PC or Console?
I might be biased but I believe a PC with adequate specifications is a better gaming platform than consoles. It also depends on where the gaming device will be located: if connected to a TV in the loungeroom then a console might be more appropriate as it requires less organisation (no mouse or keyboard) and maintenance than a full blown noisy PC. But if connected to a computer monitor in a bedroom, then a PC will take less space than two separate devices as it can be used both for work/school AND for gaming, while still being managed through parental controls as explained here.
There are entire web sites dedicated to gaming on PC so I will remain very high level in this section.
The specs that I mentioned in the PC section constitute a good basis for a mid-range gaming PC. What you will mostly need in addition is a good graphics card (or GPU). The performance benchmark that you are looking at achieving in your games is at least 60 frames per second (fps) at a resolution of 1920×1080 (or 1080p) which is the standard resolution for 24″ monitors. Some larger monitors may have a maximum resolution of 2560×1440 (1440p) but they will require a more powerful GPU to run games at 60fps at 1440p, so you may have to revert to 1080p within the games parameters.
Note that most non gaming monitors have a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz, so unless you have a gaming monitor with 120 Hz or 144 Hz, there is no point displaying faster FPS than 60 since the monitor cannot handle the extra speed. If you have a recent smart TV, it may be able to handle 120 Hz refresh rate.
So for 1080p gaming @ 60 fps on the PC with the specs mentioned in the PC section these GPUs are a good starting point:
As of April 2022, each of these cards cost about A$470 that will push the final price of the PC.
Full case or small form factor: Full case gaming PC are easier to maintain as parts are easily accessible and they usually come with very colourful RGB components. On the other hand, small form factor gaming PCs are as powerful at a fraction of the size (less than 5L) and can elegantly sit on the desk or next to the TV.
The future of PC gaming: Cloud Gaming
Nvidia (the world leader of GPUs) has launched in 2022 its cloud gaming service in Australia in partnership with Pentanet. The service is called GeForce Now. It basically allows non-gaming PCs, smart TVs, tablets and mobile phones to remotely run PC games on cloud servers and display the action on the local device.
Here is how it works:
- You subscribe to the service via https://cloud.gg, there is a free plan that allows you to try out the service with a time limit of one hour. The monthly paid subscription costs $19.99 per month.
- You install the client software on the Windows PC (or the mobile device)
- Free games like Fortnite are immediately available: just log in with your account and start playing
- For paid games you need to own them first through a gaming platform like Steam or EA Play, and the game must be supported by GeForce Now.
- Essentially the game runs a GeForce Now remote server which sends the display to your computer or device, the only actions that take place locally are keyboard, mouse and controller updates that are sent to the remote game
- Effectively this means that for A$19.99 per month you can play intensive PC games on a non gaming PC or a mobile device
- You will need a fast NBN connection though as the video coming from the gaming server will use a lot of bandwidth
So if your child is begging for a gaming PC and providing that your NBN connection is fast enough, for A$19.99 a month you have access to a powerful cloud based gaming solution that can run on an existing PC and you don’t have to spend A$1,500 to $2,000 in a new PC.
Consoles: Xbox X or Playstation 5
Again this is almost a war of religions, let’s just say that both consoles are truly fantastic next gen devices that can play 4K games at 120 Hz refresh rate.
My personal preference would go for the Xbox X for the following reasons:
- Parental controls can be managed within the Microsoft Family at the same time as Windows. With the PS5 you need another parental control system
- The Ultimate Game Pass has a very strong value proposition: access to 100 high quality games on Xbox and PC for a low monthly fee
- Xbox accessories like controllers and gaming wheels can be easily used with Windows
But in the end it comes down to personal preferences and game availability. See excellent article here.
What about the Nintendo Switch?
The Switch, launched in 2016, has been a great commercial success for Nintendo after the failure of the Wii U. However it is starting to show its age and cannot compete with next gen consoles in terms of performance and struggles to run games at 1080p in docked mode (connected to a TV). However it is still a great console to play games in family, for younger players, and for those who want a portable console.
I think the real strength of the Switch lies in its game library: games made by Nintendo (Super Mario, Mario Tennis, Zelda, etc) are very high quality and can only be played on the Switch. They really have no equivalent in next gen consoles.
Upcoming: Steam Deck
The Steam Deck has just been released by gaming platform Steam. It is a truly portable console that can run an increasingly large portion of Steam’s huge library: 2,000 games can run on Steam Deck at the time of writing. The specs are comparable to a gaming PC and it be connected to an external display through a dock for a full gaming experience. It is not available in Australia yet. I will update when more info on release is available. See https://store.steampowered.com/steamdeck
Virtual Reality: Meta Quest 2
During COVID lockdown I decided to get one of these and I must say it is a great device to discover VR gaming and entertainment.
Meta really succeeded with the Quest 2 by making it a truly standalone device with great games running directly on the headset. Previously VR titles ran on a Windows PC with a powerful graphics card and the headset had to be physically connected to the PC using a USB cable. It was really expensive and quite cumbersome to move around tethered to a computer. Now with the Quest 2, you download the game directly on the headset and can move freely around when playing.
Note that it is still possible to run VR games on a PC and you can now connect the Quest 2 to the PC via Wifi instead of a USB cable but you will need a high speed Wifi (AC or AX) to make it work properly.
There are a few things to consider before purchasing a Quest 2:
- You need a minimum of space to enjoy action games. 2m x 2m is recommended
- It can be uncomfortable if you wear glasses. It was so annoying I resorted to ordering prescription inserts from the US. It changed everything!
- Purchase the Elite head strap: it makes the whole thing much more comfortable and secure
- You need a case for the headset, head strap and controllers. I just purchased a cheap DSLR camera bag from eBay .
- Games can be quite expensive: between A$20 and A$40 each, it can amount quickly. But you can get a refund if you don’t like the game.
- It is not really a family device. Although you can stream to a TV with Chromecast, it is mostly for individual gaming.
- The novelty can fade. In my family, we have gone for weeks without touching the Quest 2
- There are no parental controls. All you can do is create other user profiles so your game progress won’t be messed up with. Games can be shared between profiles on the same headset
- The biggest turnoff for me: motion sickness! All games where the character moves around make me sick badly. The worst are the flying and driving games (which is a shame because I LOVE racing games). It’s to the point where I need to lie down if I play too much. I tried all the tricks on the internet: fan in your face, wrist bands, ginger … nothing really helped. So I’m stuck with static games like Beat Saber, which is a great game but a little repetitive ☹️