Before looking at the consoles it's useful to consider what you want to use your games console for. The next generation consoles also want to act as Smart TVs and offer social gaming and integration with social networks. Some want to integrate with other devices that you have so they can be used as controllers. Parental controls are also worth considering. And importantly, different games are available for different controllers so if there's a specific game or accessory that you really really want then you'll want to check availability.
One of your major decisions is whether you want a full games console that will allow you to play the big console titles, or whether you will be happy with big screen Android gaming. There are interesting options in each category.
Wii UNintendo Wii U Console - 32GB Black Deluxe Set @ Amazon BUY NOW
The first of the next generation games consoles to announce was the Wii U which has been available for a while. We've previously discussed why we haven't bought a Wii U (yet.) The Nintendo Wii U is a capable new console that has been well received but without a great deal of excitement. Nintendo really focus on the family market and it would be unusual for a big console game for kids not to appear on the Wii U.
The real new feature of the Wii U is its GamePad controller which allows you to use a touch interface for games and also play a Wii U game on a small screen when the TV is in use.
This trailer for the LEGO Batman 2 game shows the Wii U GamePad being used to provide special features and to support 2 player gaming with different views for each player.
The Wii U has parental controls that allow parents to restrict social features, payments, blocks games over a given age rating and other features (but not time limits as far as I'm aware.)
The Wii U has a good range of accessories for all the family including the balance board for keeping fit.
Summary: The Wii U is an excellent choice for a family games console.
Microsoft XBox OneXbox One Console
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Microsoft have announced their next generation games console, the XBox One. In most ways it's a fairly predictable upgrade with hardware improvements. The Kinect motion sensor now uses infra-red and is sensitive enough to detect a heartbeat!
There's a big focus on controlling your TV and movie watching and being a Smart TV with internet access in addition to being a games console. XBox One thinks of itself as an entertainment center which includes gaming. You may consider this to be a simiplification, or maybe you already have devices you are happy with performing the other functions.
A big feature which is already available for XBox 360 but will be developed further for the XBox One is SmartGlass which integrates the console with smart phones and tablets (not just Microsoft ones) so you can use your handheld device to control games and other features. This is a good move. Most families buying a games console will already have one or more smart devices and will probably upgrade them during the life of the XBox One. SmartGlass will be able to keep evolving and adding new features.
The XBox One installs games onto its hard drive which means you don't have to keep swapping discs. It is NOT backwards compatible so you won't be able to play XBox 360 games unless Microsoft come up with an emulator or other alternative.
We don't know about parental control yet, but Microsoft it targeting the family and its other products have them including the XBox 360. They have also talked about the XBox One offering a customized experience for users.
The XBox One is expected to be released towards the end of 2013.
Summary: An all round entertainment station for the family which includes gaming.
Sony PlayStation 4PlayStation 4: Standard Edition
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Sony has also announced the next generation PS4 although they have only revealed limited information.
The focus of the PS4 is on hardcore gamers. I've noticed that most of the trailers for the PS4 include a warning that they may not be suitable for children. This indicates that much of the content will be adult gaming. Now there will certainly be kid-friendly titles but young kids are not the target for the PS4. It's intended for serious gamers and that includes older kids and adults.
There's a new DualShock 4 controller for the PS4 which adds improved sensitivity, a touchpad (not display), a speaker for local sounds, and a share but for social sharing of screenshots and game play recording videos.
Remote Play allows you to remotely play PS4 games on the PSVita Sony have also hinted at integrated gaming experiences that will follow you on your smartphone, tablet or handheld console.
Probably due in the US for 2013 holidays.
Summary: The choice for families with older kids who are seriously into gaming, especially if they have PSVita handhelds.
OK, that's the big three traditional games console, now let's take a look at the alternatives. There are some interesting low-cost Android-based games consoles that connect to a TV. These consoles support many of the Android games that run on tablets and smartphones and allow developers to create more ambition Android games with the big screen in mind. If your family prefer tablet-style gaming then these are worth considering.
OUYA Games ConsoleOUYA Console
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The OUYA is a very small cube-shaped computer that runs a variant of Android and outputs video at 1080p resolution to a TV screen or monitor via HDMI.
The OUYA comes with its own wireless games controller with buttons and joysticks. You can buy additional controllers to play up to four player games.
All OUYA games will have a free demo and you buy them online for download to the device (no discs to worry about.)
It doesn't look like parental controls or multi-user support will be available at launch in June 2013, but there have been indications that they will be added later. This is likely to be a concern for families, especially for in-app purchases.
Summary: Interesting, but we need parental controls.
GamePopThe GamePop is a small Android based games console that operates a subscription model. You pay a monthly subscription fee for unlimited access to the GamePop library of games. You get a physical GamePop console plus controller. There's an initial offer where these are free (except for shipping charges in May 2013.)
A very interesting option for families that play a lot of Android games and want a big screen experience and to control the cost of app purchases.
Support for parental controls has not yet been announced.
Summary: Very interesting, but parental controls needed.
Steam BoxAnother upcoming option is a Steam Box. Steam is an online service that allows you to buy downloadable games from a huge library of over 2000 games.
Steam includes lots of classic older games as well as newer games. They run lots of bundle deals and offers and are popular with gamers. I use Steam to get hold of older games that my kids will still enjoy today.
Steam Box consoles are still under development and likely to be powerful and expensive and will probably run Linux. (Steam has a Linux client but it doesn't support all games.)
Summary: Possibly interesting in future.