Making sense of game consoles: Part 2

If you’ve looking at the newest gaming consoles, you know there are lots of differences between them. So many, in fact, it can be hard to know whether the Wii U, the PS4, or the Xbox One will be the best fit for you or your family. We’re here to help.

Yesterday we went through how the gaming consoles differ in cost, games and online play. Today, find out how these consoles hold up as multimedia players and we’ve also got a few other things you might want to keep in mind including expandability, compatibility, etc.

Multimedia Use

Most people these days like to have their game consoles function as more than just a gaming machine, and all three of the modern consoles are more than capable in this area—some more than others.

Wii UWii U
The Wii U is probably the least media-friendly console in the bunch. It can stream content via Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and some limited local channels, but it cannot play Blu-Ray or DVD movies. Nintendo has stated the reason for this omission was to keep the cost of the console down by not having to pay licensing fees, which makes sense, especially since most people probably have an alternate device they can use for playing disc-based media.

There is also limited support for streaming content from your PC or from a DLNA-compatible device. You can make it happen, but it takes some tinkering and is not available right out of the box. If it’s important to you that your universal remote control works with your console, there is limited support available for this, such as Logitech’s Harmony Ultimate and Smart Control line of remotes, which work with the Wii U via special programming.

ps4-system-imageblock-us-13jun14PlayStation 4
The PS4 can play Blu-Ray and DVD movies, stream from major services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and many others, but it lacks the ability to stream any content from local sources such as a PC or DLNA-compatible device. Sony has promised that local streaming will eventually be added to the system as a feature, but as of this writing (Spring 2015) it has not been officially announced yet.

If you like using your universal remote control for your console media functions, there currently is no solution for the PS4. Unlike the PlayStation 3, there isn’t even a dedicated remote control you can buy from Sony. This may change in the future, but there is no guarantee that Sony will change their mind. One other multimedia function that the PlayStation 4 has is the ability to live stream your gameplay over services like Twitch. Apparently this is all the rage with the kids these days, but this author is not interested in having everyone see just how bad he is at playing games.:-)

Xbox OneXbox One
Like the PS4, the Xbox One can also play Blu-Ray and DVD movies, and stream from all the major services, but unlike the PS4 the Xbox One can also stream local content from a USB drive, a Windows PC on the same network, and from DLNA-compatible devices. The console also has an infrared port built-in, so it is compatible with most major-brand universal remotes (Harmony, etc.), and Microsoft also sells a remote control that is designed for the Xbox One. Also like the PS4, users can live stream their gameplay over Twitch and similar services.

The Xbox One also has a feature unique amongst all the modern consoles in that you can plug your cable or satellite TV box into it and use the Xbox One as a “one-stop shop” for everything. If you configure it this way, the Xbox One will grab all the channel guide information for your provider from the Internet and allow you to watch all your programming through the console, all the while controlling everything with your voice (if you own the Kinect), a controller, or a remote control. Due to the Xbox One also having the ability to multitask like a computer, you can also play a game AND watch TV at the same time if you wish, or you can watch TV and browse the web from the system’s version of Internet Explorer. There are many options available due to the fact that the system is designed to perform more than one task at a time. For multimedia use, the Xbox One is the clear winner.


Each console has small things that may or may not be important to you, so I will lump all those things together here.



Wii U

    • The Wii U only has 32GB of onboard memory, but can be (and probably will need to be if you download a lot of games) expanded using a USB drive. Nintendo recommends an external HDD instead of a flash drive.
    • I didn’t mention this earlier because I wanted to focus on current generation features, but the Wii U is backwards compatible with games for the original Wii (and, as mentioned earlier, is also compatible with the controllers for the original Wii).
    • The Wii U has its own social network called the Miiverse, where your created persona can interact with other friends and family who happen to be on the system. The service is designed to be very family-friendly.

PlayStation 4

    • The PS4 comes with a 500GB internal hard drive, and since all games must be installed to the internal drive before they can be played, you will most likely use up most of that space if you own 8-10 games and keep them installed. The hard drive is easily replaceable however, and there are instructions for doing so right in the manual. It uses a standard 2.5” computer hard drive, so finding a replacement should be relatively easy.
    • The PlayStation 4 controller, the DualShock 4, has a fairly small capacity battery and most users only get about 5-7 hours of gameplay out of a single charge, so plan on charging your controllers regularly. Thankfully you can now charge the controllers while the console is in Rest Mode (something you couldn’t do on the PlayStation 3), or you can purchase a charging stand if you don’t like to keep stuff plugged into the console when it is not in use.
    • Between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, the PS4 is the smaller console and also has no external power supply (or brick) to worry about.
    psn• The PlayStation 4 supports 3D gaming and Blu-Ray playback, if you have a compatible display.
    • If you are a PlayStation Plus subscriber, game and system updates can be setup to automatically download when the system is in Rest Mode, saving you the time of having to do it before your next use of the system.
    • The PlayStation Network occasionally suffers outages, and Sony could do a better job of informing users when there are issues. Also, downtimes that do occur tend to be longer than for Xbox Live.
    • The PlayStation 4 is not backwards-compatible, so therefore will not play games from previous PlayStation consoles.
    • Sony releases new features and fixes for the console via firmware updates, which are released roughly quarterly throughout the year.

Xbox One

    • The Xbox One, like the PS4, also comes standard with a 500GB internal hard drive, and also requires that all games be installed to the drive before playing. Similarly, you will fill it up with as little as 8-10 games installed. Unlike the PS4 though, you don’t need to perform surgery on the system to expand that storage. Microsoft allows you to plug any USB 3.0 external hard drive into the system and use it for storage of those installed games and other content—so in this case it is easier to expand storage on the Xbox One than it is the PS4. Granted, you will have to have an external drive attached to the console in order to play the games contained within, so keep that in mind when placing it in your home entertainment center.
    • The Kinect camera accessory, while not required for most uses of the console, does allow for the following: Issuing voice commands to the console at any time (i.e. you can say “Xbox, Pause” while watching a movie and movie playback will pause); using the console as an incredibly good Skype machine; and playing certain games that require the accessory, such as Just Dance, Dance Central, and Kinect Sports, which allow you to play without ever holding a controller.
    • The Xbox One controller takes AA batteries and thus costs more to operate than the PS4 controller. However, the Xbox One controller also can run for 30-40 hours of gameplay, so you will not be swapping batteries or recharging as often.
    power supply Xbox• The Xbox One has an external power supply that you will need to find a home for when you place the console. It is quite large (it has the sarcastic nickname “Xbox One Mini”), so keep that in mind when deciding where to place the console.
    • Like the PS4, the Xbox One also supports 3D gaming and Blu-Ray playback, but obviously requires a compatible display.
    • Regardless of whether or not you are an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, the Xbox One will automatically download and install system and game updates, as long as the console is in Sleep Mode.
    • While Xbox Live does have an occasional outage, Microsoft is very quick to respond, has a webpage devoted to the status of Xbox Live that has live updates about the service, and outages usually are very short.
    • The Xbox One is not backwards-compatible, and therefore will not play games from previous Xbox consoles.
    • Microsoft release new features and fixes for the console via firmware updates, which are released monthly throughout the year (with the exception of December.)

I know it’s a lot of information, but hopefully it will help you make a very informed decision about which game console is right for you and your family. Happy gaming!


About Eric Lohrentz

Eric Lohrentz has been geeking out on all things technology for most of his life, and has worked as a technology professional for over 20 years. When he is not working, he likes to play video games, tinker with new technology, and occasionally get outside to play golf or go for a bike ride with his lovely wife and kids. Eric considers himself an ambassador of technology and is always willing to answer a question regarding new and emerging tech.

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