5 Best Gaming Options of 2016

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It’s been a big year for gaming on all fronts. From PC titles to mobile, from big names to little-known indies, gaming is set to break records again this year—millions of Americans play video games, and gaming devices or consoles can be found in a growing number of homes. This year is predicted to see an increase in numbers, thanks to high-profile titles like Overwatch and console upgrades like the Xbox One S.

On top of regular console games, this is going to be the holiday season that sees the first real home console VR system, the PlayStation VR. It’s also the year that mobile gaming and augmented reality took off with Pokémon Go, as we witnessed hordes of players obsessed with catching them wander the streets of every corner of the world.

But if you’re not a gamer (or you’re just looking for some guidance on how to buy a game-related gift), then look no farther than B&H Photo. Not only are they carrying more games, they’re selling games and gaming systems on the cutting edge of the market, including virtual reality console titles and production equipment that will allow you to produce your own VR master piece. For more on the B&H leap into virtual reality, check out the B&H Virtual Reality landing page.

Here are our recommendations for the five best gaming options available right now.

Home Consoles

The PlayStation 4 saw an upgrade, as did the Xbox One, but which is right for you? That’s like asking which of your two children would you save from a burning building. The answer is: both of them. The PlayStation 4 Pro features a significantly more powerful GPU, allowing it to play games with more detail at higher resolutions than the 1080p maximum found on the original system. Support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) means that those with compatible displays will experience increased color depth and better contrast in-game. You can see more of the features in the B&H Explora article, Sony Unveils the 4K-capable PlayStation 4 Pro. The Xbox One S, on the other hand, improved itself over the standard Xbox One with a 40% smaller footprint, the ability to play UHD Blu-ray Discs and stream 4K content from providers like Netflix and Amazon Video. For more about the Xbox One S, check out our announcement article, Introducing the Microsoft Xbox One S. While the Wii U is still a viable gaming system, it offers slower performance and graphics standards than the Xbox One and PS4. The Wii U is still a great gift for younger gamers and casual gamers who aren’t looking for stunning visuals.

WINNER: The PlayStation 4 now has a VR bundle option, and will be the first home system to offer VR games and experiences. If you want to step up your game, the PS4 should be the holiday winner.

Mobile Games

Mobile gaming is hot, hot enough that console and handheld manufacturers are taking notice, and smartphone manufacturers are boosting their processing speeds to match the latest games. Need proof? Nintendo’s flagship plumber, Mario, will appear for the first time as an iOS-exclusive platform game. Need more proof? I’ve lost six pounds in the last six months just trying to catch Pokémon in the wild. But there were other mobile games out there, and a few notables included Banner Saga 2 (you’ve gotta like Vikings to enjoy this one), Riptide GP Renegade (amazing graphics for mobile, and something that would have been console-only a year ago), Blizzard's addictive digital card game Hearthstone, which is always adding expansions and updates, and has another slated for release very soon and RunGunJumpGun. I was heartened to see that Lumines finally got the mobile treatment (I loved this game on the PlayStation portable system), and I love Tetris-style games.

WINNER: Although I loved how frustratingly hard RunGunJumpGun was, and I loved the graphics of Riptide, nothing got me more involved than Pokémon Go. For a 20-year-old franchise that was just beginning to lose its luster, Pokémon Go made playing games on mobile pretty interesting. It had it all going on—adorable, oddly derivative creatures, lots of walking, and the merging of real world venues with animated video game characters—the perfect example of augmented reality. It will probably also set the stage for future AR games. And since more people own smartphones than handheld game systems, many more people played this than any other downloadable mobile game last year.

Laptop Gaming Makes a Comeback

Gaming on the go got a boost this year with some notable laptops that brought back the power to portable systems. Gaming laptops need some muscle, though, so you want to be sure your laptop has a dedicated graphics card, a stable amount of RAM, hefty screen resolution and a blazing processor. I would even venture to say that a gaming laptop should have at least an Intel® Core™ i7 processor, 8-16GB of RAM, at least a 1920 x 1080 Full HD display and an NVIDIA class GPU. We saw a couple of good ones this year and, surprisingly, they all fell under the $1,000 mark for the first time (really high-end gaming laptops can easily climb to north of $3,000). Most notable on the list is the Dell 15.6" Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Series Notebook (click here to see our review), which sports the right minimum requirements: a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M GPU, and falls under a grand. Also notable is the ASUS 15.6" Republic of Gamers GL552VW Gaming Notebook, with identical specs (except the GPU has 2GB of RAM, whereas the Dell had 4GB). If 15.6" is not enough visual real estate, consider the MSI 17.3" GL72 Notebook, again with an Intel Core i7 quad core processor and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB of RAM, but this includes a 17.3" Full HD display. It does reduce the system RAM from 16GB to 8GB, but that should still be enough for your most demanding games.

WINNER: The Dell takes the cake—although all performed well, the Dell really pushed the envelope on power, speed, and graphics. A slightly dim display shouldn’t mar the overall value of this system, and if you’re looking to pick one up for yourself or want to treat the gamer on your gift list, this is the one.

Gaming Accessories

Gaming enjoys lots of love in the marketplace, as is always evident by the secondary markets that spring up around it. For instance, there was a time when the only peripherals sold for game systems were controllers and headsets. We’ve come a long way, with the market now sustaining game capture systems and recording devices, antennas and TV receivers, ergonomic keyboards and furniture.

But how do you choose what to buy? Again, it will depend on who you’re buying for. A casual gamer who plays on their Nintendo 3DS most of the day is going to be looking for games and possibly skins or extra chargers for the system. Console gamers will always look for new, interesting, and higher-performing controllers and headsets, while serious gamers will want to look into game capture so that they can show the world (and certainly their YouTube or Twitch followers) just how beast mode works. Also, don’t forget that most consoles require subscriptions to play online, so make sure to tuck a subscription gift card for Sony and Xbox users into an envelope or two.

WINNER: While there is no clear winner, we think the trend toward trending YouTube fame is growing, and we suggest you look into game capture systems like the Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro, which will let you record or livestream game footage from your Xbox One, PS4, Wii U or Xbox 360—in 1080p at 60 fps. You can also save separate tracks from your webcam and to record commentary while playing. This PCIe version needs to be installed directly into your PC. There is also a stand-alone version, the Elgato Game Capture HD60S that allows you to record PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U gameplay to a Windows PC via an HDMI pass-through.

Games of the Year

Yes, we all know that Pokémon Go swept the nation, but was it really the best game of the year? Opinions may vary, and choosing the best game is really dependent on where your personal preferences rest. For instance, the hot seller right now is Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, but other games that made a splash this year (and still make great gifts) are Madden NFL 17, Destiny: The Collection for the Xbox One, which includes DLC and expansion sets), Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End exclusively on the PS4, and the immensely popular Overwatch (both for Xbox One, PS4 and PC). On the Wii U (traditionally aiming at younger gamers—remember the amiibo craze?) remasters like Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD and the always fun Pokémon fighter Pokken Tournament were hot this year.

WINNER: We have to do this by console, because I loved, played, and enjoyed all of these games, but it was Overwatch on the Xbox One that impressed me the most, along with Uncharted 4 on the PS4. For handhelds, Pokémon Go took a lot of my time, but Pokémon Sun is now my new fave. My Wii U is still rocking away, but for pure action and enjoyment, I’m going with Legend of Zelda for the win. Always a favorite franchise, and still playable again.

So there you have a mini-breakdown of your gaming options for 2016. Hopefully, if you’re buying for yourself or someone else, these five points will inspire you. If you’re looking to subtly hint what you want from someone else, feel free to print this list and covertly tuck it into their bag.

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