Unboxing a new game console is so very exciting: taking it out of the packaging, setting it up, getting used to how it looks and feels, and anticipating all the amazing games you’ll play.
That experience can segue into disappointment, though, if you aren’t prepared to deal with each console on its own terms. Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U have distinct strengths and weaknesses—things they do well out of the box, and things they don’t. That’s why it’s a good idea to set aside some Christmas money for the optional bells and whistles. Here are the best peripherals, accessories, and assorted doohickeys for getting started with each console.
Kinect ($99): Now that Microsoft has shied away from pushing Kinect as a primary component in the Xbox One package, the high-tech camera and motion controller is a strange and singular peripheral, not quite essential, but not superfluous either. Kinect controls your Xbox with voice commands, or turn it into a voice-activated hub for your entertainment center. Scan your own face into some games, if that suits your fancy, or engage in some serious gesture-based dance gaming. This is Xbox One as it was meant to be.
Xbox Elite Wireless Controller ($150): The Elite Controller is for people who take controllers very seriously. A monument to modular engineering, the Elite offers things no other controller will. Want to switch your directional pad to suit the game you’re playing Experiment with thumbsticks of different heights? Add new triggers and make your own control schemes? The Elite Controller can do that and more. Its $150 price point might turn off most players, but diehards will love it.
Xbox Live Gold subscription ($59.99 for a twelve month subscription): Microsoft has been increasing the value of its subscription service lately. Games with Gold offers free games each month, and now that Xbox One is backward compatible it includes Xbox 360 games. Gold also unlocks other basic value propositions, like online multiplayer, frequent sales on digital games, and, um, a fitness trainer.
Xbox One Play and Charge Kit ($25): Xbox One’s controllers run on AA batteries, which are simple and easily replaced but expensive over time. For a better solution, the Play and Charge Kit swaps them for rechargeable lithium ion batteries you charge through the console’s USB ports. Other alternate charging solutions we’ve tried don’t fit well or don’t play nicely with the Elite controllers.
USB 3.0 External Hard Drive (Price varies): Even with 500 gigabytes of space on the standard Xbox One, you”ll want more eventually. Any external hard drive will do, provided it’s a USB 3.0 model. (All current models are.) We like this 2 Terabyte Seagate model, but whatever works for you is fine. Of course you can get branded options, but they don’t offer any benefits beyond aesthetic consistency.
PlayStation Gold Headset ($100): You’ve not heard a werewolf growl in Bloodborne until you’ve heard it in noise-canceling surround sound. I absolutely love the PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset I’ve used for the past year. The earpieces are comfy, the reception is fantastic, and it looks great. A headset is essential for multiplayer play and immersive surround sound, and the Gold Headset excels at both. It’s not cheap, but it’s your best bet without dropping big coin for a high-end pro-quality rig. If the Gold is too pricy, the wired Silver model is pretty close for half the price.
PlayStation Plus Subscription ($50 for a twelve month subscription): PlayStation Plus offers one of the best deals in gaming. It’s required for online gameplay, and provides a suite of free games each month across PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4. Sony doesn’t hesistate to include some of the best, most interesting titles. This month, for instance, you can grab the delightful throwback revival of King’s Quest. PS+ also provides access to exclusive discounts in the PlayStation store and access to cloud-based game-save storage.
Nyko Data Bank ($40, plus the cost of a hard drive): The storage situation on the PS4 is tricky. It doesn’t play nicely with most external hard drives, so the only viable way of increasing storage is to open the console and replace the internal drive. Data Bank makes this manageable. This external dock works with any 3.5″ hard-drive and includes detailed instructions for removing the stock HDD and adding the Data Bank without damaging your console. Any standard hard drive up to 6 terabytes will work, though Nyko recommends no more than 2 terabytes.
DualShock 4 Charging Dock ($50-$25): The PlayStation 4 includes a very short charging cable for its controller. I suggest a charging dock. The PowerA Charging Station is the prettiest of the bunch, but it’s pricy. The Nyko Charging Dock is roughly half the price.
DualShock 4 Thumb Grip Covers ($5): The DualShock 4 is a nearly perfect iteration of Sony’s classic controller template. Nearly. The thumbsticks are topped with soft rubber that erodes over time, driving some people bonkers. If you’re worried about stick degradation, or just want a comfier, customizable experience, a few companies make replacement covers. Grip-iT covers are especially popular.
External Hard Drive (Varies): Wii U’s internal storage tops out at 32 gigabytes. If you like to download games, that won’t do. Fortunately, the Wii U supports external hard drives, with a few caveats. It only works with USB 2.0 connections, meaning your best bet is an HDD with an external power source (2.0 can’t transmit as much power as USB 3.0) or getting a USB Y cable, which lets you plug into multiple USB ports at once to draw more power.
High-Capacity Gamepad Battery ($40): The Wii U GamePad wears many hats: controller, second screen, touch interface. That drains the battery pretty quickly. Nintendo offers a high-capacity battery available exclusively from its online store. It’s easy to install in the back of the pad, and boosts battery life from as little as three hours to a much healthier eight.
Wii U Pro Controller ($30): Sometimes you want to put the GamePad aside and play with something more conventional. The Pro Controller is your standard, go-to modern controller, heavily aping the look of the Xbox 360’s. It’s great for Bayonetta, a game designed for a conventional controller, or for anything demanding precise button presses. And you’re going to want something else to plug in when a friend comes over for a Mario Kart 8 grudge match.
Wii Remote and Nunchuk ($25): Speaking of controllers, picking up a Wii remote with the Nunchuk attachment is a great idea, considering Wii U is backward compatible. You can play any Wii game on the console, but you’ll need the right controller. Plus, the Wiimote functions as an additional input in most Wii U games, bringing you one step closer to the Mario Party party of your dreams.