Whether novice players or experienced gamers, consumers have a wide variety of choices in game consoles.
Types of Game Consoles
Nintendo's DS line and Sony's PlayStation portable systems are the two main players in the portable game market. The Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 dominate the home game console arena.
On home video game consoles, Playstation3 and the Xbox 360 have graphics far superior to those of the Nintendo's Wii, with both offering high-definition gaming possibilities. Both the Xbox and the PS3 are capable of 1080p graphics -- if the player has the right TV and proper cords. Xbox does not provide HD out of the box, requiring users to buy the right cable. Nintendo Wii maxes out at 480p graphics quality. Images are much crisper with 1080p graphics, but customers will need televisions capable of handling the same level quality: For example, to view 1080p game graphics, a 1080p TV is necessary.
For portable game systems, Sony's graphics are superior to the quality Nintendo offers in its units. However, many owners and reviewers note the PSP-3000 develops faint vertical lines in high-motion gaming sequences, which can be distracting. Nintendo's 3DS offers 3-D graphics without the need for 3-D glasses, a first in portable gaming.
Interactivity and Motion Sensors
The Wii offers interactive motion-sensor controllers out of the box. Wii users can swing the controller like a club in golf games, or like a tennis racket in tennis games. Xbox 360 requires the purchase of the Kinect ($150) for similar capabilities, and PS3 requires both the Eye camera ($40) to detect movements and the Move controller ($50 each) for playability. If interactivity is a draw, the best deal is clearly the Wii, which has both the largest selection of interactive games and the lowest cost overall.
Most current portable gaming systems fit in an average-size pocket or purse. The DSi XL is relatively large, as is the PSP-3000, so these game systems are not ideal for slipping into most pants pockets.
Both the Xbox and PS3 have several games geared toward mature players, including first-person shooters and intense sporting games; the Wii is aimed more at a larger mainstream audience. There are many more games rated E for Everyone available on the Wii than are available with either Xbox or PS3. On average, PS3 and Xbox games are $10 more per copy than Wii games.
With several models of DS available, Nintendo's library of games has had years to develop and includes a variety of options. The only thing noticeably missing for the DS library is a variety of mature-rated games. Nintendo's games are aimed at a younger audience and include more E-rated games than PlayStation. Customers can find popular characters such as Donkey Kong and Super Mario on Nintendo systems.
The PSP-3000 has access to a relatively large array of UMD-based games, none of which are compatible with more recent models. All PlayStation models have access to the PlayStation Network's vast gaming library. PlayStation's gaming library is aimed more at experienced gamers and features more teen- and mature-rated games. PlayStation titles include sports games such as the Madden or FIFA series or combat games like Tekken.
All three home systems have the ability to stream through Netflix; among the portable systems, the PS Vita and the Nintendo 3DS can stream Netflix. Other video streaming services are also available on select systems. For example, the PS3 can stream Hulu Plus as well.
Nearly all current game systems allow downloadable content of some kind -- either games, movies, TV episodes or apps. Nintendo and Sony provide free access through their home and portable devices; Microsoft charges for use of Xbox Live; the online subscription service starts annual fees at $60. And some features on games are not accessible unless the gamer has an Xbox Live subscription.
A key selling point on the PS3 is its ability to play Blu-ray DVDs, which neither the Wii nor the Xbox can claim. The Xbox is capable of playing traditional DVDs and CDs (as is the PS3), but the Wii only plays game discs or CDs, not DVDs.
The PSP-3000 can play all UMD-based titles available, but PlayStation models released after the PSP-3000 are not compatible with UMDs. Original PlayStation 3 models were backward compatible with PlayStation 2 games, but that feature was discontinued. Some original Xbox games can be played on the Xbox 360, but the selection is limited. Nintendo's 3DS can play all 3DS and traditional DS games. The DS Lite has a slot to play Gameboy Advance games, but it was discontinued with the release of the DSi. This means DS games, like Guitar Hero, which capitalized on the additional slot by configuring accessories to work through it, are not compatible with later versions.
The Wii is by far the least-expensive of the three home game systems, which may be one of the reasons it's the most widely sold as well. The entire system starts at $150 and includes controllers for motion sensor gaming and a top-rated game, Mario Kart Wii, and a racing wheel controller. In addition, games for the Wii are, on average, at least $10 less than games for both PS3 and Xbox 360. The base Xbox systems start at $200, but that doesn't include Kinect ($150), which offers hands-free gaming. The low-end PS3 starts at $300.
Costing less than $100, Nintendo's DS Lite is the least-expensive portable game system available. It is also the only system currently available without online access. The PSP-3000 is an affordable $130, but don't expect the gaming library to continue indefinitely with UMDs being phased out by Sony. PS Vita starts at $250 for the Wi-Fi only model, and with the new game system comes a new format of game discs. Games and accessories on Nintendo DS systems typically cost $20-$30, about the same for PSP-3000 UMD games. PS Vita game discs can cost as much as $40-$50. Both PlayStation and Nintendo systems have downloadable content including games and apps starting at $5-$10.