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PlayStation or Xbox? Picking the right next-gen console and model for you.



The new consoles are almost here and the key word is choices.

You have lots of them. Microsoft and Sony are each releasing two consoles, for starters. And in Microsoft’s case at least, there are some outside-the-norm options for buying them. Then there are the tie-in subscriptions which, if you can afford them, add lots of value to your hardware.

Video game consoles are supposed to be easy. Buy one, plug it into your TV, and you’re all set to play every game. But all of a sudden, the most idiot-proof format in blockbuster gaming demands some real research. 

So please, let us help. We’ve done the work and know the options. We can point you toward the choice that works best for you.

PlayStation or Xbox?

This is the easy part. If you’re upgrading from an older console, you probably know already which one you want. I’ll get into the hardware specifics further along, but generally speaking the new PlayStation and Xbox machines sport the same capabilities.

That means you’re getting a roughly 1TB solid-state hard drive (in all but one case), which means lots of built-in storage and faster load times. You’re getting support for the new-fangled graphics features. And you’re getting the ability to play games at a 4K resolution while maintaining 60 frames per second, which gives games a smoother look and feel.

If this is your first console ever, or you’ve decided to give gaming a whirl again after a long time away, the biggest platform differentiator is the games. Specifically, the exclusive games. You’ll always be able to play the new Call of Duty or Madden (or Assassin’s Creed or Resident Evil, etc.) on whichever machine you own, but Microsoft and Sony both bring their own in-house favorites, too.

For Xbox, that means Halo, Gears of War, and Forza, to name some of the biggest. Over on the PlayStation side, you get God of War and Naughty Dog games (like Uncharted and The Last of Us). Also, Insomniac releases, like 2018’s excellent Spider-Man and the recent release Ghost of Tsushima. IGN has also compiled lists of upcoming releases for the next-generation PlayStation and Xbox consoles. If you’re a newcomer to console gaming especially, peruse those lists and decide which one is most appealing to you.

Your PlayStation options

PlayStation or Xbox? Picking the right next-gen console and model for you.

Image: sony

The choice on the PlayStation side is easier. Sony is shipping the PlayStation 5 in two different versions: A standard edition and a “Digital Edition.” The latter option doesn’t include a disc drive, but that’s the only real difference. Both still get you 825GB of usable storage and the same technical capabilities.

Still, the difference between the two is a big one from a price perspective. A standard edition PS5 will run you $499, whereas a digital edition costs $399. That disc drive supports Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, so the extra $100 is something to consider if you have a big physical media library.

That’s not the only reason to hang on to a disc drive, either. If you have a lot of PS4 games on disc already, the PS5 will play almost all of them (it’s not clear which games aren’t supported at this point). Having a disc drive also means you can buy lower-priced used games from stores like GameStop, an appealing option for some people.

Whichever PlayStation you choose, you’ll need a PlayStation Plus subscription if you want to take advantage of most online features. The $60 annual fee also gives you access to a handful of free games every month for download. Sony is also expanding the PS+ program with the PS5’s launch to give every subscriber access to a free (if relatively small) library of the biggest PS4 hits.

In addition, Sony offers a game streaming service in PlayStation Now. It’s a $60 per year subscription that lets you play freely from a library of more than 800 of PS4, PS3, and PS2 games. Some of the newer ones can even be downloaded and installed rather than streamed. (Browse through the catalog right here.) You can also stream PS Now games to your computer.

Your Xbox options

PlayStation or Xbox? Picking the right next-gen console and model for you.

Image: microsoft

Microsoft’s two offerings are a little trickier. The Xbox Series X is the company’s flagship gaming console at launch. It costs $499, includes a disc drive, and is capable of reliably outputting the games you play at 4K resolution and 60 FPS. If you have a fancy, high-end TV and/or absolutely require a console with a disc drive – this one also supports 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays – the Series X is your Xbox pick.

The Series S, meanwhile, is Microsoft’s take on a disc-less console. So it won’t take full advantage of the new Xbox generation’s backward compatibility features if you have a ton of old discs lying around. But it costs only $299, making it the cheapest option of all across Microsoft and Sony.

The lower price does mean there are differences between the two. While the Series S is capable of outputting at a 4K resolution, you’re not going to get the same performance out of games that support it. What Microsoft does promise is a steady 1440p resolution at 60 FPS. The Series S also has a smaller hard drive, offering only 512GB compared to the Series X’s 1TB.

If 4K is super important to you, then you’ll want the Series X. But 1440p still looks great running at higher frame rates than last generation hardware was consistently capable of delivering. Especially for $200 less. Again I’ll point you to IGN, and this rundown of the differentiating factors on Series S.

I’ll also add based on my personal experience: The resolution difference matters less than the boosted FPS. Lots of homes haven’t upgraded to 4K TVs yet. And even if you have one, you aren’t necessarily going to notice the difference between 1440p and 4K. But it’s very easy to see the improved experience you get from 60 FPS gaming. There are plenty of current games that run at 60 FPS on consoles, but the next-gen promise makes that the standard.

To play online with an Xbox, you’ll need an Xbox Live Gold subscription ($60), which also gives you a monthly helping of free games a la PS+. But the real difference-maker here is Game Pass. Microsoft’s version of PlayStation Now takes a similar approach: For a monthly (or lower annual) fee, you get access to an ever-growing library of games, with more than 200 to choose from already.

That’s a significantly smaller number than PlayStation’s 800-plus, but the Game Pass offering features newer titles in general. In fact, all of Microsoft’s “first-party” games are available to Game Pass subscribers on day one. So if you want the new Halo (whenever it comes out), you can buy it at full price – or you can just play it as part of your Game Pass subscription.

Beyond that, Game Pass also includes games from Electronic Arts and, thanks to a blockbuster acquisition announced the day before Xbox Series pre-orders opened, Bethesda Softworks. Many of the titles in the library can be played on PC, and the recent launch of Microsoft’s xCloud means that subscribers can stream their games to a variety of screens, including Android devices.

Final thoughts and pre-orders

PlayStation or Xbox? Picking the right next-gen console and model for you.

Image: Daniel Boczarski/WireImage

You can’t really go wrong with either console. PlayStation has what could be fairly described as more immediately exciting platform exclusives, especially with a Miles Morales-focused expansion of Spider-Man launching alongside the PS5. 

But Xbox Game Pass is arguably the best subscription deal in gaming right now. The streaming factor means you don’t even necessarily need the latest Xbox right away, since any new Xbox-only game is available through Game Pass, which you can play basically anywhere so long as you have a reliable internet connection (and/or a powerful computer). No xCloud on iOS, though.

So it’s not a case of one option being better than the other. More that each console’s respective strengths cater to different tastes. Xbox has some popular exclusives in franchises like Halo and Gears, but Game Pass, with its day one games and sizable library of modern hits, is the real selling point. PlayStation’s Game Pass competitor isn’t quite as exciting, but many of the console’s best games can only be played there.

Whichever way you’re leaning, there’s not a pressing need to have any of these new consoles on day one. Most of the big games launching in fall 2020 support current generation hardware as well, and even the $299 Xbox Series S is a pricey buy during these fraught and uncertain times.

Also, regardless of which direction you’re leaning, pre-orders aren’t exactly easy to come by right now. That’s likely to change over time, and post-release you can presumably expect to find that store stock is increasing. But the early adopter rush has made it difficult to secure a pre-order.

If you want to hunt, you can find links and info on PlayStation pre-orders right here. Sony’s initial offering was such a chaotic mess that the company actually apologized and promised to make more available in the coming days. So keep an eye out if you want to secure your PS5 ahead of launch.

Microsoft’s Xbox Series S/X pre-orders opened on Sept. 22 and it was similarly messy. You can find more information and links to individual retailers right here. For those who are interested in buying an Xbox console and a Game Pass subscription, you can actually save money in the long run by buying the Series S or X through Microsoft’s All Access plan. Those are tough to find right now as well, but it’s an option to keep in mind for when you can put your order in.


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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.



The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.


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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.



The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.


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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.



As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.


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