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Playstation or Xbox: Which game console should you gift?

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What to know about the new Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X, as well as their secondary models.Sony/Microsoft

The Microsoft Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S have finally and officially launched today — we outline some available retailers that have the gaming consoles in stock below but prepare to see stock run out and get replenished regularly over the coming weeks. Below, we'll help guide anyone looking to buy an Xbox today, as well as anyone unsure between the two gaming consoles.

It's been seven long years, but Sony and Microsoft are releasing their new game consoles this week: The Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X, respectively. But between the different models of each edition, their exclusive games and lots of technobabble otherwise, buying a game console is starting to feel as complex as picking a health insurance plan. If you're looking for a great gift this holiday — and one particularly attuned to a gamer — but aren't steeped in the world of video games yourself, here are the things you actually need to know.

PlayStation or Xbox?

If you aren't sure which platform to go with (and your giftee hasn't already made it abundantly clear), here are some ways to figure out the best path forward.

PS5 vs Xbox: Which games do they play?

Significantly, most video games come out for both PlayStation and Xbox (as well as desktop PCs), but each company does have a few games exclusive to their platform, which can make all the difference.

PS5 vs Xbox: What do their friends have?

Historically, games haven't allowed you to play online with people using a different console, otherwise known as cross-platform gaming. So if all your friends have PlayStations, you'll probably want one, too. (This generation's PlayStation 4 was, overall, much more popular than the Xbox One, so Sony has a lot of momentum going into this generation — but you'll still want to see what your giftee’s crew uses.) Many games are starting to allow for cross-play, but we haven't quite reached the utopian future of "any game, any system" just yet.

PS5 vs Xbox: Which console is more powerful?

While tech nerds (like me) love to debate the specs of these systems, the most important factor will always be the games themselves. But if graphical power matters to your tech-savvy gift recipient, it's worth consideration. We don't know for sure which will perform better in real-world scenarios. Right now, it's looking like the Xbox Series X is going to be the more powerful system (at least in terms of raw graphical horsepower), with the PlayStation 5 just a bit behind it, and the Xbox Series S providing a lower-fidelity experience on a budget.

PS5 vs PS 5 Digital vs Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: Which model should I gift?

If that last sentence confused you, let me explain: Each platform has two different models this year. Once you finish the schlep and finally decide between PlayStation and Xbox, you'll have to then decide which PlayStation or Xbox to buy. Fret not, the options aren’t complicated.

PlayStation 5 (sold out)

Sony's top model will be the $500 PlayStation 5, a powerful next-gen console with a 4K Blu-ray player built-in. It'll play games like Marvel's Spider-Man: Mile Morales, Demon's Souls, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and the ever-popular Fortnite — all with high-end graphics. It will also play most PS4 games. You can pre-order the console now (on and off, anyway, as stock becomes available) and it launches on Nov. 12.

PlayStation 5 Digital Edition (sold out)

The PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, also launching Nov. 12, has the exact same hardware as the PlayStation 5, but eschews the disc drive for a more affordable price tag: $400. It'll play all the same games with the same top-tier graphical fidelity, but you'll have to buy those games digitally and download them rather than buy them on disc. It also won't be able to play 4K Blu-rays without that disc drive. Personally, I think $100 is worth the disc drive capability so you’re left with at least one device able to read the medium.

If you go with the PlayStation 5, you might also consider grabbing an extra controller, a charging station and a wireless headset like Sony's Pulse 3D or the HyperX Cloud Flight S.

Xbox Series X (limited availability)

Just launched, The Xbox Series X looks like it'll be the most powerful console of this generation, at the same $500 price tag as the PlayStation 5. It'll have many of the same games as the PS5, including Fortnite, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, with a few of its own exclusive titles, like Gears 5 and the upcoming Halo Infinite. It can also play all Xbox One games, as well as some Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, giving it a leg up on Sony for those that like to revisit older titles. It also has a 4K Blu-ray drive for movie buffs.

Xbox Series S (limited availability)

Also just launched, the Xbox Series S is a lower-cost alternative to the Series X. It plays the same games, old and new, but gets rid of the disc drive and downgrades the graphics a bit — games might not look quite as good as they do on the Xbox Series X or on either of the PS5 models, but it hits a far more affordable $300 price point.

Xbox players may also want a second controller or a wireless headset like the HyperX CloudX Flight.

Do you need to buy now?

Demand is high for these new consoles and we're already seeing models selling out, but we should see stock trickle in and out over time now that some of the consoles have launched. If you aren't in a rush, though, don't feel like you need to buy them right now — for the time being, a lot of the newest games will still come out for the current-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, including Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Cyberpunk 2077 and others. Some games may even come with a free upgrade to the PS5/XSX versions, if and when you decide to grab the latest console. So if you'd rather make your decision once more reviewers get their hands on these new systems — I'll be taking both for a spin myself — feel free to hold off and give your current hardware a bit more playtime.

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