Picking a Next-Gen Gaming System

In a turn of events roughly about as surprising as Britney Spears’ and Kevin Federline’s recent divorce, there’s one question I’m inevitably asked more than any other this holiday season: “Which of the next-generation videogame systems – PlayStation 3, Wii or Xbox 360 – do you recommend?”

The answer, unfortunately, isn’t so simple, given each machine’s varying feature set, computing/graphical capabilities and a selection of games that, due to port-happy software publishers, presently varies little between platforms for the most part. Therefore I’ve taken the time to sit down and compile a little shopping advice for the benefit of intrigued buyers, who should read between the lines when it comes to marketing hype and largely incomprehensible tech specs. (Seriously… like most of us truly know what in Hades a teraflop actually is.)

The following brief rundown of each system’s pros and cons should serve as a handy reference guide for anyone looking to treat themselves, or that special someone, to the joys of bleeding-edge interactive entertainment. I’ve even gone to the trouble of identifying a few personality types that’ll find any given individual unit a jarring disappointment, or immediate fit. So the next time you spot me lounging around an office party or New Year’s gathering, babbling incoherently and smelling of eggnog, you can skip the formalities and get right to more important questions.

For example, December’s second-most popular query: “Now that I’ve got one of these gizmos, what titles should I be copping for it?” Tied, of course, with: “Where’s your wife, and is she aware that you’re keeping yourself busy by breakdancing on a stranger’s rug with a lampshade on your head and your pants pulled halfway down?”

Nintendo Wii

Nintendo WII

The motion-sensing unit’s best suited towards gaming neophytes, wide-eyed kids, jaded vets and anyone sick of the interactive entertainment industry’s current sequel-driven mentality. Sure, home theater buffs and hardcore geeks won’t dig its charms – visuals max out at 480p, and the unit’s only got roughly twice as much brawn as the GameCube. But, offering news ways to play (say, by subtly wielding the remote as a scalpel or making chopping gestures to throw virtual footballs) and fresh fare from popular franchises like Mario, Metroid and Zelda, it’s an enjoyable, cost-friendly ($250 USD) alternative to traditional set-top consoles.

Pros:

• Inventive controls
• Home to signature franchises
• Champions original content
• Cost-affordable
• Great for kids

Cons:

• Underpowered hardware-wise
• No DVD playback
• Lacks next-generation disc format
• Missing HDTV support

Sony Playstation 3

Sony Playstation 3

Does the system live up to the hype? That depends: Are you shopping for two years down the road, and planning on making the most of online downloads (music, movies, exclusive indie games), broadband multiplayer support and digital media hub features? If so, feel free to add it to your living room setup: The 1080p visuals will wow, as will the sleek look, free WiFi networking and support for playing CDs, DVDs, PSOne/PS2 games, photos, music and videos. If not, take a pass temporarily: The system’s not worth paying a premium for, the initial software lineup’s sketchy and it’ll be a year or two yet before game designers really start taking advantage of the gizmo’s power. Diehard joystick junkies – the machine’s true target market – could theoretically cop an Xbox 360 for cheaper, and enjoy a similar selection of just-as-good product in the immediate. In other words, you’re either future-proofing yourself by buying in now, or keen on showing friends how much you can blow on a strictly luxury item. The 60GB Playstation 3 has a retail price of $599.99 USD.

Pros:

• 1080p visuals
• Blu-ray drive
• Backwards-compatibility
• Free online networking
• Functions as multimedia hub

Cons:

• Expensive
• Hard to come by
• Weak launch lineup
• Technical glitches
• No present-day killer-apps

Xbox 360

Microsoft Xbox 360

Having been out for a year now, there’s not only a much broader choice of content (games, expansion packs, desktop skins, TV shows, hardware add-ons) for Microsoft’s mean machine. It’s also recently received a 1080p graphical upgrade and an HD-DVD add-on (for playing movies only) in answer to PlayStation 3’s visual prowess and next-generation Blu-ray drive – not to mention retails for over $100 USD cheaper than Sony’s protégé. Better still: Developers have had time to fiddle with the unit and master more of its intricacies, resulting in impressive second-generation titles like sci-fi shooter epic Gears of War. Few are the titles that won’t be ported just as effectively in the coming months to this platform – fewer still the sort that’d justify passing on it in lieu of buying another system. That’s not to say things won’t change down the road, however, meaning that while sheer versatility (Xbox Live’s still the online networking standard) and software selection make it suitable choice for the hardcore set at the moment, who knows how well the machine will keep up in 2008. The Xbox 360 Pro system has a retail price of $399.99 USD while the Core system can be had for $299.99 USD.

Pros:

• Widest software selection
• Broadband functionality
• Large user community
• Optional HD-DVD support
• Designers have had time to work out kinks

Cons:

• Big, noisy, prone to overheating
• Online play costs extra
• Still light on mega-hits
• Rumored sequel already supposedly in the works

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