Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 12 months, you'll probably already know all about the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, if not we've compiled a brief guide to get you started.
Every single time a new console gets released, the industry gets caught up in the “Next Generation” buzz-phrase. What does it actually mean? Generally it just referrers to a new line of products that do something cool that the older consoles couldn't do. It's worth bearing in mind that what Wii does that's cool and what PS3/360 do that's cool, is different this time around.
Microsoft's second dip into the console market, the Xbox 360 was released almost 12 months ago, Nov 22nd in the US, Dec 2nd in Europe and finally Dec 10th in Japan. A lot of people considered this release to be a little “early” as the original Xbox was still going strong. The console has been pretty well accepted since and has sold over 6 million units throughout the year.
Even by today's standards, the Xbox 360 has a pretty decent technical specification, it features a tri-core processor, meaning it can effectively do 3 computations at once. It's processor is based on the Power PC technology by IBM, the same processor technology that Wii uses, although the 360 processor is by far the more powerful.
The 360 hasn't had a huge following in Japan, even the original Xbox console failed to make a real dent over in the east. If Microsoft is to take a huge slice of the games industry they really need to get better results in the Japanese market.
Microsoft have decided to go for the “media hub” approach, they want you to use your 360 for more than games, they want you to use it to watch movie trailers and DVDs and also share content with your “Media Center” PC, such as videos and photos. There is also a heavy emphasis on connecting your console to the Internet for additional services.
One of these online services is Xbox Live Arcade, which can be compared to Wii's “Virtual Console”. This service allows you to buy and download classic arcade games to play on your 360, they even have some games available from older consoles such as Sega's Megadrive.
Xbox Live Video is a new service launching later this year which will allow you to download TV programmes and movies in High Definition format and play them back from your console, at a price of course.
The Xbox 360 has seen hits such as Project Gotham Racing, Call of Duty 3, Ridge Racer 6, Burnout: Revenage and more recently, Gears of War and Dead Rising.
Sony's PlayStation 3 should need little introduction, the brand has sold countless console in the past decade and has by far the leading market share. The console has just gone on sale in Japan and is scheduled to release in the US this coming weekend, 2 days ahead of Wii. Sadly European gamers will have to wait until March 2007 for a PS3 launch.
It seems Sony have gone for brute force with the third generation PlayStation which features a massive 7 cores to its processor line up. With impressive technical specifications comes high prices, pre-launch the company was heavily criticised over its high price point and subsequently cut the price slightly in Japan. When the console does finally launch in the UK next year, its likely the system will cost around £425.
Sony have adopted a similar stance as Microsoft, trying to improve graphics and push them into the high definition era. Whilst these graphics look fantastic on HDTV's, if you've got a classic 21” TV, you really won't get to see what all the fuss is about.
Sony also got criticised when it showed a remodelled controller at E3 last year, dubbed by the media as “The Boomerang”. To Sony's credit, they listened to the responses and went back to a more familiar PlayStation controller. However, they did have time to include a tilt sensor into the controller. This allows gamers to tilt the controller to the left or right, similar to one of the sensors in the Wiimote.
We've not seen an awful lot of finished games yet for the PS3, but we imagine they will look spectacular on the right screens.
Is it all about power?
It's pretty well known that the Wii simply doesn't compare to either the 360 or PS3 when you talk about raw horsepower. If your looking for a console to give you 1080p graphics, sadly the Wii won't be able to deliver. However, if your looking for a console that gives you a new way to play games, only Wii can deliver.
It seems the majority of analysts and publishers from all around do actually agree on something, they expect that most gamers will buy either a Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 AND a Wii. You could almost say that the 360/PS3 are in one category and the Wii is in another. Predictions show that the Wii, 360 and PS3 will be able to co-exist quite peacefully.
In a nutshell, it's very hard to compare the 3 consoles, the Wii offers something different from the other 2. You can compare certain characteristics but they are all quite specific.
Personally I think it comes down to what type of games you like to play, whether you want a media centre and how much money your willing to spend on consoles.
Gamers will take note of the fact you can buy a Wii and a Xbox 360 for the price of a PS3. People that only want to play games for short periods of times will probably look at Wii, because of its “Pick Up & Play” appeal. People that are more interested in a full media centre experience will look towards 360 and PS3.