Video gaming has become one of the most lucrative industries in the modern world. It has expanded well beyond children and teenagers to encompass people of all ages. The selection is more varied than ever: no longer are only the hardcore players satisfied, but people of all backgrounds can enjoy virtual sports, titles based on movies and books, and games that transport you to whole different worlds and allow you to interact with other forms of life. Consoles can also be used to access the internet via web browsers,to stream music and movies, and to view photos from computers on a home network. They can become full home theater hubs and their variety of features and applications, as well as their relatively low prices, allow people all over the world to experience entertainment like never before. Together, the three newest consoles have sold well over 100 million units, and the two handheld systems have sold another 150 million. As a whole, these systems comprise the seventh generation of video gaming.
The console wars between Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are fought with aggressive branding, competitive price points, varying feature sets, and exclusive video game franchises. Nintendo exclusively developed and owns the rights to popular series such as Mario and ''The Legend of Zelda'' for its Wii and DS systems, while fans of ''Metal Gear Solid'' or baseball simulater ''MLB: The Show'' can only find new versions of these games on a PlayStation 3 (PS3) or PlayStation Portable (PSP). Microsoft, a relative newcomer to the market, has hits like ''Halo'' and ''Project Gotham Racing'', and you won't see games in these series being produced for any system but the Xbox 360.
Exclusive titles are a large part of what set the systems apart. Nintendo has been around the longest and owns the most classic franchises, while Sony is a close second after the successful runs of its first and second PlayStation iterations. Microsoft only entered the market with the first Xbox in November 2001 and hasn't had much time to build up a line of exclusives, but it does have ''Halo'', ''Alan Wake'', and ''Mass Effect'', as well as many multi-platform (non-exclusive) games that can be played on the Xbox.
* '''Placement Options''': The three consoles can be either laid on their sides or positioned to stand vertically. They can all stand on their own, but for extra stability the Wii comes with an accessory that elevates the system and allows the cooling vents to get more airflow.
* '''Compact Size''': The Wii is by far the smallest of the new consoles, at a svelte 8.5" x 6.2" x 1.7"--think of it as roughly the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of each other. The PS3 Slim is a scant 11.4" x 11.4" x 2.6", while the classic PS3 (no longer being produced) is slightly larger still, 12.8" x 10.8" x 3.9." The Xbox 360 Slim is 10.6" x 10.3" x 2.7", making it smaller than the PS3 Slim.
* '''Color Coordination''': The Wii comes in glossy white and jet black, and the PS3 Slim comes in a charcoal black, while old PS3s had a glossy finish available in black, white, and silver. The Xbox 360's 250 GB Slim and 4 GB Slim both come in one color, black. The Xbox 360 is customizable with faceplates, available in a wide number of colors and designs, which are sold separately.
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* '''Xbox 360''': Though older Xbox models were sold with wired controllers, wireless is now the standard (nonetheless, the former are still available at pretty reasonable prices). Wireless controllers operate at a 2.5 GHz frequency and last up to 25 hours on the rechargeable batteries. Both versions allow for headset connectivity and expansion for other accessories, like the Xbox 360 keyboard.
* '''PlayStation3''': The PS3's controller, the DualShock 3, resembles the PS2-style DualShock 2, but is enhanced with the PlayStation button in the center, and is wireless thanks to bluetooth technology. Up to seven controllers can be connected at once, and they are charged using a mini-USB connection on the top of the controller. If you don't mind playing with a wire, they can be plugged into the USB ports on the front of the console until the batteries are fully charged, then unplugged for wireless use.
* '''Nintendo Wii''': The Wii's controller, called the Wii Remote, is by far the most unusual. It is wireless and has two types of three-dimensional motion-sensing technology: an accelerometer, and an an infrared sensor that works with the Wii sensor bar (a tiny plastic rod that emits an invisible wavelength of light and can be placed either above or below the screen). The remote can work horizontally or vertically, depending on the game, and the button arrangement contains a D-pad, a trigger button on the back, and six buttons on the front, including the Wii Home button. It also features aural immersion, with a speaker built right into the controller. If you're playing a shooting game, for instance, you'll hear the gun sounds coming from your hand so you'll feel like you're really holding a weapon.
Speed and Power
The Wii manages to surpass the original Xbox in graphical power, but unfortunately does not permit high definition viewing; it supports only standard definition 480i and 480p (progressive scan). Games will still look good, but rather than focusing on graphical power, Nintendo opted for a more affordable system with more inventive gameplay. In contrast, the Xbox 360's games are designed to run in 720p high definition, and the system can run non-gaming content all the way up to full HD 1080p using its tri-core processor. The PS3, however, is by far the most powerful system, with its seven-core supercomputing processor. Games for the PS3 already look better than their Xbox 360 counterparts even though the Xbox 360 was released a year earlier (this gave developers more time to get to know its hardware). The PS3's images are stunningly photorealistic already, and programmers claim that they are just scratching the surface of what the PS3 will eventually be able to do.
The Wii and PS3 have generally short load times. This is because Wii games have relatively small file sizes and run off of optical discs that have enough speed to prevent long load screens. The PS3's optical drive and Blu-Ray discs have a blazing fast transfer rate, considering the huge amount of data packed into a PS3 game. Sadly, the slow load times on the Xbox 360 are one of the major knocks on the system. Microsoft has recently provided a partial solution to this problem by allowing games to be installed, meaning that they can load from the system's internal storage rather than from the slow disc drive. This does not apply to every game, however, and installing the games is a double-edged sword: while it speeds up load times, it also uses more of the system's limited space, which might force you to go out and buy a bigger 360 hard drive.
* The Wii uses proprietary Optical Discs and has an SD flash card slot; it does not support CDs or DVDs.
* The 360 supports both discs in a range of formats, including WMA and MP3. It has also been updated to support flash drives. You can also transfer hard-drive information from one Xbox to another with a transfer kit.
* The PS3 is unique in that it not only supports CDs and DVDs, but it uses Blu-Ray discs for HD movies and as its main game media, which allows for large amounts of data to be quickly transferred. As far as memory goes, the PS3 supports SD cards, both type one and two CompactFlash, and memory sticks. There is also an MMC slot and a swappable hard drive.
Backward compatibility is the ability of a system to play games from previous-generation systems. The Xbox 360 is partially backward compatible, while the PS3 and Wii have full capabilities.
The Wii boasts a full range of backward compatibility for games, cables, controllers, and memory cards. The Wii's slot-loading drive accepts both Wii optical discs as well as Nintendo Gamecube game discs, and the Wii can play all Gamecube games by using the Classic Controller or by plugging a Gamecube controller into one of the four ports located underneath the top system flap. Gamecube saved games can be stored either on the Wii's internal memory or on a Gamecube memory card, which will work with one of the system's two card slots, located next to the controller ports under the system cover. The Wii also features the Virtutal Console online downloadable service in the Wii Shop, which will allow you to download games from a whopping nine systems: the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64, the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis, NEC TurboGrafx-16 and TurboGrafx-CD, SNK NeoGeo, and Commodore 64. These games can be played either using the Wii Remote turned on its side (ever notice that on its side the Remote looks kind of like the old NES controller?) or using one of the system's other controller options.
The PlayStation 3 can play nearly all discs for the original PlayStation and PS2 via the same slot-loading drive that it uses for its own Blu-Ray games and movies. If you don't own the disc for a game that you'd like to play for one of those old systems, don't worry: Sony supports a variety of these in the PlayStation Network Store.
The Xbox 360 is backward compatible with some, but not all, games for the original Xbox. Additionally, a hard drive is required to use backwards compatibility, so any Xbox 360 model without a hard drive will be unable to use this feature. Microsoft does not offer downloadable Xbox games the way that Nintendo and Sony do.
Game Console vs. PC Gaming
What's nice about owning a console instead of simply playing PC games is that the new systems can be fully integrated into your home entertainment system. Not only are they more aesthetically sleek than previous versions, but they come complete with features like media streaming and movie playback. They can also be hooked into High Definition TVs and surround sound systems to enhance your overall multimedia experience. Games are also easier to set up since all you have to do is plug in the console, pop in the disc, and get to playing. There is also no need to worry with consoles, as there is with PC games, about whether your graphics card or other specs are going to have the necessary power to run the game correctly, as all consoles are manufactured with the same hardware to run the same things.
For local multiplayer gaming, a console hooked up to a TV is far better than cramming many people in front of a tiny computer screen, and many games produced for the consoles are exclusive to their system and are no longer produced for the PC. Furthermore, though controllers are available for computers, console versions usually offer a different--and superior--experience to PC game controllers or a keyboard and mouse.