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Why you should buy a Nintendo Switch Lite and Oculus Quest 2, instead of PS5 or Xbox Series X

If you've got around $500 to spend on gaming hardware, I have an idea for you.

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Nintendo Switch, Oculus Quest: These are my next-gen consoles.

Scott Stein/CNET

There are new big-box, mega-graphics, super-horsepower PC-style game consoles here this fall, and they literally tower over the previous generation. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are like gaming PCs you connect to your TV. They're fast, made for 4K and are tuned for online streaming. But you know what? They're also big, sit-in-front-of-your-TV game consoles. They don't reinvent the experience of gaming. They just do it more nicely. And, by the way, they're impossible to find in stores.

I've been much more drawn to devices and experiences that push gaming into strange new territories. It's what fascinated me about mobile gaming when the iPhone became a hit. Or, Nintendo's often experimental game consoles and handhelds, like the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, with extra screens and strange accessories. It's what's excited me about VR and AR, which promise to melt away the screen completely. It's also why I love immersive theater and experimental real-world games.

The $299 Nintendo Switch (or $199 Switch Lite) and the $299 Oculus Quest 2 have been the best at breaking down boundaries in my gaming life. The Switch's handheld/TV-transforming style has led to a lot of ways I already play games more, and bring games with me. The Quest is similarly portable -- and wireless -- and I can just turn any area into a game or workout space. With both, I don't think about where I'll set them up. They flow into whatever situation I need.

I play on an Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, but not as much. I appreciate the games, I appreciate the idea of their power. Same for the PS5 and Xbox Series X. But, here's the thing: Those consoles are sold out. They're expensive. And the games that make the most of them will take a while to get here. Same with unique accessories. VR works on the PS5, but it probably won't feel like next-gen VR until Sony updates its older headset in a couple of years. I've already started playing with an Xbox Series X, and while its speed and quiet design are impressive, there are barely any games as yet that really show off what it can do.

My favorite consoles this year have been the Switch and Quest, and it hasn't been close.

Read more: Best Nintendo gifts that aren't a Nintendo Switch 

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Nintendo Switches have multiplied like rabbits in our house this year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A modest proposal

In the meantime, I'll make a suggestion. The Oculus Quest 2 plus the Nintendo Switch Lite equals the cost of a disc-drive PS5 or Xbox Series X. Both those game consoles are still, in their ways, more next-gen to me despite limited graphics power. The math isn't perfect. You might factor in an extra $100 for a full TV-docking Switch, or more storage for the Quest 2 (or a head strap accessory). But you'd probably need more controllers and games for those PS5 and Xbox purchases too, and right now those systems are frequently sold in pricey bundles.

It depends on what you think of as "next-gen." If you like traditional games and want more horsepower, and better game and media streaming, or play a lot of games with friends online, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are more like living-room PCs. But if you're excited to try something pretty different and experimental, the Switch and Quest 2 have a lot of totally unique experiences to offer.

Also, the Switch is, by far, the most family-friendly game console out there. And while my kids play on the Switch, I can disappear into VR worlds on the Quest 2. Below are some things to think about for each.

Oculus Quest 2

The Quest 2 is better than last year, less expensive, and has fantastic games. But you have to use a Facebook account.

Scott Stein/CNET

Oculus Quest 2 ($300)

  • The Quest 2 can double as a PC VR headset with a long USB-C cable, and does it remarkably well.
  • The Quest's motion controls are exciting and active, but keep an eye on kids to make sure they don't injure themselves (you can look at what they're playing by casting to phone or TV).
  • The $300 Quest 2's 64GB of storage isn't really enough for more than a couple of dozen games. You may want to consider the 256GB version, since storage can't be expanded.
  • The Quest 2 requires a Facebook account and is technically not meant for kids under 13. Sharing between family members isn't easy because it's only one account per Quest 2. The Facebook requirement is not something I'm happy with, but the rest of the Quest experience is fantastic, and there's nothing else out there that does what the Quest can.
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Nintendo Switch ($300, $200 for Switch Lite)

  • The Switch platform is now three-plus years old, and an updated pro version of the Switch could be coming next year.
  • The Lite can't dock with a TV, and its controllers won't detach. The $300 Switch's TV-connected features are key for families and living-room playing, but the Lite is actually more comfortable to hold and smaller, and works with the same games.
  • Digital Switch games can't be shared between accounts unless you're willing to play the games online-only, so consider physical cartridges for families with multiple Switches.
  • You'll want to expand the onboard storage with a MicroSD card to hold more game downloads if you're buying lots of digital games.
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