Three consoles, a plethora of information, a minefield of choice. So which one is right for you? We look at what the three next-generation consoles are hoping to offer.
Judging by the sketchy details so far released by Nintendo about the Revolution, the console looks set to be aimed at those who still want to play the games of yesteryear.
The drive slot will offer yet another format, so it can support DVD playback, but Nintendo is keen to point out that you still be able to play your old GameCube games on the device via the included GameCube disc tray.
Nintendo has also announced that the console will come with downloadable access to 20 years of fan-favourite titles originally released for Nintendo 64, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Something we doubt will be appealing to those that want the latest cutting-edge graphics from their latest cutting-edge next-generation console, but certainly a smarter idea than taking ten games out of hundreds and having you plug those alone into your television.
Those looking for cutting-edge graphics in their games are likely to turn to the PlayStation 3 with its Cell processor. On the spec sheet the console outperforms both the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Revolution and the screenshots we've seen should give gamers a movie like experience in-game. Aside from the graphics and the processor, the PS3 has little going for it over the other two though. Then again, do hardcore gamers really need much more?
The most interesting of the three is the Media Centre-focused Xbox 360. From the emphasis Microsoft is putting on the machine from the MTV show launch to the Press Conference at E3, it's clear it sees the console as much more than a games machine.
Microsoft is looking to turn this unit into the Media Centre that never was. The decision to make this a Media Centre in its own right and a Media Centre Extender only emphasises this fact even more. What better way to get a Media Centre in every living room across the land than by the stealth tactic of a games machine.
The Xbox 360 will also allow you to plug in a digital camera so you can view images on your television as well as an MP3 player so you can listen to your music on your stereo. Microsoft has even gone as far as suggesting the console will support playback of files from Sony's PSP (though we're sure that would be a chargeable extra if the two companies bury the hatchet and agree a royalty deal). By the end of it, you've got a machine that is, by stealth, introducing everyone to the concept of a one-stop shop without actually telling them to buy a one-stop shop in the first place.
We think the other stroke of genius for Microsoft is the creation of the Xbox MarketPlace. Without trying, the company will have an outlet in every home that owns an Xbox 360 not only ready and willing to buy Xbox content, but also images and we think later on music and video. The built-in hard drive, like the PlayStation 3 isn't just here for game saves.
So which one is for you? If you're a diehard Zelda or Mario fan the option is clear and easy as these characters won't be appearing anywhere else. But with the longest wait we doubt that the Revolution, no matter how small, will ever get the following that Nintendo is hoping for. The GameCube compared to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 has performed poorly, only boosted in the end by a complete slashing in price. You only have to walk into any GAME or Dixons on the high street to see how retail view the console. If that wasn't enough to dig it an early grave by the time the Revolution hits the shops - currently slated for mid 2006 - Microsoft will be heading into its second Christmas and Sony quickly sewing up the rest of the market.
As for the Xbox 360, this is going to be the first to market and might be welcomed with a warm response similar to the Dreamcast five years earlier as people wait to see what the PlayStation 3 will do in the flesh. If this scenario does occur, then unlike Sega, Microsoft's other revenue streams will keep it going until sales pick up. Those looking to justify more than just a games console under the television should probably go for the 360 as on paper it seems to be the all-rounder. The games might not be as impressive on first glance as the PlayStation 3, but the overall offering certainly looks to be.
As for the PlayStation 3, this console will be for those who want a games console and not much more. Okay so it will give you a Blue-ray player in your living room so you can benefit from High-Def quality movies, but the emphasis from Sony seems firmly on the games and rightly so - which was Nintendo's approach with the GameCube.
We also haven't discussed the three consoles' attractiveness to potential refugees from the PC, who are fed up with the technical arms race and want a platform which doesn't need new parts every 18 months and a networking degree. The real question is whether the PC's move to 64-Bit parts (including dual processor chips) and new connecting interfaces for add-on cards and hard disks, will be all over by the time all three consoles are on sale. If not, there's the potential for more customers there as old machines die off.
Overall, 2006 is going to be an interesting year for gamers. This certainly isn't the end of the discussion, but one thing is for sure. It has brought the games market even more into the mainstream than ever before.
Sony Launch PlayStation 3
Microsoft Launch Xbox 360
Nintendo Launch Nintendo Revolution
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