This year has juicy new console hardware.
This guide focuses on the video game hardware and accessories primarily for the PS4 and Xbox One, which is very different this year with important hardware refreshes being released across the board. The game-focused High-Def Digest's Video Game Holiday Gift Guide 2016 can be found here.
New Gear Means New Gift Options
It's November 2016, and thus, the clock has already started ticking on holiday gift-buying. Here at High-Def Digest, we love new tech, gadgets, and just about anything good that can be featured in our home theaters. This past year, 4K and 4K HDR content has ascended into the mainstream, and that means that it is a prime time to upgrade. Seizing upon our desire for new, faster and better stuff, both Microsoft and Sony have produced new consoles. These consoles are meant to be matched with new 4K TVs, but in an interesting turn, the new hardware isn't a new hardware generation. The new hardware supports the Xbox One and PS4 software from the last three years, and the new games that are coming out are still playable on the old hardware. Confusing? Well, as I said before, we like upgrades and these are upgrades. They are the first game consoles meant for the 4K TVs which are becoming the standard.
It's not all 4K HDR themed hardware either. The PlayStation VR, which can be used with any PlayStation 4 console, is also a new thing this year (October 13th in fact).
The New Consoles
The PlayStation 4 Pro
The newest of the new (November 10th), the PS4 Pro is a PS4 with extra power that is utilized by certain games. There are a handful of older games that are getting PS4 Pro mode support, but expect all releases going forward to offer such a mode but still be playable on the original PS4 and the newer PS4 (slim). What does PS4 Pro Mode do? Well, it depends, and some games can have more than one PS4 Pro mode while others don't have any PS4 Pro options but still do use the extra power. The PS4 Pro has extra GPU horsepower, and in a given game's PS4 Pro Mode, the whole game should get a graphical bump. (Higher resolution, better lighting, better stability, etc.)
In some cases, the PS4 Pro mode can mean that the game is running natively in 4K or else has a special simulated 4K mode that is superior (by way of specific choices by the developer) than what happens when a 4K TV scales up the normal (1080p or lower) video output of a regular PS4.
So with a 4K set, the PS4 Pro seems like a nice choice for anyone itching for an upgrade. There are some benefits for those using 1080p/standard HD sets, and the biggest of these is likely that many PlayStation VR games also have PS4 Pro modes. Unlike other PS4 models, the PS4 Pro does have a USB port in the back, which can be key in having a clean looking home theater. Like the original PS4, the PS4 Pro does have an optical audio part which is good with certain headsets, speaker bars, and other audio equipment. The PS4 Pro comes with a new controller that is nearly identical to the original PS4's controller.
Unfortunately, the PS4 Pro does not support Ultra HD Blu-ray disk playback, and in many ways, players won't even necessarily know the difference between the PS4 Pro and regular PS4 when playing games. It also lacks the signature styling of the original PS4, and at launch, is only available in one color. Still, the PS4 Pro's $399 price point isn't all that far from the current PS4's $299 price point, and the PS4 Pro includes a 1TB drive versus the PS4's typically smaller 500GB.
The PlayStation 4 (Slim)
While PS4 Pro has some obvious benefits, the PS4 (slim) is really just a manufacturing revision meant to replace the original PS4. It's smaller, cooler, quieter, and more power efficient than the original PS4. Unfortunately, it lacks the original PS4's style, and more important for certain headsets, speaker bars, and other audio equipment, it lacks an optical port (which is a clear cost-saving move).
The PS4 (slim), like the original PS4 and the PS4 Pro, offers HDR support for certain games when used with a 4K HDR TV. So while it is the PS4 Pro that makes the most sense for use with a 4K TV, all PS4s now have the HDR ability (again with certain games on 4K HDR TVs).
Like the PS4 Pro, the PS4 (slim) comes with a new controller that is nearly identical to the original PS4's controller. And again, all PS4 software past and future will work on all PS4s. The PS4 (slim) has a $299 price point and includes a 500GB drive, but we've already seen promotions and bundles that include at least one free game. (Such as the one below that includes 'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.')
The Xbox One S
The Xbox One S (reviewed here) offers HDR support for specific games, Ultra HD Blu-ray disc playback, is smaller, more power efficient, and more stylish than the original Xbox One. It has a faster UI and a built-in power supply (no more brick). The Xbox One S supports all Xbox One software (and vice versa) and is the Xbox most meant to be used with a 4K HDR TV. (That said, a more powerful 4K gaming Xbox One, codenamed Scorpio, has already been announced with a holiday 2017 date.)
The Xbox One S first debuted in a launch 2TB (plus a stand) version in August. Since then, Microsoft has not only introduced a selection of bundles, but even different console colors. The hardware is quite stylish though I favor the Storm Grey color. It's also significantly smaller that an original Xbox One. Like the original, the Xbox One S supports external hard drives and has a backwards compatibility mode for a growing selection of 360 games. The Xbox One S can actually offer slightly better performance in certain Xbox One games, but it's really the Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, HDR support, and form factor that are its main comparative draws.
No other game console offers Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, and the price point is even good compared with stand-alone players. Some users will want to wait for the Scorpio Xbox, but the Xbox One S's compact form and friendly price are worth considering.
For $299, the Xbox One S Battlefield 1 Bundle pairs a 500GB white Xbox One S with a digital version of 'Battlefield 1' (the Standard version) and one month of EA Access, while $349 can get the 1TB Xbox One S in military green and the Battlefield 1 Early Enlister Deluxe Edition.
The NES Classic Edition
By virtue of being, small, reasonably priced, nifty, and hopelessly nostalgic, the single must-have for gamers of a certain age and persuasion has to be the NES Classic Edition. The palm sized console uses some modern tech like HDMI and USB connectivity, and includes both a controller (with a short cord!) and 30 classic NES games. (See why this is so appealing here.)
Unsurprisingly, these little consoles have debuted like hotcakes. They are likely sold out in most places, but Nintendo is promising more shipments throughout the holiday season.
The PlayStation VR is Sony's long-awaited entry into the recent virtual reality market. For understanding more in depth where this VR headset succeeds and where it fails, see this review. 2016 has seen a wave of these virtual reality headsets come to market. These headsets use a stereoscopic 3D headset mounted display along with head-tracking to deliver a kind of VR. The PlayStation VR headset works with the PS4 (and PS4 Pro), and it's the headset that currently is the most console friendly. Listed below is every PS VR game that we have reviewed, but these are only part of a the larger line-up already available for the headset.
Just by purchasing the hardware, the user will find a small wealth of free software (like the 'PlayStation VR Demo Disc,' 'The PlayRoom VR,' 'Jackal Assault,' etc.), and titles like the excellent 'Rez Infinite' and 'Thumper' to go with smaller motion controller items like 'Pixel Gear'
'PlayStation VR Worlds'
'Rez Infinite' (PS4 Pro support included)
'Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration' (Contains the PS VR compatible 'Blood Ties')
'Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare Jackal Assault VR Experience'
'The PlayRoom VR'
EVGA GeForce GTX 1070
Last year, I recommended the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SSC, but now, we are on to the EVGA GeForce GTX 1070. It really is my best recommendation in terms of price versus performance for playing today's games on the PC.
Hard Drive Upgrades
Whether it's a new console or one that has been around for a few years, a new hard drive could be exactly what is needed. These days, game libraries take up terabytes of space, and beyond that, a faster drive can make a nice impact.
For the PS4 (launch, slim, and Pro) adding space means swapping in a new 2.5 inch drive. My current recommendation is the 1TB 7200RPM HGST 7K1000, which requires an install, which I have detailed here.
For the Xbox One, one extreme option I favor is a 4TB 7200RPM Toshiba drive, but an easier way for both the Xbox One and Wii U is a Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB. It's just a simple USB 3.0 connection (which will be USB 2.0 for the Wii U).
For the PC, a SSD is the way to go. It can really be the difference maker with openworld games like 'The Witcher III' and 'Fallout 4,' and it also improves the response of the operating system in general. The SanDisk X210 has been good to me, so I'm recommending the newer model, the X300s.
For better or for worse, both new console owners, old console owners, and PC players can generally all do with a new controller. The OEM options on PS4 are all cosmetic, though there is a newer model (which shows the controller light through a thin slit in the touchpad). This newer PS4 controller can be used with all PS4s (launch, slim, and Pro). The older white variant is still a good choice as well.
Things are a lot more exciting on the Xbox One. The controllers are natively supported by Windows, so these controllers double as PC controller recommendations. The Elite Xbox controller is the pricey option, but still preferred way to go. (See here).
But the regular controller options on the Xbox One are still pretty impressive. The latest revision contains Bluetooth for easy use with a PC, and has a slight grippy texture on the underside. There are also lots of cosmetic options (such as the now standard white or the 'Gears of War 4' Crimson), but to go really crazy, Microsoft offers custom jobs via the Xbox Box Design Lab.
An important accessory that is all too easy to overlook in terms of the Xbox One, is a rechargeable battery pack. The Charge and Play kit includes a lightweight battery as well as a nice micro USB cable.
One more thing to consider for the Xbox One controller, and that's its use on the PC. The Xbox One controller works on Windows by way of a micro USB cable (and with the newer controllers, Bluetooth). Last year, Microsoft added Wireless support through a special USB dongle, the Microsoft Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows. This adapter was originally limited to Windows 10, but now is supported in Windows 7 and 8.1. (This is a must for Wireless connection with the Elite controller.)
The Mechanical Keyboard
Having a nice keyboard on a PC can either mean having an bunch flashy bits, or else, having excellent internals. A mechanical keyboard, in theory, is the latter. The response, dependability, and feel are great for PC gaming (and for other PC uses, like typing, coding, etc.). The HyperX Alloy FPS mechanical keyboard is a recent release, and it is my current favorite keyboard. It feels great, has a small, but not too small footprint, and it travels well thanks to its included soft case and detachable cable. The keyboard's body feels incredibly solid, and the Cherry Blue MX switches click with welcome precision. Unlike many nice keyboards, there is almost no bloat to be found here.
The PS4 has a decent media remote, which is explored here. The PS4 isn't as media centric as the PS3 (ditto the Pro), but this is still a perfect gift for a huge majority of PS4 users. The remote uses Bluetooth with the PS4, but it also has IR for controlling other devices.
The Xbox One Media Remote is small, (see here) but it's still a great accessory. It's not just good for media, either. This IR remote is nice to have when you want to boot up the console, download a new game, install an update, and so forth without draining the controller's batteries. For all of those new Ultra HD Blu-ray users on the Xbox One S, the Xbox One Media Remote is well-worth considering.
For the Streamer
No doubt, there are countless of players who want to get into game streaming, let's plays, podcasts, or all variants thereof. In such a case, a decent mic is a must. New for this year, Turtle Beach has some new hardware that easily steps up the user's ability to stream. The Stream Mic is a desktop mic with a built-in headphone jack that allows lag-free monitoring of stream audio combined with game audio and chat audio. Via a simple USB connection, the Stream Mic can be used with a PC/Mac, PS4, and most tricky of all, a Xbox One. Happily, the Stream Mic offers different polar patterns (as well as a Hi/Low sensitivity toggle). Some more advanced settings can be managed using the Ear Force Audio Hub (PC), and along with the desktop stand, the mic also comes with a mount adapter for more isolated configurations.
Gaming online, gaming at home, gaming on the go- these are just some of the reasons why headsets have become an important part of gaming. Even those players who never go online often benefit from having a headset which allows them to play games and watch media without disturbing the rest of the household.
ASTRO Gaming A50 Wireless + Base Station (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Brand new this year (October), the new Astro A50 is a wonderful wireless headset option. It's light and comfy (but not for huge heads), has a slick design which offers togglable Dolby Headphone 7.1 surround sound, 5Ghz Wireless, customizable EQ options, on-ear controls, mod kit support, and uses a snazzy as heck combination transmitter and charging base station. The new A50 comes in a PlayStation/PC version and a Xbox/PC version. When powered on, the headset is smart enough to detect when it's been sitting for a few minutes and go into a power-saving mode. This, combined with the stout battery life and signature form factor makes the headset a breeze to use around the clock. Whether it's with a PC or with a console, the comfort of wireless shouldn't be ignored. I've been using the new A50 with the PS4 Pro, and I was thrilled to find that everything works exactly as it should.
The Turtle Beach Elite Pro Headset
This year, Turtle Beach debuted a new design that is focused on the demands of a tournament level player. The Turtle Beach Elite Pro Headset is a wired headset that has some radical characteristics, which in turn deliver a comfort level and sound quality that impresses every time the headset is used. For example, the tension of the headband can be dialed in easily by the wearer. The indulgent Aerofit ear cushions can be set to allow for eyeglasses, and the drivers angle towards the ears using a secondary suspension. The headset manages to have excellent passive noise cancellation without being suffocating. The whole package, which can be used easily with a PS4, Xbox One, or PC, comes together in a way that belie the look, the headset can be worn comfortable for hours and hours. Finally, when paired with the Elite Pro TAC (see below), the capabilities and the feel of using the headset is in a category of its own.
The Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tactical Audio Controller
Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tactical Audio Controller is a combination mixer and amp that also adds in DTS Headphone:X 7.1 Surround Sound and Superhuman Hearing. The TAC is wired and packed full of features, and works with the PC, the PS4, the PS3, the Xbox One, and the 360. Most 3.5mm headsets can be used with TAC, though the Elite Pro headset (above) is an ideal pairing. During play, the surround sound is devine, and then when the need arises to make an adjustment, say to hear teammates better, the TAC is peerless.
HyperX Cloud Stinger
At $49.99, the HyperX Cloud Stinger, is really the perfect way to have a good headset without doling out big bucks. It's ultralight, comfy, and simple to use. It just connects to the PS4 or Xbox One controllers, and it even comes with a splitter for use on PCs with split connections.
Make no mistake, having multichannel sound in my home theater is a must. Last year, I reviewed the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System and found it to be excellent. With or without a home theater, I think a lot of people who expect to find good to great sound in a movie theater, would be shocked to see what PS4 and Xbox One games are capable of. Fully 3D dynamic sound is right there waiting, and a proper home theater will bring out the best that games like 'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End' have to offer.
To take movie audio to another level, home theaters can now have channels dedicated to height effects delivered by Atmos and DTS:X tracks. For gaming, those same speakers can be utilized by way of Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X up processing.
I've used a few different set-ups to do this at home, mainly with two extra speakers in a 5.1.2 set-up. But now, with the release of the SVS Prime Elevation speakers, I've got some better options. And when it comes to possibly giving these speakers as a gift, one thing that is great is that they are good for more than just being height/Atmos speakers. The Prime Elevations Speakers are useful for stereo and 5.1 applications as well.
Gaming on the Go – Headphones and Bluetooth Speakers
Gaming and entertainment on the go usually means headphones, which are practically indispensable these days. (Pro tip: Nearly everyone who has headphones and uses them, can use another pair).
But when headphones feel confining, and those travelling days set-in (or you know, you are a kid always moving from room to room and place to place), a Bluetooth speaker is what's called for. My current favorite Bluetooth speaker is the iRoar Go as it is powerful, compact, stylish, versatile and splash resistant. (The Muvo 2 is the smaller, less expensive cousin.) Of course, for a less synthetic option, it's hard to beat the Get Together Mini Portable Audio System.
PDP Pixel Pals
I'll add in one piece of video game merchandise that is both new (November 25th at GameStop) and enchanting. That would be the PDP Pixel Pals. These lit-up figures are $14.99, include batteries and come in a nice, presentation style box. (Read more here.)
Finally, for those last minute type of video game gifts. Nearly every user needs and can make of the below cards.
These days, digital versions of console games are widely used and accepted, and are the norm for many players. Even for those that stick to discs there are all kinds of add-ons (like Call of Duty maps) that require PSN or Xbox Live digital credit. These cards are perfect for any PS4/PS3/Vita, Xbox One/360, or Wii U/3DS player.
Unlike the PS3, the PS4 requires a PlayStation Plus membership in order to play online. One PS Plus membership will get the user free monthly games on the PS4, PS3, and Vita for the duration of the subscription as well as cloud backup for saves. Xbox Live Gold is the very much the same deal as it enables online gaming, discounts, and monthly free games on the Xbox One and 360.