Which Xbox? Xbox One vs. Xbox 360

With Microsoft finally right-pricing the Xbox One and maturing the product courtesy of a year’s-worth of software improvements, it may finally be the right time to take the plunge. There’s just one problem: The firm’s Xbox 360 is still a capable performer in its own right, with much lower pricing, a much bigger games and apps library, and most of the same digital media experiences. Which Xbox is right for you?

For me, this isn’t a theoretical discussion. As an early adopter, I purchased two Xbox One consoles in November 2013 at great expense–$500 for each console plus another few hundred dollars on games—because I had (literally) bought into Microsoft’s vision for the future of the living room. But an interesting thing happened over the next year: both my son and I spent a lot of time using our Xbox 360s and not the Xbox One consoles, largely because of its more mature software library. And by the end of 2014, my Xbox One was literally gathering dust.

You may argue that my usage patterns aren’t necessarily representative of the wider body of Xbox users, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I tend to spend about 90 percent of my gaming time in Call of Duty, and only the two most recent COD games—Ghosts, from 2013, and Advanced Warfare, from 2014—are available on the newer console. But you can extrapolate that issue out to the general population of gamers: Most games are in fact available only on the Xbox 360, and while games from the past 12-15 months are of course shipping on Xbox One, many favorites simply are not available on the newer console. And may never be.

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Xbox 360

That Xbox 360 still plays great looking games quite well is perhaps obvious. But it’s also cheaper than ever. The basic Xbox 360 model—the Xbox 360 4GB—retails for just $200, though it is available right now at Amazon.com for just $170. That’s all the Xbox you’ll need if you just want to play games off disc, and it will satisfy the needs of most gamers.

Personally, I’d want a hard drive-equipped Xbox so I could install the games to HDD and speed load-time performance a bit. And it looks like the cheapest HDD-based model right now is the Xbox 360 500GB Call of Duty Bundle, which costs $228 (normally $250) at Amazon.com. Given the price difference between these two versions, that’s like getting the 500 GB HDD plus one of the two bundle games for free (since most Xbox games are $60 each). Or, you could purchase an add-on hard drive for Xbox 360, which isn’t as good of a deal: prices range from $41 for a 320 GB HDD to $50 for a 500 GB version.

You may notice that neither one of those Xbox 360 versions includes Kinect. I don’t feel that Kinect is a particularly good choice for the 360, but if you have small children who would actually spend time with its motion-based games, you may feel differently. You can purchase a standalone Kinect for Xbox 360 for $127 (and it even includes a free game, Kinect Adventures).

Or grab one of the console bundles that does include a Kinect in the box: The Xbox 360 4GB Kinect Holiday Value Bundle is $270, so about $100 more than the non-Kinect version. And the Xbox 360 E 250GB Kinect Holiday Value Bundle, which includes a 250 GB HDD and three games—Forza Horizon, Kinect Sports: Season Two, and Kinect Adventures—is $327 (normally $350).

What’s interesting is that every single option mentioned above—the standalone consoles and bundles, with or without Kinect—all cost less than even the most basic Xbox One model. And again, this is for a console with a much larger game and app library.

Xbox One

Xbox One does have some advantages, of course. It is a more powerful console that will be fully supported with new games and apps for several years to come, whereas Xbox 360 support can be expected to drift off going forward, first with games that are not as good looking or full featured as their Xbox One alternatives, and then by developers essentially adopting an Xbox One-only policy. But that will happen over time.

Xbox One also has some unique functionality that will never be added to Xbox 360. It has an HDMI passthrough feature, for example, that lets the console integrate with your home TV solution (cable TV, etc.) And its version of Kinect, while not essential, is more powerful and useful than the version in the Xbox 360 and can be used to control the console via voice.

Fortunately, Xbox One is a lot less expensive than it used to be, though the Crazy Eddie deals that were available over the 2014 holiday season have all expired. I suspect that Xbox One will only continue to get cheaper, too, via price cutting and bundling, and eventually via new console versions that use cheaper components. But if you’re buying now, there are a few Xbox One versions to look at.

Oddly, Xbox One isn’t one of them. A basic Xbox One is supposed to cost $350. But I don’t see this non-bundled console available anywhere today, not at the Microsoft Store, and not at Amazon.

Instead, the cheapest Xbox One is the Xbox One Assassin’s Creed Unity Bundle, which retails for $400, though Amazon is currently selling it for a bit less. This version of Xbox One includes two free games, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a value of $120 (assuming you want to play these games, of course).

For $100 more, or $500, you can get the Xbox One with Kinect: Assassin’s Creed Unity Bundle. As its name suggests, this bundle is the same as the previous one, but with Kinect. And sure enough, there’s some savings there too, since Kinect for Xbox One costs $150 all by itself.

The Xbox One Limited Edition Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Bundle is also available for $575. Oddly, it does not include Kinect. But you do get special versions of the console (with a 1 TB HDD) and wireless controller and the most recent Call of Duty game. I don’t know, that seems really expensive to me. And that special version of the console will look dated quickly, though a 1 TB HDD is nothing to sneeze at.

It’s pretty clear that the current selection of Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles and bundles are holiday leftovers, and that we’ll return to the normal selection of non-bundled consoles sometime in the weeks or months ahead. But that’s what makes this discussion interesting: Whichever console you choose, these are all better deals than the standalone consoles.

So which to choose?

Honestly, I’d save money and go with an Xbox 360 at this point in time. There is just so much software to be had, and lots of it is available cheaply, either through normal retail or used game sales. The Xbox One has a lot to recommend it, but even with the price cut it’s still pretty expensive. And until the software library and user experience both mature even more in 2015, it’s kind of an open question. For now, I’d argue that the Xbox 360 is still a great deal, but the Xbox One is the console of the future.

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