Now that I’ve entered the world of 4K – or more importantly High Dynamic Range (or HDR) – for both my living room and office space, I’ve spent the last two weeks searching for the best way to put this display technology through it paces. As it turns out, both film and TV still leave much to be desired in regards to the amount of HDR content available and, had it not been for the fact that we use multiple streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play Movies in my household, my options for content would have been pretty slim pickings.
After doing more digging, I’ve come to the conclusion that, surprise: video games are likely what’s going to push these newer display technologies going forward.
Coincidentally, this year we’ll have two 4K HDR capable consoles that can provide this new, higher fidelity experience. As a current PS4 Pro owner, it has been a treat to finally see what HDR is all about, especially in games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Ratchet and Clank. Like many, I initially thought “what’s the big deal of having a wide color gamut?” But, now that I have compatible HDR displays, I realize how big of a difference it actually is.
Unfortunately, just like film and TV mentioned above, gaming content also has left something to be desired as there’s a very specific list of games that will receive (or have received) significant “Pro” updates on PS4. If I’m going to maximize on my recent investments, I’m going to need to spread my wings and open up to more platforms.
To do so, I am left with two options: the first is a high-performance gaming PC, and the second is an Xbox One X.
Since E3 2017, I’ve been watching the Xbox team very closely. The Xbox One X unveiling left something to be desired following their big E3 press conference: the messaging was a little muddled, and we didn’t really know what many of those “Xbox One X Enhanced” notations actually meant. A lot of games were shown, but many questions were still left on the table.
Thankfully, much of that changed during Gamescom in August, as the team put together a more cohesive vision than just “it will play better on Xbox.” That being said, a PC was still a very viable option.
After initial deliberation, I decided “you know what: I’ve been putting off the PC gaming thing for so long.” There are Xbox titles I want to play (like Sea of Thieves): “it’s time to put together a build.” I reached out to three resident PC gamers on staff for build advice, and what they told me caught me completely off-guard.
The first person I went to was my fellow co-founder, Yaris Gutierrez: someone who, as long as I remember (and we literally grew up together), has always been “working on a new rig.” I mentioned to him what I wanted to do: namely build a system around a GTX 1080Ti (for the long haul), and go from there. He said, “dude, I love PC and cranking games up to max settings while tinkering with all of the options, but there’s other factors that come with it.”
He then went into a 10-minute diatribe that mentioned things like “warranties on hardware, thermal paste, overheating, and maintenance.” Yaris capped off his part of the conversation with “if I were you, I’d just get the Xbox One X.” He added, “[on PC] max settings is great, but max settings will be max settings for only so long. If you were the younger you, who loved to tinker, I’d say go for it. But we’re old now [laughs] and sometimes we just want it easy. Enjoy your HDR and performance with the ease of plug-and-play.”
I trust Yaris’ word. I mean I have to: we’re family, after all. But I needed more opinions. I reached out to our Executive News Editor Giuseppe Nelva, who has been a PC gamer for as long as I’ve known him. I mentioned to him that if I went ahead with building a machine, I’d have someone like Yaris configure said build for me. He replied that “having someone initially configure a PC for you does not mean that it’s gonna be a hassle-free experience from then on. I don’t know if you’re the kind of gamer who cares to deal with that in the long run.” At this point he’s mentioning more maintenance: yuck. But the man knows his audience.
Switching things up on Giuseppe, I replied “OK, that’s your recommendation based on what you know of me. What if it was you?” Giuseppe quickly replied with “Well, I buy all platforms. If I had to choose one, and I was you — with limited time and patience — I’d probably go with a console.” He then continued “ultimately, PC is the best if you have the time and patience to enjoy its deepest perks, like modding and min-maxing visual options to get every bit of power juiced out of the hardware and onto the screen. As far as I know you, you have neither [the time or the patience].” Mind you, this conversation is happening through text on Discord, but I’m literally gasping at this point. This was totally not what I was expecting. Giuseppe was our PC gaming department for quite some time: the fact that this insight was coming from him was eye-opening.
At this point I’m losing hope, so for one last ditch effort, I consult our Features Editor, Ryan: someone who has embraced the PC culture more recently of the three. He gave me some of what I wanted to hear, by saying “Personally, I see the PC as a better investment long-term since (inevitably) it can surpass what the Xbox One X can do.” He then added that it’s a matter of “higher initial investment, but long-term benefits.” He then highlighted the cheaper games and better technical performance, but then closed with “but the Xbox One X offers the convenience of a console.” Dammit Ryan. You were my last hope.
I went into this fully understanding the monetary investment needed into building a decent gaming machine, which is (more-or-less) around $1,200-$1,500. But I’m being given reasons, by PC gamers, as to why I shouldn’t. I wanted to become a PC gamer, and my family and friends won’t let me.
On paper, opting for a Windows PC build has its clear advantages. On the hardware side, I can build the machine that I can afford (or not afford, if you ask my wife): a machine that I can customize down to the most granular components and details. On the software side, I would be able to apply custom mods and other optimizations that likely will never see the light of day on any console, not even “the world’s most powerful” one.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s one major point working in the favor of the Xbox One X (outside of its simpler environment) that PC doesn’t have a counter-argument to: third-party deals. While both Sony and Microsoft hustle with third-party publishers to get this or that exclusive content, and the best optimization for their consoles, no one is really waving the PC flag in that regard. This means that when there is some exclusive content for either console, odds are that with PC I would be missing out on that content all together (or wait much longer for it).
On top of that, many publishers frankly treat PC gamers as third-class citizens, with poor optimization and often insufficient QA, that repeatedly results in games that don’t really take advantage of the horsepower of the machines they run on. On the other hand, when developers do take their time to properly optimize, games release weeks or even months later than their console counterparts, Destiny 2 being a recent example that comes to mind.
I’ve already (rather vocally) planted my flag in regards to resolutions not mattering to me anymore: the Switch reminded me of that earlier this year. Yet, HDR is another pair of sleeves entirely: thanks to PS4 Pro, I have seen the difference with my own eyes those beautiful colors can make, and it’s hard to go back now.
It isn’t just a matter of counting pixels: there will be plenty of games that will feature enhanced frame rates or dedicated modes that let you trade off some resolution for more fluid or stable performance (a feature that I enjoyed in Horizon: Zero Dawn). That doesn’t just make the game look prettier, but it directly influences gameplay, and I can relate to that. Granted, a PC and its generally unlocked frame rates can potentially offer even more flexibility in that regard, but it normally requires the user to do a lot more than simply select between two options to get the desired result.
With all the extras and asterisks that apply to building a PC (and maintaining one), it’s looking like the Xbox One X is the way I need to go if I want to scratch that HDR itch, along with performance and gameplay (or dare I say, experience) enhancements.
After all, since I already have a PS4 Pro, I’m able to enjoy all the amazing Sony exclusives, and adding an Xbox One X to the stable will let me play those from the other side of the trench. With the best of both worlds achieved, all I’ll have to do is pick and choose the option offering the highest performance games for any enhanced third-party games I want to play.
Of course, your own mileage may vary. If you prefer a gaming PC and have the time and patience to take advantage of its many perks, that’s great. I might even get around to putting one together myself sometime in the future. But for me, as of now, I’m leaning towards an Xbox One. Ultimately, this is probably the best part of it all: we live and play in an era in which there is no wrong choice, and that’s fantastic.