19 January 2011

What You Need To Know When Buying A Game Console

Holiday time equals game time. And if you or your loved ones haven’t made the leap to a current-generation game console yet, now’s a great time to do it.
Game consoles traditionally have a five-to-10-year shelf life, and we’re right in the middle of that span now. That means the current generation of game boxes from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have all been out awhile, and you shouldn’t expect major upgrades any time soon.
Instead of rolling out brand-new hardware, each company has incrementally tweaked and improved its existing systems in 2010. Here’s a breakdown of today’s landscape.

Playstation 3

Sony’s console is the most powerful of the lot, making for fast performance and fantastic-looking games. The integrated Blu-ray drive also makes it a perfect fit for the living room.
What’s new: Motion-based control via Playstation Move (see below).
Exclusive titles: Gran Turismo 5, Heavy Rain, God of War III.
Hidden perk: 3-D gaming and 3-D Blu-ray support, thanks to a recent firmware upgrade.
Price: $300 (120-GB model), $350 (320-GB model).

Xbox 360

As a hardcore gamer’s console, the 360 delivers solid visuals and a fantastic back catalog of games. A recent chassis refresh lends it quieter operation, and its online matchmaking and community are highly polished and well-developed.
What’s new: Full-body control and speech recognition via Kinect (see below).
Exclusive titles: Halo: Reach, Fable III, Crackdown 2.
Hidden perk: Has a full-fledged movie-rental-and-purchase service baked into Xbox Live.
Price: $200 (4-GB model), $300 (250-GB model), $400 (250-GB model with Kinect).

Nintendo Wii

This tiny console dominates the market with its focus on casual gaming, motion controls and cherished Nintendo properties. Though somewhat underpowered, it has modest video chops and bare-bones online-gaming capabilities.
What’s new: Disc-less Netflix.
Exclusive titles: Metroid: Other M, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Red Steel 2.
Hidden perk: Lets you purchase and download vintage Nintendo games.
Price: $200.

Multimedia Features

The ins and outs of gaming are pretty self-explanatory (Shoot > Kill > Gloat > Repeat). Let’s take a look at some less-obvious multimedia experiences crammed into today’s systems.
Dashboard services: The days of booting up and going straight to fragging are gone. Modern systems feature dashboards, which serve as central hubs for additional services and features. All sorts of things are accessible and displayable: from news, weather (Nintendo Wii), Facebook and Twitter (Xbox 360) to sports scores (Playstation 3).
Music: Rockin’ a boomin’ sound system? Then turnin’ your console into a streamin’ jukebox is a no-brainer.  Though the feature isn’t baked into the Wii, there are plenty of third-party software options out there. As a DLNA-ready device, the PS3 is also designed to shoot your music onto the big screen and sound system from the get-go. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 offers the most vertical integration when it comes to music. Music purchases from Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace app also scale for use on PCs, Zunes and even Windows Phone 7–enabled smartphones.
Media streaming: Using game consoles to play a cache of computer-stored video files has never been easier. The Xbox 360 works surprisingly well with Windows’ Media Center, letting you shoot your PC or Mac-stored content to the big screen. The PS3 is similarly capable and equally powerful, allowing you to stream network-accessible video files with minimal setup and requiring easily accessible software. Nintendo’s Wii can also manage this task with third-party software, though the video quality is significantly less polished compared to its much more powerful competitors.

Motion Gaming

Thanks to the success of the Wii’s innovative motion-based control scheme, every console is getting some gesture love this holiday season. Although the concept is largely the same across all systems (flailing around wildly = moving an on-screen avatar)  the underlying tech and game libraries are drastically different. On top of this, the PS3 and Xbox 360 require additional peripherals to unlock these capabilities. Here’s the skinny on the differences and the equipment needed.

PlayStation Move

Sony’s answer to the Wii utilizes a wireless wand-style controller packed with inertial sensors and accelerometers. Paired with the PlayStation Eye (a tiny webcam peripheral), the Move can track the controller in three dimensions.
Equipment needed: PS3 + PlayStation Eye + Wand Controller.
Price: $100.
Must-have motion title: Sports Champions.

Xbox 360 Kinect

Microsoft ditched the controller entirely, instead relying on a high-tech, webcam-like sensor array. On top of sensing players’ motions (and the characteristics of the room itself), Kinect also sports speech recognition.
Equipment needed: Xbox 360 + Kinect Sensor.
Price: $150.
Must-have motion title: Dance Central.

Nintendo Wii Motion Plus

How do you remind people you were first with motion-controlling? You improve on the platform you already have by giving it a boost in sensitivity and accuracy. You don’t need it for basic Wii games, of course, which use the stock Wiimote. But the Wii MotionPlus fits over the existing Wiimote and gives added sensitivity and accuracy to your movements. Best part? Earlier this year Nintendo announced it would be offering MotionPlus controllers with new consoles — gratis.
Equipment needed: Wii + MotionPlus Controller.
Price: $20.
Must-have motion title: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, GoldenEye 007.

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