds of tiny relics form in a mystical creature with animation that's near-Pixar quality.
The DualShock 4 controller contains new features that work very well for some games. The touchpad offers a new way to interface with gameplay. In "Killzone: Shadow Fall," a swipe across the pad activates different features for your robotic companion.
A social sharing button directly on the controller allows players to let others see their accomplishments. Video clips, screenshots and direct broadcasts are available through Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and Ustream right out of the box.
It also should be mentioned that at $399, the PS4 is $100 cheaper than the rival Xbox One. When disc games are $60 and download games run $15, the money saved could be used to get the content you want.
You'll want an Xbox One if ...
you are in the market for a multimedia machine that can multitask and switch between games, movies, music and applications quickly and seamlessly.
Easily the best thing about the X1 (so far) is how quickly the new interface switches from one application to another with just a voice command (via an improved Kinect).
The hands-free controller not only works for games, it changes the channels on your TV, serves up movie content or uses the Snap function to do two things at once.
Snap allows for split-screen multitasking on the fly. Say you are watching the local NFL game through the X1, but you want to know how your fantasy football team is doing. Snap brings up a Web browser in a side window to let you access your online team without missing a handoff in the game you're watching.
And it is all done with voice command through Kinect. It can recognize six voices and learns the games, shows and apps that each of those people likes. Of course, it also can create a new power struggle for the remote control as opposing viewers scream instructions to the console.
The X1, which costs $499, has an amazing suite of entertainment choices with partners like Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube and more. Microsoft wants to offer people as many television, movie and music choices as possible, and content providers are signing up.
You'll want a Wii U if ...
you want a wider selection of games to play now and at a price that won't blow away your entire holiday budget.
Lest we forget, the Nintendo Wii U is also a next-generation gaming console.
It has the advantage of having been on the market for more than a year. Developers have used that time to produce quality games for all age groups. Titles like "Super Mario 3D World," "Pikmin 3" and "The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD" -- along with Wii U versions of many highly sought-after third-party titles -- make the console more attractive compared with the limited number of titles available on the new PlayStation and Xbox.
And the Wii U is backward-compatible, meaning any Wii controllers or games you owned before upgrading to the next-gen box still work on the Wii U. The other next-gen consoles won't let you play your older games and require new controllers to use them.
And this might be a big factor for some: Nintendo recently cut the price of the Wii U to $299, making it $100 less than the PS4 and $200 less than the X1.
For what's been promoted as as a family-friendly console, that price difference could be important as holiday spending gets tighter. Plus, the extra money can be used to buy games.