Where gaming consoles are compared, the technical specifications or the range of games are often the main topics. It is wrongly assumed that every gamer chooses a particular game console for these objective reasons. After all the human psyche is not always limited to reasonable arguments and thats why the appearance of a game console is traditionally also an important factor for purchase.
This list shows the most aesthetically pleasing console of each generation of game consoles. The timeframe of these generations overlap to a large extent because they are based on the technical possibilities of the consoles in a certain generation.
Since looks are very subjective, this list is certainly up for debate. You will not only find the big names, but also some more obscure consoles. Appearance and not popularity is paramount.
The pictures shown in this article are taken from consoles in my collection; except the ‘boomerang controller’ for the PS3 and some of the IVO pictures.
The first generation of gaming consoles lasted from 1972 to 1983. The first true video game console of this generation was the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey. The introduction of the Odyssey market the beginning of the home console because it was the first console that could play multiple games via cartridges. Video games became more and a more mainstream phenomenon with the introduction of the Odyssey and the arcade hit Pong. It was the kick-start that would eventually lead to the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today. The period from the early to mid-1970s is furthermore dominated by the very technical limited (dedicated) Pong consoles. The sheer amount of hardly indistinguishable Pong-devices led to the video game crash of 1977.
Top Pick: Magnavox Odyssey (1972)
My first pick in this list op the most beautiful consoles is the Odyssey. Not because it is generally considered to be the first true gaming console, but because it is, in my opinion, a beautiful-looking device that fits perfectly in the design philosophy of its era. The transition between the deep black bottom and white top is decorated with a lacquered ‘wooden’ edge that resembles the Atari 2600. The white top layer towers in the middle, making room for capacitors, resistors, transistors, and diodes (the game console didn’t have a microprocessor). From a top view, this tower, again, has the same deep black color as the bottom. The same consistent color scheme with white, black, and lacquered wood is continued in the appearance of the controllers.
Luckily, soon after the crash of 1977, a new generation of gaming consoles had begun to emerge that would quickly revitalize the industry. The savior of the future of gaming was the development of the microprocessor that enabled much more complex game worlds. This started in the arcade halls, where the audience was treated with better graphics and sound effects. This increased the popularity of gaming in general and made gamers enthusiastic again for home consoles. The second generation of gaming consoles was thereby a fact and lasted from 1976-1992.
Top Pick: Videopac N60 (1982)
My decision for the most beautiful console of the second generation is a variant of the Philips Videopac. The Videopac wasn’t the most memorable console of the second generation. With ‘only’ 2 million copies sold, the Videopac certainly wasn’t a commercial flop, but the console was totally overshadowed by the Atari 2600 (25 million consoles sold). While the Atari 2600 is also a very attractive console with its beautiful wood tones, in my opinion the Videopac N60 is slightly more appealing.
What strikes immediately is the 23 cm built-in display of the N60. Despite this large display, the console retains a very compact shape. This owes the console to its housing. This housing is special because it fully corresponds to the French teletext terminal (Minitel 1A). Even the unused holes in the housing of the N60, where telephones can be plugged in, are handed down from the teletext terminal.
Furthermore, the console has a deep blue color, which really sets it apart from other consoles in the late 70s and early 90s. It really is remarkable. The N60 is by many considered to be the most beautiful variant of the Videopac and even as one of the most beautiful consoles ever made. In any case, it is one of the rarest variants of the Videopac and therefore a very popular collector’s item.
The second generation ended with yet another crash in 1983. The market was overgrown with a multitude of bad consoles and worse games. Many of the games were released too quickly, very uninspired and above all lazy. Gamers lost interest in yet another Atari 2600 clones, and this led to an implosion in console and game sales in 1983. Established names such as Philips, Coleco and Mattel discontinued and others such as Atari underwent many reorganizations and shifted their focus.
As so often, new players rose from the ashes to make a name for themselves. Although and perhaps because the market in America had largely been wiped out, it was the Japanese console builders who stepped into the gap. A very well-known player of today that made its fame in the third generation was Nintendo. Just like Atari had done in the second generation. Games such as Zelda and Mario made gamers inseparable from their NES and would start the everlasting success of the company.
Top Pick: Tchibo Tele Fever
However, the most beautiful console of the third generation is not the NES, but a rather obscure and even failed console from the German coffee Roaster Tchibo. In 1986, the company introduced the Tele Fever in Germany. This console was available for only 99 Deutsche Mark.
The Tele Fever was a weak console compared to other available consoles around its release time, but very cheap, which made it attractive. The Tele Fever was, however, not only attractive due to its low price but also because of its looks. The Tele Fever has an industrial look, with its sleek lines and metallic deep blue color. This is also reflected in the markings on the console and controller, which are referred to as ’terminal 1′ and ’terminal 2′ respectively. The buttons, switches, levers and number pad also give you the feeling that you are working in the control room of a nuclear power plant. Games for the Tele Fever are placed upright on the console, just like with the Videopac G7000.
In the case of the Tele Fever, appearance did not guarantee success. The console was only sold in Germany and was taken off the market after a few months due to low sales. It is therefore a relatively rare console to obtain.
The first 16-bit consoles saw the light of day during the fourth generation. This offered new audiovisual possibilities. Game worlds have become more colorful and varied. In America and especially Europe, SEGA tried to challenge Nintendo’s dominance with its Genesis. This was achieved through an aggressive media campaign and good games. However, other consoles such as the NEC TurboGrafx-16 were less successful.
During the fourth generation, the first CD-based consoles also came onto the market. Philips, one of the developers of the CD, re-entered the gaming industry with its CD-i. Other CD-based consoles included the Commodore CDTV and the Atari Jaguar. Despite the interesting technology, they could not compete with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. They simply lacked focus and enough good games.
Top Pick: Sony IVO V11
In my opinion, not many ecstatically pleasing consoles were released during the fourth generation. The choice ultimately fell on a handheld that, with some creativity, could also be called a hybrid console, namely the Sony IVO V11. This CD-i player from Sony combines a high-quality LCD color screen with a very compact housing that not only looks sleek but is also robust. As with other CD-i handhelds, you could also connect a controller to the Sony IVO V11 and use it as a home console. A disadvantage, however, was that, unlike the Philips CD-i 370 handheld, no Digital Video Cartridge (DVC) was built into the V11. This limited the number of games that could be played on the device. A version with DVC was in development, but would never see the light of day due to the declining popularity of the CD-i platform.
After both optical and cartridge-based consoles coexisted in the fourth generation, almost the entire market switched to the optical variant in the fifth generation. This was not an unnecessary luxury because technological innovations made game worlds more beautiful and larger, but also required considerable storage capacity. Only Nintendo continued to stick to traditional cartridges with its N64. Much to the dismay of developers, who had to pay a large percentage to Nintendo for each cartridge sold and were inhibited by the technical limits of this medium.
The fifth generation also meant the end of some established names such as NEC, ATARI, 3DO and Commodore who dropped out due to poor sales or limited marked presence.
But much more than that, the fifth generation marked Sony’s rise; a company that had come to blows regarding the SNES add-on ‘Nintendo PlayStation’ and as a result of that fight put a great console on the market out of spite and belief in its own abilities. The Sony PlayStation would dominate the market, knocking Nintendo and Sega into second and third place, respectively.
Top Pick: Apple Pippin / Katz Media Player 2000
For the most beautiful console of the fifth generation, I did not choose one of the aforementioned three major players, but one of the consoles that would disappear from the scene in this generation. Neck and neck with the Bandai Playdia, Panasonic 3DO FZ-1 and the Atari Jaguar, the Pippin ultimately won for me. The Pippin was the brainchild of a collaboration between Apple and Bandai. It would go down in history as one of the worst consoles ever made and only sold 45,000 times. Ultimately, it was Steve Jobs who would wring the Pippin’s neck upon his return to Apple. The black console in the pictures is actually a European version of the Pippin, introduced by Katz Media. Only 500 units of this version were made.
The console itself looks like a cross between a flat computer that you often saw in schools in the 90s (placed under your CRT screen) and a VCR, which gives the device a retro feel. From above, it looks like a square; half of its surface perforated with 540 small holes. These ensure that air can be drawn into the console by the internal fans. On top of the console there are several rubber multimedia buttons that allow the user to turn the Pippin on and off, fast-forward and pause music and movies, adjust the volume, and open the disc tray.
The front panel is largely covered by a pull-out disc tray, on which the Pippin logo is very prominently portrayed. The disc tray is slightly curved with a prominent edge underneath, giving the console the appearance of a constant smile. Together with the colorful logo, this gives the Pippin a friendly appearance. The two control ports are placed under the disc tray, with a 3.5mm headphone port in between. For strength and stability, the Pippin stands on two pillars on either side. The PowerPC logo is written on the right of these pillars as the beating heart of the console. On the left you will find the name Atmark with the phrase ‘advanced technology by Apple Computer’ below it.
What makes the appearance of the Pippin stand out is not so much the console itself, but the Apple Jack Controller. When I first saw it, it reminded me of the prototype of the PlayStation 3 controller (Boomerang) that was presented in May 2005. So 10 years after the introduction of then Pippin.
The Applejack controller is often somewhat maligned due to its unorthodox design. Unjustified in my opinion. It feels nice in the hand and the buttons, both on the front and the shoulder buttons on the back, are easily accessible.
The dull computer gray of the controller is also somewhat offset by the colorful buttons on the front and back and gives the controller a cheerful and playful appearance.
The most interesting part of the Applejack is undeniably the trackball, which is prominently placed on the front. This once again responds to the schizophrenic origins of the Pippin as a gaming console and cheap Mac. In addition to the shape, the trackball makes the Applejack a unique controller that will raise many eyebrows. Certainly, from a modern gamer.
After the transition from the fifth to the sixth generation, only four big names remained. SEGA kicked things off with its Dreamcast. With a simpler architecture and a good range of games, the Dreamcast should quickly forget the Sega Saturn and be competitive again. Sony came up with its PlayStation 2. The first console with a built-in DVD player as a unique selling point. A little later, Microsoft also entered the console market for the first time with the Xbox. This console also had a built-in DVD player. Nintendo tried to regain its market share from Sony with its GameCube. The GameCube had a daring new cubical design and was much more powerful than the N64. It would be the last console of Nintendo that tried to technically compete with the other top consoles. It, however, lacked a DVD-player, which really limited its potential. The DVD-standard was the new hype, and why would you buy a DVD-player AND a gaming console if you could also obtain both in just one combined device?
During the 6th generation, the gaming industry increasingly professionalized. The times that the company produced consoles as a side project in their portfolio were over. Console builders had to have deep pockets and, in some cases, had to overcome short-term heavy financial losses to make a profit in the long term. Nevertheless, a few newcomers tried it in the mobile gaming market, like Tigertelematics with their Gizmondo, Tapwave with its PDA-like Zodiac and Nokia with their N-gage. They did however not succeed in gaining enough marked share to survive and were totally overshadowed by Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS.
Fewer consoles mean less choice. Ultimately, my eye fell on the Panasonic Q. Although much loved today, the GameCube sold ‘only’ 22 million copies and thereby contrasts sharply with the 155 million sold PS2 units. There were various reasons for this difference in success. Foremost, the PS2 appeared 1.5 years before the GameCube in Japan. Furthermore, graphically the console from Nintendo could not compete, and it had a more childish appearance that was often compared to a bread box. A significant other reason why many gamers chose the PS2, and also the XBOX (24 million), was the fact that both consoles had a built-in DVD player. Because of this, they rose above the status of dedicated gaming console and became more multifunctional home entertainment devices. The regular GameCube did not have a DVD player. Nintendo reasoned that using its own disc format, similar to mini-DVD, would prevent piracy of its games. These mini-DVDs had the disadvantage that only 1.5 GB of data could be stored, which limited the possibilities for GC developers. The fact that no DVDs could be played on the GameCube drove the mainstream gamer into the hands of Microsoft and especially Sony.
Top Pick: Panasonic Q
In this game of forces, Panasonic entered the market in 2001 with the Panasonic Q; their own version of the GameCube with a full-fledged DVD player. The Q was given a special and modern appearance for its time. It was made of aluminum on the back, top and both sides. The front, however, was mainly made of glass, which housed the controller ports and a wide variety of buttons, which controlled the many functions of the Q. The controller ports also had a bright backlight. The DVD-tray is located above the controller ports. At the top of the Q, an elongated monochromatic LCD screen protrudes from the console. It shows the input of the DVD player and the gaming functionalities. The console is a lot bigger than the regular GameCube. This is due to the incorporation of the DVD-functionality. Unlike the GameCube, where you must open a lid on the top to place a game, the Q has a full-fledged DVD tray that runs from the front to the back of the console. Personally, I think the Q looks great and fits the style of the turn of the millennium. And I’m not the only one. Partly due to its special and attractive appearance, it is one of the most sought-after consoles among collectors.
In addition to its beautiful appearance, the Q is also a very robust console. It is held together by an insane number of screws. The stability is, however, totally dependent on the backplate. It acts like a shelf, where all the ports slide in, and is held together by 16 screws to the frame of the console.
The Panasonic Q, just like the 3DO, was not a success for Panasonic. This was partly because the console was only released in Japan and was a lot more expensive than its competitors. The console was also region locked. It had to be modified to play PAL games, which added to the costs of importing to other parts of the world. Panasonic stopped production two years after its release. By then, only 100.00 units of the Q were sold. After the previous failure of the 3DO, the low sales of the Q contributed to the fact that Panasonic lost their interest in the gaming console market.
The seventh generation brought high definition to gaming. This meant a major step in resolution. Microsoft and Sony introduced consoles with impressive graphical prowess thanks to their multicore processors. Nintendo took a different path and decided not to compete with the aforementioned console builders in terms of graphics. Through their innovative Wii, they tapped into a ‘new’ audience we now call the ‘casual gamer’. During the seventh generation of consoles, online gaming also gained popularity. The Xbox 360 built an online ecosystem that intuitively allowed players to compete online with a group of friends or against strangers. Finally, iOS and Android devices would also become an important factor in the global gaming landscape.
For the seventh generation of consoles, I make an exception and choose both a console and a handheld. Both were developed by Sony.
Top Pick Handheld: PSP GO
The PSP GO is a beautifully redesigned version of the regular PSP. It has a totally new and revolutionary form factor. The screen slides down over the front of the control pad, making it a very compact and sleek looking console. The hinge, holding together the screen and the control pad, is stronger and more robust than I expected.
Besides its appearance and built-in Bluetooth, the PSP GO didn’t do anything radically different from its predecessor. It basically has the same internals and plays the same games. The only real difference is the fact that it is the first handheld in history to go completely digital and thereby moves away from cartridges or discs. This made it possible for Sony to cut out the retailers and keep almost the entire amount of game sales in-house. However, this method also had some significant downsides. Because retailers could no longer make money from the games, they decided to no longer stock the PSP GO hardware in stores. The limited store presence led to poor sales figures.
Top Pick Console: Phat PS3
In my opinion, the most beautiful home console of the seventh generation is the ‘Phat’ PlayStation 3. The PS3 is sometimes seen as the console that symbolizes Sony’s arrogance. After the enormous success of the PS2, sales figures for the PS3 lagged somewhat, for various reasons. Not only in comparison with its predecessor (PS2), but also for a long time with Microsoft’s XBOX. It wasn’t until late in its lifecycle that the PS3 gained momentum with consumers.
The PS3 is a console that looks you love or hate. The almost feminine curves of the left side, the glossy black finish and chrome elements may not appeal to everyone, but I dig them. Also, the small details, such as the rotating PlayStation logo on the front and the touch sensitive on/off button, make it an ecstatically pleasing console. The PS3 has a timeless design that overshadows its successor and the current PS5.
We will conveniently put aside the fact that the original version suffered from various technical problems, the most important of which is overheating.
The eighth generation showed that Sony’s hegemony could not be challenged anytime soon. The PlayStation 4 was conveniently announced after Microsoft’s press conference during E3 2013. When Microsoft announced the price of the Xbox One, Sony made good use of this information and priced its console 100 euros lower. This had an enormous influence on the positive sentiment regarding Sony’s console. Sony’s communication strategy was also better, and they managed to win the hearts of gamers with the slogan ‘For the players’. Microsoft, on the other hand, presented its console as the center of the living room. Its lack of focus on gaming evoked ambivalent reactions from consumers.
In addition, Nintendo introduced its Wii U as the successor to the immensely popular Wii. However, many consumers thought that the Wii U, with its tablet controller, was only a peripheral for the Wii rather than an entirely new generation. Despite great games, the Wii U would turn out to be a giant flop for Nintendo.
Top Pick: PS VITA
The most beautiful gaming device of the eighth generation is the PS Vita. The Vita is Sony’s latest and also last handheld (not counting the PlayStation Portal). The handheld would not be a commercial success with 16 million units sold, but has, to this day, a loyal fan base which is charmed by the games, looks, and build quality of the device. The console has a beautiful OLED screen that guarantees beautiful colors and good black levels. Nowadays, OLED is increasingly the standard for mobile devices, but in 2011 it was truly unique. Despite the potent hardware, Sony also managed to give the Vita a compact size. In addition, Sony offered many player-control options that developers could use, such as a touch screen on the front and a pressure-sensitive backside. This contributed to the release of many fun, innovative games for the Vita. So, a great device and, in my opinion, the best handheld ever made.
The ninth generation of gaming consoles is still dominated by ’the big three’. Sony and Microsoft compete with their technically advanced PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X for the same audience. Nintendo, on the other side, introduced with its Switch a hybrid between a home console and handheld aimed at not only a much younger, but also a more mainstream audience. This turned out to be a bull’s eye.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which marked the beginning of the ninth generation, has not done any harm to the gaming industry. In contrary, people were forced to stay at home during this worldwide event, which caused them to play more games. However, the pandemic did negatively impact game development, which, together with massive chip shortages, led to a major shortage of available consoles and new games. This had a chicken/egg effect. A small install base of ninth generation’s of consoles resulted in reluctance among developers to fully focus their games on these new consoles. The few new games that were released, were playable on current and previous generation consoles. On the one hand, this meant that the full potential of the consoles was not achieved and on the other hand, it removed the need for gamers to adopt a new generation of consoles. A vicious circle that the industry seemed difficult to break out of in 2022. However, in 2023, the end of the pandemic also marked the beginning of the recovery. This was partly due to a higher availability of chips and therefore new consoles. It remains to be seen whether console sales will be able to catch up in the remaining time of this generation, or whether it will turn out to be a lost generation. Time will tell.
The ninth generation also seems to be the last generation that physical games can still be purchased. A new revolution in game sales is coming. The once dominant physical storage media such as cartridges, diskettes, CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays are largely a thing of the past. A new generation of gamers less value game ownership. They have become accustomed to digital distribution and subscriptions. In today’s cluttered gaming landscape, two of the three major console makers, Sony and Microsoft, are aware of this development, responding to it and even encouraging it. Services such as Gamepass and PlayStation Plus offer gamers a large library of games for a fixed monthly fee. Gamers are drawn into the ecosystem and once there, it is difficult to say goodbye to it due to all the investments you make as a consumer. A piece of imposed customer loyalty that ensures a constant flow of income and makes you as a company less susceptible to the vagaries of the market. Nintendo, on the other hand, once again chooses its own path and for the moment, focuses on the physical and digital sales of games.
It is not an unrealistic thought that the ninth generation may be the last generation in which dedicated gaming consoles are marketed. The new subscription models together with the increased quality of game streaming could soon make buying a new generation of consoles a thing of the past. The first signs are already appearing within this generation because the improved versions of the PS5 and Xbox Series X are rumored not to have a built-in Blu-ray drive.
Just like in the first generation, there is a limited selection of consoles to choose from. The gaming industry is huge, and the financial stakes are very high, making it nearly impossible for new companies to enter. To get a foot in the door, one must invest billions to retain gamers. In fact, only Sony and Microsoft compete for the favor of the same audience, while the third major party, Nintendo, follows a very different course with its Switch.
Top Pick: Xbox Series X
The winner of the most appeasing console of the ninth generation is the Xbox Series X. The console has a design approach that uses basic shapes in dynamic and purposeful ways. This is clearly reflected in the rectangular design, where the hot air is blown out of the console at the top. This contributes to good airflow and has the additional advantage that the rest of the console can be sleekly designed. The color scheme is as basic as the design. The console has a deep black color that gives it a classic and elegant appearance. You can clearly see that Microsoft has tried to ensure that the console wouldn’t look too improper, or at least wouldn’t stand out too much in an average living room. A message that Sony didn’t understand with its PS5. Less is more!
It’s hard to predict what the future will bring regarding the appearance of consoles. It is likely that the next generation of consoles will become smaller, as the future of gaming will mainly be a digital future. This eliminates the need for a physical disc drive. Perhaps the next generation will even switch completely to game streaming, which means that the hardware will also have to be less powerful. This will also result in a more limited physical size of hardware. Let’s hope that not all future consoles will look like ‘gaming pucks’ or HDMI sticks.
As nine generations have shown, gaming hardware is logically influenced by the design philosophy of the era it was introduced in and the audience for which the console was intended. For example, the wooden finish of the first- and second-generation consoles was a clear attempt to ensure that a novelty such as a gaming console did not stand out too much in the living room, where many other objects already had the same design. The same philosophy can be seen at Microsoft, who with their design of the Xbox One and Xbox Series X also tried to introduce a sleekly designed console that would blend in with other devices in the living room. There was also a functional idea behind this because Microsoft wanted its consoles to form a central hub for the whole family’s multimedia use.
However, there are also some constants that recur in different generations. One example is Nintendo. As a toy maker, the Japanese company wanted to appeal to a younger audience, making the design and color of its consoles more stand out. Sony and Sega, on the other hand, focused mainly on teenagers and people in their twenties and that focus is also reflected in their consoles during several generations. Sony’s and Sega’s consoles were often cool and slightly futuristic in design and used dark colors.