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Buyer's Guide:  Best Video Game Systems:

Playstation 3, XBox 360, or Nintendo Wii?

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Video Game Console Buyer’s Guide

Best Video Game Systems to BuyBuying a new video game console can result in hours of entertainment for you and your family--or it could result in disappointment due to a lack of knowledge. A variety of choices await anyone in the market for a game console, and it can be overwhelming. The information you need can be hard to find, and misinformation abounds. Where do you even begin?

You’re in luck! Whether you're buying a console for yourself, your children, or a friend, all the up-to-date and unbiased information you need can be found in this handy Video Game Console Buyer's Guide.

To start with, some questions you should ask yourself and keep in mind while reading:

- What kind of games are you interested in? First-person shooters like Halo, music games like Guitar Hero, action games like God of War, RPGs like Final Fantasy, puzzle games like Puzzle Quest, etc.?
- Do you own an HDTV or are you planning on purchasing one?
- What kind of budget are you working with?
- Are you interested more in playing games with others, or in single-player experiences?
- Do you own any older game systems?

Now, let's take a look at each of the major game consoles currently available.

Sony PlayStation 3

PlayStation 3 (PS3)For some time, the PlayStation 3 was the most expensive console available. Luckily, prices have dropped since then. Now, at $400 USD (depending on which model you buy), its pricing is more in line with the competition.

Of course, that’s still a lot of money for most people to spend on a game console. What are you going to get for all that? Let’s take a look.

The PS3 isn't just a game console. It's a full Blu-Ray, CD, and DVD player, complete with the ability to upscale DVDs into HD. Blu-Ray is currently the leading high-definition movie format, so if you have an HDTV and no HD movie player, the PS3 could be a good way to get your movie and gaming needs met in one place. Of course, Blu-ray movies won’t offer any increase in quality unless watched on an HDTV. So if you're still watching a standard definition set, you're not going to get much out of that particular feature.

Other features include a complete web browser and the ability to stream music, movies, and pictures from your PC over your home network. It can connect to the Internet both wired and wirelessly (unless you buy the 20GB model--more on that in a minute), so there's no need to have wires strung across your living room. For the more tech-savvy, you can install any size hard drive, and even install the Linux operating system.

Online features include online multiplayer (which is free); downloading demos, movie trailers, and games; and the ability to participate in Stanford University's Folding@Home project. Folding@Home connects to both PCs and PS3s around the world in one large global network, and utilizes their unused processing power to do research on protein folding. By starting the Folding@Home program when their PS3s aren't being used, owners have the ability to do their own small part towards helping find cures for numerous diseases, including cancer.

All PlayStation 3 models can hook up to your TV through HDMI, component, or composite. Only composite cables are included in the box, so those of you wanting HD output are going to have to spend a little extra to get the appropriate cables.

The controller, while identical to the PS2 controller in most aspects, has what is referred to as Sixaxis motion sensing technology. The controller can sense when tilted in six different directions. How well this is incorporated varies from game to game. It can add a lot to the experience when done well, or be nothing more than a nuisance if done poorly. It's also worth noting that the vibration feature is missing from the Sixaxis controller. A new DualShock 3 controller with vibration has been released, but won't be included with new PS3s until June 12th, 2008.

The games available for the PlayStation 3 (paid link) are, in many cases, the same as those available for the Xbox 360. Some of the high-ranking exclusives available or upcoming include:

Final Fantasy XIII - The latest game in Squaresoft's popular RPG series.
Resistance: Fall of Man - A critically lauded next-gen first-person shooter.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - The newest game in the popular series of platformers.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune – An action-adventure game, praised for its storyline and cinematic presentation.
LittleBigPlanet - A unique platforming and world creation game.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - The upcoming new stealth action game in the Metal Gear Solid series.

Four different models of PS3 are available, differentiated between by hard drive size. Let's take a look at the differences.

40 GB
This is the model you're most likely to find currently available on store shelves. It's also the cheapest, but a lot of features have been cut. There are no flash card readers, no SACD support, and probably the most important to the average Joe--absolutely no backwards compatibility for PS2 games. There are also only two USB ports, as opposed to four on the other models.

80 GB
You'll pay more for this model-- $200 more. However, you do get a lot for that $200. It comes with the game Motorstorm, which is a good $60 value if bought alone. It also has all the features missing from the 40 GB model. Flash card readers, SACD support, and four USB ports? Check. Backwards compatibility? Check, but it's done via software rather than hardware. What does that mean for you? Some of your games may not work. They're constantly updating it to include compatibility for more games, however, and a database of games with known issues can be found on Sony's website.

60 GB
This model isn't being produced anymore, but can still be found online via websites like eBay, for $500-$600. If you're big on being able to play older games, this is the best bet for you. Backwards compatibility is achieved via hardware rather than software, so all PS2 games are guaranteed to run. In all other ways, it is identical to the 80 GB model.

20 GB
This model is also no longer produced, but can be found online for $400-$500. Like the 40 GB model, it was stripped of features in order to lower the price. In this case, it lacks Flash card readers and the ability to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Its one plus is that like the 60 GB model, its backwards compatibility is achieved via hardware.
Microsoft Xbox 360

XBox 360Now onto the PS3's most direct competitor, Microsoft's XBox 360 (paid link). There's no denying it has many advantages over the PS3, including price--but it also has many disadvantages.

Let's start by looking at its features. Like the PS3, it will play both DVDs and CDs. High-definition movies can be downloaded from the Xbox Live Marketplace, as well as demos and full-featured games.

Online multiplayer requires a Gold Xbox Live account, which will run you about $50 a year. Gold members also gain access to new downloads before the non-paying members, known as Silver accounts.

Silver members do get access to Achievements, one of Xbox Live’s most popular features. Achievements are goals that can be unlocked while gaming. Each Achievement is worth a certain amount of points, depending on its difficulty, and all Xbox Live members will have their Achievements and overall score tracked and publicly displayed. Many gamers find it endlessly addictive to hunt down every Achievement and gain as high a score as possible.

The console can connect to the Internet both wired and wirelessly, although to connect wirelessly you'll have to spend a little extra and buy a wireless adapter. It lacks a Web browser, but does feature direct integration with Windows Live Messenger. Like the PS3, you can stream music, videos, and pictures from your PC over a home network.

Backwards compatibility is included, but achieved via software. Only certain older Xbox titles are guaranteed to work, but the list is constantly being updated to include more games. Certain Xbox games are also available to download over Xbox Live, referred to as Xbox Originals.

There is one thing that's important to note about the Xbox 360, and it's something you may already have heard of: the dreaded Red Ring of Death. Every model of Xbox 360 suffers from an above average failure rate. Thousands of gamers have tried to turn on their 360, only to have it flash three red lights, indicating a hardware failure. Precautions have been taken in the newer models to lessen the problem, but even so, it remains an issue. Other common complaints include a noisy fan and a tendency to scratch discs if the console is moved with a disc in the drive.

Know before you buy an Xbox 360, there’s a good chance you'll one day run into hardware failure issues. The good news is, Microsoft's tech support is excellent about dealing with it, and you have a three-year warranty. Note that the three-year warranty only applies to hardware failure--for all other problems, the warranty only extends to one year.

Assuming you're willing to deal with potential problems, a plethora of excellent XBox 360 games (paid link) awaits you. Many titles overlap with the PS3, but included among the high-ranking exclusives are:

Halo 3 - The third game in Microsoft's popular first-person shooter series.
Blue Dragon – An old-school RPG by the creators of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy.
Lost Odyssey - Another RPG by the makers of Final Fantasy, praised for its storyline.
Gears of War - A highly praised third-person shooter.
Dead Rising - A fun action/adventure game, featuring a mall full of zombies and unique weapons.
Mass Effect - A highly praised action RPG by BioWare.

Now let's look at the various models available.

Retailing at $350, this is probably the model most gamers will be interested in. It features a 20 GB hard drive, and comes with an Ethernet cable, a headset, an HDMI port, a free one-month trial of Xbox Live Gold, and the game Hexic HD. Both component and composite cables are included, as well as an HDMI port (but no cable). A bigger hard drive can be purchased later on if needed, but a Microsoft brand hard drive is required, and many consider it overpriced.

At $450, this is the top of the line model. Unlike the others, it features a black finish rather than white, and comes with 120 GB of hard drive space. HDMI, component, and composite cables are included in the box. In all other aspects, it is the same as the Premium. This is the best bet for anyone who's going to be doing a lot of downloading from the Xbox Live Marketplace, as they'll need the hard drive space the most.

At $280, this model is the cheapest available. The biggest difference is the lack of a hard drive (although one can be purchased later, for a hefty price). Instead, a 256 MB memory card is included. It also lacks an Ethernet cable and headset, and only comes with composite cables. It does include an Xbox Live Arcade compilation disc of several games--which is a good thing, since restricting yourself to memory cards severely limits your ability to download anything. The only thing to recommend this model is the price.
Nintendo Wii

And now onto the most popular of the new game consoles, Nintendo's Wii (paid link). Pricing can vary. It retails for $250, making it the cheapest current-gen console available. However, finding one in a retail store is easier said than done. And due to the high demand, they tend to sell for massively inflated prices online. So unless you're ready to pay more than necessary or dedicate yourself to the hunt, don't get your heart too set on a Wii.

The most noticeable thing about the Wii is its revolutionary new motion-sensing controller. Shaped like a small TV remote, the controller--referred to by many as a "Wiimote"--has full motion sensing technology, as well as traditional buttons, vibration, and an internal speaker. The included game, Wii Sports, showcases the motion sensing particularly well, featuring the ability to do things such as play baseball by holding and swinging the Wiimote like a bat. At its best, this can make games far more intuitive and immersive; at its worst, it can come across as gimmicky and frustrating.

The Wii isn't the technical powerhouse of the Xbox 360 or the PS3. The graphics, while looking quite nice in games such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, don't live up to its competitors. There's no HD support, and it lacks the ability to play CDs or DVDs. The Wii is focused on gaming and gameplay, which is one of the reasons for its low price. Unfortunately, this does result in some popular games, such as Rock Band, having features cut from the Wii version that are present in other versions.

Full backwards compatibility for the Gamecube is included. Another interesting feature is the Virtual Console, which allows you to download a selection of older games from any of Nintendo's pre-Gamecube consoles, the Sega Genesis and Master System, the TurboGrafx-16, and the Neo Geo. Support for other old consoles is often being added. Original games are also available for download, called WiiWare.

The console connects to the Internet wirelessly out of the box, and will require an adapter to connect wired. The Opera Internet browser is available to download, allowing you to browse the Web from your Wii. Online multiplayer is included in many games and is free of charge, although annoying 16-digit friend codes are required to connect to other players, instead of user-chosen names such as on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.

No hard drive is included, but there is 512 MB of internal flash memory available, which is likely to be more than enough for most users. For the exceptions, SD cards can be used. For those wanting to play GameCube games, there are slots for both GameCube controllers and GameCube memory cards, both of which will be required. It comes only with composite cables, although component cables are available separately.

To an extent, you know what type of Wii games (paid link) you're going to find on a Nintendo console--Mario, Zelda, and Metroid are old stand-bys. Other popular exclusives include:

Super Smash Bros. Brawl - An extremely popular fighting game featuring characters from many different video games.
No More Heroes - A unique (and spectacularly bloody) action game.
Cooking Mama: Cook-Off – Cook many types of recipes with Mama.
Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree - Test the size of your brain and see how smart you really are.
Trauma Center: Second Opinion - A medical simulation game.
In Conclusion

Now, let’s take a look back at those questions you asked yourself in the beginning.

What type of games you're interested in is possibly the most important aspect to consider. A console's features may be incredible, but what does it matter if you have no games to play? In general, those who enjoy traditional "hardcore" games such as action games, shooters, and roleplaying games will be better off with an Xbox 360 or a PS3. The Wii, while it does have its share of hardcore games, is on the whole more populated by mini-game collections and fun casual games.

If you own an HDTV, a PS3 might be worth it both for its HD gaming and its Blu-Ray capabilities. An Xbox 360 will also give you HD gaming, but a Wii will not.

If you're on a tight budget, the Wii is the cheapest option available. The Xbox 360 Arcade is also viable, but not really worth it. Chances are good you'll end up wanting to buy a hard drive, headset, and an Ethernet cable sooner or later, so you can actually save yourself money by going ahead and buying the Premium.

If you enjoy playing games with others, the Wii is an excellent bet. Many of its games offer multiplayer, and with its intuitive control system, it's easy to get even non-gamers involved. The Xbox 360 and PS3 have their share of multiplayer games as well, and offer a great online multiplayer experience. The PS3 and the Wii offer online multiplayer for free, but the Xbox 360 has a smoother system and more players.

And last but not least, if you already have a game console from last generation, upgrading to the same company's console could allow you to keep playing your older games without having to switch systems.

As you can see, there's a lot to consider. Each console has its pros and cons, and none is better than the others. The important thing is to figure out what you value the most, and decide which console suits you based on that. You may even end up deciding to buy more than one console, to best enjoy what different systems have to offer!

Whatever your choice, you're bound to have a good time. Best of luck, and enjoy your new console.

By Abagail Bloodworth


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