Many people suspected that this would be the last console generation and that players would ditch consoles in favor of cheaper PC and mobile games. Three years in, that hardly seems likely.
In fact, they're selling well and now there are even more consoles! The Xbox One S released last month added some welcome, future-ready upgrades to Microsoft's console while refining the design, and now Sony has announced the PlayStation 4 Pro in return.
While some of the Xbox One S' biggest enhancements pertain to media, the PS4 Pro packs more gaming power and pushes the PS4 library to new heights with 4K resolution – either natively or upscaled, depending on the game. And it'll offer a big boost to virtual reality with the PlayStation VR headset, as well.
Of course, Microsoft has its own Project Scorpio console on deck for 2017, so we're sure to see a tit-for-tat battle for some time to come. But if you're eyeing an upgraded console this holiday season, here's how they compare in each major category.
Power: Go Pro
While not a significant improvement over the original Xbox One, the S model adds a little extra GPU and CPU power for developers to work with. The power is primarily used to enable high dynamic range (HDR) lighting for wider contrast and perhaps help upscale the 1080p graphics into 4K for compatible TVs.
However, that little bit of added juice can also be used to smooth out the frame rate and maybe even lightly enhance the graphics. The Gears of War 4 developers at The Coalition admitted as much to Polygon back at E3. In practice, games upscaled to 4K can be a little hit or miss on the Xbox One S, but something like Rise of the Tomb Raider looks spectacular right out of the box.
On the other hand, the PlayStation 4 Pro's new GPU is significantly more powerful than the one in the standard PS4 model. Most games don't run natively at 4K, which is a feat at a high-enough frame rate on even an expensive gaming PC, but some do - and others at least run at higher than 1080p or use an inventive upscaling technique called "2160p checkerboard" that looks pretty fantastic.
Some games even give you options, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, which lets you do native 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p with amplified detail, or 1080p with a solid 60fps. It's your call. In any case, a game released for both platforms that comes with PlayStation 4 Pro enhancements in tow will undoubtedly look better and/or run smoother on Sony's upgraded console.
Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro
Design: The "S" is for Sexy
Let's be honest: neither the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is the most appealing-looking console, but we'll take the thin PS4 slab over the massive original Xbox One any day of the week.
When it comes to the powered-up revisions, however, we have to change course. The Xbox One S is a sleek and attractive little guy, trimming 40% of physical size out while switching to white and adding some nice visual flourishes all the while. It's the console we wish we had under our TV three years ago, but hey, we'll happily take it now.
By contrast, the PS4 Pro is more akin to the original Xbox One: it has added a slight bit of extra bulk to the initial PS4 design, making it a hulking beast of a console. Also, it feels like it's made with a lot more plastic, and has a slightly less-refined feel compared to the first model.
What's inside matters the most, of course, and looks don't really matter in the bottom line – but the Xbox One S is easily the more stylish of the pair now. What a turnaround from 2013!
Winner: Xbox One S
Media: Blu's the news
With both the Xbox One S and the upcoming PlayStation 4 Pro, you can fling streaming 4K media on your 4K TV, with Netflix offering things like Breaking Bad and the incoming Marvel's Luke Cage in Ultra HD resolution. Netflix plans to have 600 hours of 4K content up by year's end, so that tally will only surge in time - as will the number of providers doing 4K streaming.
However, there's one huge difference here: the Xbox One S has a 4K Blu-ray drive inside, while the PlayStation 4 Pro doesn't. It's very surprising, given Sony's allegiances to the Blu-ray brand, but it probably came down to cost as they've packed in a more powerful (and surely pricier) processor for gaming.
The Xbox One S is by far the best value for a 4K Blu-ray player today, and if you're craving the highest-end experience for 4K movies, the discs are better than streams. In other words, if you plan on watching in 4K more than playing in it, the Xbox One S is your object of desire. We suspect most people won't care enough about physical movie media to be bothered by the PS4 Pro's big omission, though.
Winner: Xbox One S
Games: Pick your exclusives
Both the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro – and Xbox One and PS4, for that matter – will play host to a wealth of multiplatform games this holiday season, ranging from Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 to FIFA 17 and Final Fantasy XV. However, it's really the exclusives that set these consoles apart.
So far this generation, the PlayStation 4 has proven to be the more consistently intriguing option for one-of-a-kind games you can't play on another console and that looks true ahead as well. In the months ahead, we'll have The Last Guardian and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, while recent months have given us Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Ratchet & Clank, and No Man's Sky.
On the Xbox front, Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 are big guns this holiday season, while the year has already given us Quantum Break, Inside (which has since come to PS4 too), and some lesser exclusive fare.
There are compelling exclusives on both consoles, but if you had to pick one, we see a broader array of titles on PS4 and unbeatable experiences from Sony – and that doesn't even take into consideration that many games will look or run better on PS4 Pro too, as well.
The VR Edge: Obvious, really
Admittedly, this is a giveaway category for now, because Microsoft hasn't announced any VR plans. Rumours suggest that we might see Oculus Rift support for an Xbox console, perhaps next year's Project Scorpio, but it's unclear whether the Xbox One S could reasonably power the headset when it requires a high-end gaming PC right now.
On the other hand, Sony has the PlayStation VR headset is out now – and while it runs fairly well with a standard PS4 (aside from the technical issues we encountered), it sees a small boost from the PlayStation 4 Pro. We didn't notice any drastic enhancements in the early batch of Pro-capable games, although Battlezone adds some dynamic lighting and reflections, while Rez Infinite sees slightly improved effects.
We wouldn't buy a PS4 Pro just to improve the PlayStation VR experience, at least based on the early results, but they're nice perks to have. In any case, Sony doesn't have any console competition in this category, so it's a clear win there. Having to swap cables between the VR headset and 4K TV with the Pro is a strange annoyance, however.
Winner: PlayStation 4 Pro
Upgrade Appeal: Sorry, One S
If you already have an Xbox One and you're not insistent on being on the constant cutting edge of technology, then you probably don't need to buy the Xbox One S. It looks nice and the 4K media boost is fantastic, but for gaming, the upgrade isn't dramatic.
With the PlayStation 4 Pro, we see more of an upgrade in graphics quality - assuming you have a 4K HDR TV capable of filling a wider colour gamut. The added GPU power can also bring enhancements on a 1080p TV for anyone upgrading console before display, but that all depends on whether developers put that extra muscle into things like frame rate, texture detail, and effects.
It feels like a much bigger upgrade when it comes to gaming, and if you have the 4K HDR set, then it's probably a worthwhile upgrade. Everyone else can probably wait until they get a newer TV, but in terms of the console comparison here, the PS4 Pro has more to offer upgraders.
When it comes to games, the PlayStation 4 Pro really feels a bigger leap ahead than the Xbox One S, which seems more focused on enhancing its media offerings for the 4K and HDR generation.
Next year's Xbox Project Scorpio could well leapfrog the PlayStation 4 Pro, putting Sony at a disadvantage at that point – but for now, Sony's box is the new console of choice for TV players who want the best. Anyone still rocking a 1080p TV probably ought to put their tech dollars towards a new telly first, but if you're already on the cutting edge with your screen, picking up a PS4 Pro won't be a tough call to make.
On the other hand, if you're excited about 4K media as much as crisper games, then the 4K Blu-ray player of the Xbox One S can't be ignored. But these are gaming boxes first and foremost, so on that front, the PlayStation 4 Pro is our 4K console of choice for now.