On a technological level at least, the reality is that everyone is now a PC gamer - even if you own a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. The convergence in technology in combination with the fact that Microsoft and Sony are unwilling to make crippling losses on their next-gen consoles has created an interesting scenario - gamers can put together categorically more powerful PC gaming hardware at a very competitive price. Not only that, but the nature of Moore's Law and the immensely competitive PC hardware market will only see the value proposition of the platform rise still further. What remains to be seen is the extent to which the fixed platform architecture of the consoles can be leveraged by developers for increased performance.
In the here and now, we're wondering whether we did achieve a truly transformative gameplay experience over PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? In a number of cases, we categorically did not. Need for Speed: Rivals boasts only minor refinements over the console versions and was pegged to the same 30fps, while Call of Duty: Ghosts is a genuinely poor experience on PC. With Assassin's Creed 4, we had a great deal of leeway in exploring higher-quality visual settings, but again, the feeling of the game was very similar. On Tomb Raider, we could beat the 1080p performance of the PS4 game, but only with careful settings management - and the disabling of the showcase TressFX technology.
In short, there's no magic bullet that guarantees you a locked 1080p60 experience. Even with settings pared back, both of these titles failed to remain solid even when we ran them on an overclocked Core i7-3770K at 4.3GHz matched with a Radeon R9 290X. While we expected as much from COD - it has some performance issues on console, after all - we were very surprised to find that AC4 had optimisation issues that could bring the frame-rate crashing down from 60fps even on high-end rigs, while virtually any gaming PC with even a modest GPU can hand in a console-style 30fps with no problems whatsoever.
Only two titles out of six demonstrated the enormous improvement we were after. With Lego Marvel Super Heroes, 60fps gaming (streaming hiccups aside) did everything we expected in making for a tangibly superior experience, while Battlefield 4 remained the best example of a game transformed: 1080p with just minor drops throughout the campaign, improved visual quality beyond resolution alone and a 60fps experience that extends into the multiplayer game. It's frankly remarkable.
However, PC elitists expecting a knockout blow against the consoles - PlayStation 4 in particular - may end up disappointed by our findings. The amount of power you're getting in a small form-factor box - complete with a substantial backing ecosystem - offers simply phenomenal value. And all of the games tested are first-gen efforts; clearly they will get better. The only question is whether future optimisations for console improve the PC experience, or whether we'll be reliant on PC brute-forcing its way to supremacy, as per the last generation.
But let's not forget the advantages the PC platform has to offer outside of the narrow 1080p head-to-head comparisons we've carried out here. Our sub-£500 computer opens up a lot of options not available to console owners - and the results can be hugely impressive. We had no problem running Need for Speed and AC4 at 2560x1440 at 30fps on the same quality settings, while Lego Marvel Super Heroes also ran at 2.5K at 60fps. On top of that, we have a route to stereo 3D on most games with Nvidia 3D Vision, plus there's G-Sync to factor in, not to mention the upcoming VR revolution, spearheaded by Oculus Rift. You won't be playing Uncharted or Halo on PC, but each platform has its own range of enviable exclusives - be they hardware or software.
Here's an outline of the costs in building your own Digital Foundry PC. All that's missing is an operating system. OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional are available on eBay for under £50, meaning that an entire working PC can be built to a budget of £500. We used prices here from Amazon.co.uk or Ebuyer.com, both of whom offer free delivery options.
- CPU: AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz processor with fan - £80.99
- Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 - £176.90
- RAM: 8GB Kingston HyperX 1600MHz - £61.42
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-78LMT-USB3 mATX - £37.06
- Storage: Seagate 500GB internal hard drive - £37.70
- Case/Power Supply/Keyboard/Mouse: Gigabyte GZ-MA02 4-in-1 - £55.63
- Total: £449.70