Many people suspected that this would be the last console generation, and that players would ditch consoles in favor of increasingly cheaper PCs and free 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 this summer, adding some welcome, future-ready upgrades to Microsoft's console while thankfully refining the design, and now Sony is releasing 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, pushing the PS4 library to new heights with 4K resolution – either natively or upscaled, depending on the game. And it offers a 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, which is primarily used to enable high dynamic range (HDR) lighting for wider contrast, and perhaps help with upscaling 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, as we wrote in our review, 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 standard Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is the most appealing-looking console when it comes to hardware, 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 onto your 4K TV, with Netflix offering things like Breaking Bad and 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