With the launch of both the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One pencilled in for the holiday season, 2013 could well go down as the biggest year in console gaming history. But which one should you go for, and where can Australian gamers get the best pre-order deals? Let's take a look.
Compared to other areas of consumer technology, the games console market has been relatively static for a good few years now, dominated almost entirely by the Big Three of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.
The Nintendo Wii U was the first next-generation console to break the status quo, launching at the end of last year. But it's the PS4 and Xbox One that most gamers are looking forward to, and the recent E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles saw both shown off in full for the first time.
For two machines billed as competing ecosystems, they're surprisingly similar on the inside. In both cases you get an 8-core CPU, 500GB of internal storage and a Blu-ray drive. They're also pretty similar looks-wise too.
Being advanced entertainment machines both have the ability to act as DVRs and record your favourite TV shows on the on-board storage, while both come with redesigned controllers and the ability to use a second screen to crank up your gaming experience still further.
While both machines are still months away from going on sale, Sony's PS4 has already scored several high-profile points over its Microsoft rival. The first is simple enough: a lower price – we'll cover that in more detail shortly. However, the Xbox One has a few other shortcomings that may be worth thinking about.
The first is that games aren't backwards-compatible, so even if you've been a heavy Xbox gamer for years, you'll have nothing at all to play if you don't invest in new titles. Second, Microsoft has made it far more difficult to share titles with friends or sell them on, while Sony has no such restrictions.
And finally, Microsoft's games are “always on”, requiring you to connect to the web regularly to keep up, while the PS4 is spared this necessity.
That said, Microsoft's Xbox Live online service is generally seen as better than the PlayStation Network, while the Xbox has the edge too when it comes to gesture and voice-controlled gaming.
And while the Microsoft console may not be able to play old games, in terms of new ones you're well covered with 13 exclusive launch titles including World of Tanks and the latest Halo release, while the PS4 launches with one fewer.
Neither console has been given an exact release date as yet. Microsoft says the Xbox One will be out in November while Sony is quoting a “Holiday 2013” release window for the PS4. The difference is anyone's guess at this stage, and they could even launch on or close to the same date as each other.
Price-wise, the PS4 has the edge with a quoted $549 pre-order price versus the Xbox One's $599.
So far the Sony PlayStation 4 is reportedly ahead of the Xbox One when it comes to Australian pre-order sales, and all the usual suspects such as JB Hi-Fi, EB Games and Dick Smith will happily take your pre-orders now, while you can register your interest with Microsoft and Sony themselves too.
Other options may present themselves in time, but bargain hunters may want to consider the possibility of pre-ordering their PS4 from Amazon in the US. Even with postage to Australia included you'll end up paying just $419 all in, so it's a big saving.
The PS4 has already been confirmed as region-free (as are its BD games), so that''s not an issue. It's not clear whether there will be a voltage issue with the power supply, but if it's the same as the PS3 then there won't be.
Other obstacles may emerge between now and November (Amazon could rule out delivering the US console to Australia, for instance), but considering you won't be charged for pre-orders until you've confirmed you want to go ahead at the time of shipping, it's worth taking a punt on.
For now, then, the PS4 is the cheaper option, but similar loopholes may open (and possibly close again) for the Xbox One ahead of it going on sale, so it's worth keeping your eyes open in the months ahead.
And even at full price fans of the Xbox One will be happy to pay a bit more for the privilege. Whichever way you go the bigger picture is that console gaming is about to take a massive leap into the future, which is great news for gamers everywhere.