Video game consoles used to be a moderately priced form of entertainment, but the new generation of consoles has upped the cost of ownership to the point where you need to carefully consider your gaming investment. Today’s video game console delivers features once reserved for DVD players and home PCs, so it’s as much a multimedia hub as a system for playing the latest version of Madden NFL Football. Which video game console is right for you and your family? It all depends on how you’ll use it.
Choosing a video game console begins with knowing how you’ll use it, and the kinds of games you want to play. Some games are exclusive to a specific system.
If you can wait to buy the console and games, you’ll stretch your gaming dollar, as prices always drop over time. Sony and Microsoft have announced price drops, so this is a good time to buy.
You might need memory cards, additional controllers, or a hard drive to get the most out of your video game console. Load up on batteries to keep the wireless controllers running.
If you want to add a lot of downloaded content to a Microsoft or Sony video game console, choose a model with more memory.
There are additional costs for online gaming, and you’ll need a fast Internet connection to play. Figure out how much you’ll use these features, and research the options with each console before buying.
Video game consoles with this feature can play games made for earlier versions of the same console. For example, the Xbox 360 can play Xbox games, and the Nintendo Wii can play Nintendo GameCube games. Note that not all games are supported on backwards-compatible consoles.
A new format of DVD that stores more information and allows movies to be shown in high-definition format. Standard on the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console, it is one of two competing high-definition DVD formats.
A device with buttons and joysticks that allows you to interact with the game.
The hub of a video game console, this contains the processors, media players, and input/output ports that make everything work.
An internal or external device used to store game information and downloads. On Sony and Microsoft video game consoles, you can get a larger hard drive at an extra cost.
A removable storage device that holds game information, allowing it to be used with another video game console made by the same manufacturer.
Allows you to play games on your console against other players via a fast Internet connection.
Devices that connect to the video game console and enable or enhance the console’s functionality. Peripherals include controllers, memory cards, hard drives, and headsets.
A DVD player that converts a standard interlaced DVD signal into a progressively scanned signal for clearer display on HDTV sets. Standard on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game consoles.
Back in the 1980s, video game consoles were little more than a distraction and enemy of schoolwork for young people and teens. The low processing power of those “first generation” video game consoles meant that they couldn’t compete with more sophisticated computer games, which offered better graphics and more sophisticated gameplay.
The “Next Generation” of gaming began with the release of Sony’s PlayStation 2, Nintendo’s GameCube, and Microsoft’s Xbox in 2000. The “Third Generation” of video game consoles arrived in 2006 and includes Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii, and Sony’s Playstation 3. Graphical and gameplay improvements brought a growing number of adults to video game consoles, and game developers have responded with titles that appeal to older gamers.
There’s one truth about video game consoles, games, and peripherals: The prices always come down. If you can fight the urge to have the latest console or new game, you can stretch your video gaming dollar much farther. Note that this won’t help quiet the kids when a holiday or birthday passes and they don’t have the game that “everyone is playing.” Sony and Microsoft have already dropped the prices on their new video game consoles, making this an excellent time to buy.
Nintendo has taken a very different tactic with its new video game console, and it’s proven very popular with gamers of all ages, in particular casual adult gamers. Instead of simply upping the processing and graphics power, Nintendo reinvented the controller, resulting in radical new styles of gameplay.
The new controller, dubbed the “Wiimote,” is unique among video game consoles because it replaces the traditional array of buttons with internal mercury switches that respond to hand movements. So if you’re playing a bowling game, you’ll need to work on your form. If you’re playing a game where you throw a weapon, you’ll need a good throwing motion to hit the target. The Wii encourages you to get up and move around, and the novelty of the games has helped Nintendo capture a significant share of the market. If you’re new to gaming or you’re looking for something casual that you can pick up and play, the Wii is the perfect choice.
Players looking for a traditional video game console experience can choose between the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Both offer high-definition graphics, wireless controllers, online gaming, backwards compatibility with most older titles, and DVD players. Loyalists will debate the superiority of one system over the other, but in a practical sense, they’re the same, except for the games, and this is where you’ll have to choose.
Both the PS3 and the Xbox360 have exclusive titles that aren’t available on the other console. Sony’s strongest franchise is the Grand Turismo series, considered the best racing simulation game available on any video game console. Microsoft’s franchise is the Halo first-person-shooter series, which pits you as a high-tech soldier against hoards of aliens determined to conquer Earth.
Games from third-party developers, such as Activision, THQ, and EA Sports, almost always get released for all three video game consoles, sometimes with slightly different features or exclusive content for each console.
If you plan to use the video game console as a DVD player, you’ll need to choose the Xbox 360, which has a progressive-scan player compatible with current DVDs, or the PlayStation 3, which has a high-definition Blu-ray DVD player. Be aware that Blu-ray is one of two competing high-definition DVD formats, and there is a chance that it could become obsolete in the near future.
When you buy a video game console, you’ll get the core system, one controller, and the cables needed for a standard installation. Additional controllers, DVD remotes, games, memory cards must be purchased separately. If you do a little research, you may find a “bundled package” that includes the extra items at a discount of 10% to 15% off the combined retail price. Web sites and video game specialty stores are the best places to look for these deals. If you’re upgrading an existing video game console, say moving from an Xbox to an Xbox 360, you can trade in your current console for store credit on the new console.
The Nintendo Wii is the first video game console in many years to include a game with the basic system, so you’ve got everything you need to start playing right in the box. If you’re considering the Xbox 360, be aware that two versions of this video game console exist. The “core system” only includes the console itself. To get the most out of it, including the ability to play older Xbox titles, you’ll need the optional Xbox 360 hard drive. Sony’s PlayStation 3 requires memory cards and games. Expect to pay between $59.99 and $69.99 for games when they’re released.
Sony has joined Microsoft in adding a built-in hard drive to its PlayStation 3 video game console, and both companies offer different sizes of hard drive—for a few dollars more. Sony offers a PlayStation 3 with 60GB of memory for $50 more than the standard 20GB console. The Xbox 360 offers a “Pro” hard drive with 20GB of memory and an “Elite” hard drive with a substantial 120GB of memory. Do you need it? Many games offer additional downloadable content, and there are also games available for download directly to the video game console’s hard drive. If you’d like to have a lot of this content, the extra storage space is a must. If you’re just using the console to save games and not using online features, it’s not worth paying for the extra memory.
All three video game consoles offer online features, including news, game downloads, and multiplayer games that allow you to play your favorite titles against people all over the world. You’ll pay to download additional games and music, and you’ll pay a monthly or yearly fee for premium-level access to the most feature-rich online experience. At a minimum, you’ll need a fast Internet connection, such as cable, T1, or a very reliable DSL, to challenge your fellow gamers online. Talking to an educated salesperson at a video game store can help you make sense of the options available for each console and choose the package that’s best for you.
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