The war between the “PC master race” and console fanatics rages on. More often than not, it comes down to price. But is it suntil cheaper to build a gaming PC than buy a video game console? Yes, but with some caveats.
The simple act of buying one or the other shows that a console will cost as much, if not less than a PC. But when you consider the long-term life for gaming, the PC master race has a valid point.
What We Looked At
We had a clear idea in mind. This article is about gaming, and gaming alone. Sure, a gaming rig double as a wonderful all-around PC. But similarly, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are excellent media players.
In another such scenario, the consoles need a high-definition TV, preferably with 4K resolution and HDR. But you’ll also need a high-quality monitor for your gaming PC.
There are other such trade-offs on the non-gaming sides of both PC and console, but we won’t be considering those here. Usually, they balance each other out and depend on the user’s needs, so let’s concentrate on the gadget’s gaming capabilities alone.
What’s the Real Cost of a Console?
Currently, there are a few variations of the two major consoles available online:
- PlayStation 4 Slim: $250
- Xbox One S: $260
- PlayStation 4 Pro: $400
- Xbox One X: $500 (releasing soon)
All of these packages come with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive, an HDMI cable, and a wireless controller. The two cheaper options even throw in a free game.
But what you don’t see in that price tag is the hidden cost of online play. Both consoles require a subscription to play games online. The Xbox Live and PS Plus services cost about $60 per year each.
Pundits expect the next generation of the PlayStation and Xbox consoles to launch in 2020 or 2021. That’s another 3-4 years of subscription costs.
So for the real cost, add $240 to your console’s price tag.
What’s the Real Cost of a Gaming PC?
A gaming PC is going to cost as much as you want it to cost. The advantage of building your own rig is that you can go as high-end or cost-effective as you want.
In fact, the one major price tag that’s cut is the cost of playing online. You don’t have to pay any extra fees for multiplayer gaming on PCs.
The hidden cost on a PC is Windows. Yup, you will likely have to pay for a new version of Windows, and a legal and cheap Windows 10 purchase sets you back by about $90.
So add $90 to your gaming build’s total price, or include Windows while configuring it.
For Casual Gamers, It’s a Tie
Currently, the PS4 Slim and Xbox One S cost around $250. It’s hard to beat that with a PC, especially for casual gamers. These consoles will likely support new games for their entire life, which should be roughly until 2021. The PS4 Slim also supports virtual reality (VR) gaming with the PlayStation VR headset.
But this is for casual gaming only, and without online play. Remember, consoles require an additional PS Plus or Xbox Live purchase to play online. That’s an extra $240 until 2021. You’re almost paying for another console!
You pay nothing to play online on a PC, of course. And that’s where PC gaming has a major edge, especially for casual gamers. For example, let’s say all you want is a gaming rig to play strategy games and MMOs like Overwatch. You can build a good PC for the same $250 or less, including an 8-core gaming PC for $200, which will play Overwatch perfectly for years.
The consoles are better when you consider first person shooters, racing, sports, and other such games. The $250 PC won’t handle these well, while the consoles will be fine until 2021.
In the end, it depends on what kind of a casual gamer you are.
- If you want to play new titles sporadically and aren’t bothered about online gameplay, get one of these cheap consoles.
- If you want to play strategy games or MMORPGs, but aren’t bothered about new titles, a PC will cost you less in the long run.
In case a console seems more up your alley, ask this question to decide between PS4 and Xbox One.
VR Gaming and Its Cost
This is a tricky period in the gaming industry. We are just entering the age of VR gaming, so no one is exactly sure what you’ll need or not need in the future. But let’s look at what you can buy right now:
- Oculus Rift and Touch: $400
- HTC Vive (with controls): $400
- PlayStation VR kit (with camera and Wand): $450
The Xbox One currently does not support any VR headset, so it’s out of the picture in this assessment.
That puts the true cost of the PS4 Pro ($400), the PlayStation VR ($450), and PS Plus ($240) at about $1,100. Without getting into a debate about Rift vs. Vive vs. PS VR, let’s talk about a gaming rig to rival the PS4 Pro and PS Plus.
Basically, subtract the $400 for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive from the $1,100 above, and we have $700 to build a PC capable of playing VR games. Let’s build a system!
Comparing Costs: Gaming PCs and Consoles
As usual, we use PC Part Picker to look up prices and automatically build our PC. It’s the best site for such geeking out, and supports local e-retailers from several countries.
Best Budget Gaming VR PC: $575
PC Part Picker’s staff recently published a Budget VR Gaming Build, which costs $535 without Windows 10. Add in the $90 for the operating system and this is a solid $625 budget VR gaming PC.
We built a similar rig with a more powerful processor and with Windows 10 for $575. Both configurations use the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050i, which is an excellent choice to build a cheap gaming PC with an Nvidia graphics card.
Recommended VR Gaming PC: $735
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have a set of recommended specifications for PCs. By this, the companies mean you won’t face any performance loss, and you’ll get the experience they intended.
With that in mind, we built a rig and added in a few extras that we think are worth it. The end result for the best experience is above our budget by $50, but remember, it’s a customizable PC. To fit the $700 budget, you can easily cut back on a few items, like the DVD writer.
And to be fair to this rig, its real competitor is the Xbox One X and its 4K gaming. The rest of the consoles, including the PS4 Pro, can’t match up to the video quality here.
A Few Things You Can Change
- Feel free to swap out the HDD for an SSD. You’ll get improved performance, but about a quarter of the storage space for the same price.
- A DVD writer is not necessary any more. Most people buy games online. But the last time we didn’t add this in, our readers were quite vociferous in their disapproval.
- If you prefer to buy a PC off the rack than build your own, check this list of the best VR-ready gaming PCs.
What About the Games?
Content is king, they say. What’s the point of having an excellent PC gaming rig or a console if it doesn’t have the games you want to play? And what about the prices of the games, where AAA titles cost $50 and more?
Largely, you can’t differentiate much in the prices between consoles and PC. At launch, the difference is negligible or non-existent. So for early adopters, you are paying the same no matter what device you use.
Over time, PC games do get cheaper though, and you can save money on gaming through Steam sales and bundles. But there is a large market of stores that rent PS4 and Xbox One games. Overall, how much you pay for games on consoles or PCs will even out as long as you are smart about it.
As for the availability of games itself, PC has a slight edge here. It has a larger variety of games than the consoles. However, the consoles have plenty of exclusives, and those are usually the best games of the year. Top Ten Gamer has an amazing list of PS4 vs. PC vs. Xbox One games where you can see a comparison of what is available on which platform.
As for VR, the Oculus Rift has the most number of VR titles currently available and coming up. Plus, what kind of a gamer are you if you aren’t supporting Oculus CTO John Carmack, the papa of modern gaming and the creator of Doom, which is also on the Rift.
Do You Think Consoles Are Cheaper?
In conclusion, serious gamers are better off with a PC gaming rig for now. You get better hardware at the same price, easy future upgrades, better VR compatibility, and VR games. Meanwhile, consoles are best left for casual gamers.
Yet, not everyone agrees with this. Harry thinks consoles are cheaper than PCs for gamers, and there might be some readers in his corner.
What do you think? Do you get a better deal with a PC or a console for gaming?
Image Credit: muchmania/Depositphotos, Nikitarama via Wikimedia Commons