God pity those of you who are planning to upgrade the family video game console this Christmas. You've got some big decisions to make.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are battling like never before for your business and are taking different approaches to what console gaming should deliver.
The choice has been narrowed down, in the short term anyway, because Sony suffered a disaster when a shortage of the blue laser diodes that go into its PS3 machine meant it could only deliver limited numbers of consoles for Christmas. The result has been punch-ups in queues outside electronics stores in the US. We have to wait until March to get our hands on the PS3, which promises to be the ultimate gaming machine. But is it worth the wait?
Microsoft's Xbox 360 has been selling since March, and a large range of games, including some of the best titles to emerge yet, are already on the shelves. The Xbox 360 appeals to more than just gamers. Its hard drive will hold music and videos, you can connect it to a PC running Windows Media Center via a wireless connection, and the Xbox Live service will, from early next year, allow you to download TV shows and rental movies. Also from early next year, you'll be able to add an HD-DVD drive that will allow you to play high-definition movies on your HD TV set. That's a powerful combination of features.
The Massive pack, which includes a wireless controller and two games, is selling for $798.
Nintendo's Wii console goes on sale here on December 7 for $500. The Wii is next generation gaming, though it hasn't quite got the grunt of the Xbox 360 or PS3. Nevertheless, the console is cheaper and is intriguing for Nintendo's novel approach to gamer interaction. Much of this is to do with the Wii-mote, a controller you can use to control movement by pointing it at the TV screen. The Wii-mote has garnered rave reviews overseas, even if some enthusiastic users have smashed their TV screens by accidentally throwing the Wii-mote at them during energetic gaming sessions.
The Wii will have 20 games available at launch and plays games from the old GameCube machine. It's online ready, so you can download games and get more general content like news reports. The Wii is gaining good support from game developers, so you can be assured it will attract some of the big titles next year.
The PS3 will sell for $1200. If the price tag seems excessive compared to the other consoles, remember that the PS3 will come with a high definition Blu-ray drive that will play high-quality content. Sony is assuming that everyone will want one of these drives, unlike Microsoft, which is content to sell its HD drives as additional extras. The PS3 will have its own online gaming platform, built-in hard drive and multimedia functions. It will also have possibly the strongest support from game developers.
Still, at that price it's simply not worth the wait. My pick this Christmas is the Xbox 360, which appeals to a wide range of gamers, has many other features for the rest of the family and a good collection of games available. Close second is the Wii.