Video Game Console Buyer’s Guide
Buying a new video game console can result in hours of entertainment
for you and your family--or it could result in disappointment due to
a lack of knowledge. A variety of choices await anyone in the market
for a game console, and it can be overwhelming. The information you
need can be hard to find, and misinformation abounds. Where do you
You’re in luck! Whether you're buying a console for yourself, your
children, or a friend, all the up-to-date and unbiased information
you need can be found in this handy Video Game Console Buyer's
To start with, some questions you should ask yourself and keep in
mind while reading:
- What kind of games are you interested in? First-person shooters
like Halo, music games like Guitar Hero, action games like God of
War, RPGs like Final Fantasy, puzzle games like Puzzle Quest, etc.?
- Do you own an HDTV or are you planning on purchasing one?
- What kind of budget are you working with?
- Are you interested more in playing games with others, or in
- Do you own any older game systems?
Now, let's take a look at each of the major game consoles currently
Sony PlayStation 3
For some time, the PlayStation 3 was the most expensive console
available. Luckily, prices have dropped since then. Now, at $400 USD
(depending on which model you buy), its pricing is more in line with
Of course, that’s still a lot of money for most people to spend on a
game console. What are you going to get for all that? Let’s take a
The PS3 isn't just a game console. It's a full Blu-Ray, CD, and DVD
player, complete with the ability to upscale DVDs into HD. Blu-Ray
is currently the leading high-definition movie format, so if you
have an HDTV and no HD movie player, the PS3 could be a good way to
get your movie and gaming needs met in one place. Of course, Blu-ray
movies won’t offer any increase in quality unless watched on an
HDTV. So if you're still watching a standard definition set, you're
not going to get much out of that particular feature.
Other features include a complete web browser and the ability to
stream music, movies, and pictures from your PC over your home
network. It can connect to the Internet both wired and wirelessly
(unless you buy the 20GB model--more on that in a minute), so
there's no need to have wires strung across your living room. For
the more tech-savvy, you can install any size hard drive, and even
install the Linux operating system.
Online features include online multiplayer (which is free);
downloading demos, movie trailers, and games; and the ability to
participate in Stanford University's Folding@Home project.
Folding@Home connects to both PCs and PS3s around the world in one
large global network, and utilizes their unused processing power to
do research on protein folding. By starting the Folding@Home program
when their PS3s aren't being used, owners have the ability to do
their own small part towards helping find cures for numerous
diseases, including cancer.
All PlayStation 3 models can hook up to your TV through HDMI,
component, or composite. Only composite cables are included in the
box, so those of you wanting HD output are going to have to spend a
little extra to get the appropriate cables.
The controller, while identical to the PS2 controller in most
aspects, has what is referred to as Sixaxis motion sensing
technology. The controller can sense when tilted in six different
directions. How well this is incorporated varies from game to game.
It can add a lot to the experience when done well, or be nothing
more than a nuisance if done poorly. It's also worth noting that the
vibration feature is missing from the Sixaxis controller. A new
DualShock 3 controller with vibration has been released, but won't
be included with new PS3s until June 12th, 2008.
The games available for the PlayStation 3 are, in many cases, the same as
those available for the Xbox 360. Some of the high-ranking
exclusives available or upcoming include:
Final Fantasy XIII - The latest game in Squaresoft's popular RPG
Resistance: Fall of Man - A critically lauded next-gen first-person
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - The newest game in
the popular series of platformers.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune – An action-adventure game, praised for
its storyline and cinematic presentation.
LittleBigPlanet - A unique platforming and world creation game.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - The upcoming new stealth
action game in the Metal Gear Solid series.
Four different models of PS3 are available, differentiated between
by hard drive size. Let's take a look at the differences.
This is the model you're most likely to find currently available on
store shelves. It's also the cheapest, but a lot of features have
been cut. There are no flash card readers, no SACD support, and
probably the most important to the average Joe--absolutely no
backwards compatibility for PS2 games. There are also only two USB
ports, as opposed to four on the other models.
You'll pay more for this model-- $200 more. However, you do get a
lot for that $200. It comes with the game Motorstorm, which is a
good $60 value if bought alone. It also has all the features missing
from the 40 GB model. Flash card readers, SACD support, and four USB
ports? Check. Backwards compatibility? Check, but it's done via
software rather than hardware. What does that mean for you? Some of
your games may not work. They're constantly updating it to include
compatibility for more games, however, and a database of games with
known issues can be found on Sony's website.
This model isn't being produced anymore, but can still be found
online via websites like eBay, for $500-$600. If you're big on being
able to play older games, this is the best bet for you. Backwards
compatibility is achieved via hardware rather than software, so all
PS2 games are guaranteed to run. In all other ways, it is identical
to the 80 GB model.
This model is also no longer produced, but can be found online for
$400-$500. Like the 40 GB model, it was stripped of features in
order to lower the price. In this case, it lacks Flash card readers
and the ability to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Its one plus
is that like the 60 GB model, its backwards compatibility is
achieved via hardware.
Microsoft Xbox 360
Now onto the PS3's most direct competitor, Microsoft's XBox 360.
There's no denying it has many advantages over the PS3, including
price--but it also has many disadvantages.
Let's start by looking at its features. Like the PS3, it will play
both DVDs and CDs. High-definition movies can be downloaded from the
Xbox Live Marketplace, as well as demos and full-featured games.
Online multiplayer requires a Gold Xbox Live account, which will run
you about $50 a year. Gold members also gain access to new downloads
before the non-paying members, known as Silver accounts.
Silver members do get access to Achievements, one of Xbox Live’s
most popular features. Achievements are goals that can be unlocked
while gaming. Each Achievement is worth a certain amount of points,
depending on its difficulty, and all Xbox Live members will have
their Achievements and overall score tracked and publicly displayed.
Many gamers find it endlessly addictive to hunt down every
Achievement and gain as high a score as possible.
The console can connect to the Internet both wired and wirelessly,
although to connect wirelessly you'll have to spend a little extra
and buy a wireless adapter. It lacks a Web browser, but does feature
direct integration with Windows Live Messenger. Like the PS3, you
can stream music, videos, and pictures from your PC over a home
Backwards compatibility is included, but achieved via software. Only
certain older Xbox titles are guaranteed to work, but the list is
constantly being updated to include more games. Certain Xbox games
are also available to download over Xbox Live, referred to as Xbox
There is one thing that's important to note about the Xbox 360, and
it's something you may already have heard of: the dreaded Red Ring
of Death. Every model of Xbox 360 suffers from an above average
failure rate. Thousands of gamers have tried to turn on their 360,
only to have it flash three red lights, indicating a hardware
failure. Precautions have been taken in the newer models to lessen
the problem, but even so, it remains an issue. Other common
complaints include a noisy fan and a tendency to scratch discs if
the console is moved with a disc in the drive.
Know before you buy an Xbox 360, there’s a good chance you'll one
day run into hardware failure issues. The good news is, Microsoft's
tech support is excellent about dealing with it, and you have a
three-year warranty. Note that the three-year warranty only applies
to hardware failure--for all other problems, the warranty only
extends to one year.
Assuming you're willing to deal with potential problems, a plethora
of excellent XBox 360 games awaits you. Many titles overlap with the PS3, but
included among the high-ranking exclusives are:
Halo 3 - The third game in Microsoft's popular first-person shooter
Blue Dragon – An old-school RPG by the creators of Chrono Trigger
and Final Fantasy.
Lost Odyssey - Another RPG by the makers of Final Fantasy, praised
for its storyline.
Gears of War - A highly praised third-person shooter.
Dead Rising - A fun action/adventure game, featuring a mall full of
zombies and unique weapons.
Mass Effect - A highly praised action RPG by BioWare.
Now let's look at the various models available.
Retailing at $350, this is probably the model most gamers will be
interested in. It features a 20 GB hard drive, and comes with an
Ethernet cable, a headset, an HDMI port, a free one-month trial of
Xbox Live Gold, and the game Hexic HD. Both component and composite
cables are included, as well as an HDMI port (but no cable). A
bigger hard drive can be purchased later on if needed, but a
Microsoft brand hard drive is required, and many consider it
At $450, this is the top of the line model. Unlike the others, it
features a black finish rather than white, and comes with 120 GB of
hard drive space. HDMI, component, and composite cables are included
in the box. In all other aspects, it is the same as the Premium.
This is the best bet for anyone who's going to be doing a lot of
downloading from the Xbox Live Marketplace, as they'll need the hard
drive space the most.
At $280, this model is the cheapest available. The biggest
difference is the lack of a hard drive (although one can be
purchased later, for a hefty price). Instead, a 256 MB memory card
is included. It also lacks an Ethernet cable and headset, and only
comes with composite cables. It does include an Xbox Live Arcade
compilation disc of several games--which is a good thing, since
restricting yourself to memory cards severely limits your ability to
download anything. The only thing to recommend this model is the
And now onto the most popular of the new game consoles, Nintendo's Wii. Pricing can vary. It retails for $250, making it the cheapest
current-gen console available. However, finding one in a retail
store is easier said than done. And due to the high demand, they
tend to sell for massively inflated prices online. So unless you're
ready to pay more than necessary or dedicate yourself to the hunt,
don't get your heart too set on a Wii.
The most noticeable thing about the Wii is its revolutionary new
motion-sensing controller. Shaped like a small TV remote, the
controller--referred to by many as a "Wiimote"--has full motion
sensing technology, as well as traditional buttons, vibration, and
an internal speaker. The included game, Wii Sports, showcases the
motion sensing particularly well, featuring the ability to do things
such as play baseball by holding and swinging the Wiimote like a
bat. At its best, this can make games far more intuitive and
immersive; at its worst, it can come across as gimmicky and
The Wii isn't the technical powerhouse of the Xbox 360 or the PS3.
The graphics, while looking quite nice in games such as Super Smash
Bros. Brawl, don't live up to its competitors. There's no HD
support, and it lacks the ability to play CDs or DVDs. The Wii is
focused on gaming and gameplay, which is one of the reasons for its
low price. Unfortunately, this does result in some popular games,
such as Rock Band, having features cut from the Wii version that are
present in other versions.
Full backwards compatibility for the Gamecube is included. Another
interesting feature is the Virtual Console, which allows you to
download a selection of older games from any of Nintendo's pre-Gamecube
consoles, the Sega Genesis and Master System, the TurboGrafx-16, and
the Neo Geo. Support for other old consoles is often being added.
Original games are also available for download, called WiiWare.
The console connects to the Internet wirelessly out of the box, and
will require an adapter to connect wired. The Opera Internet browser
is available to download, allowing you to browse the Web from your
Wii. Online multiplayer is included in many games and is free of
charge, although annoying 16-digit friend codes are required to
connect to other players, instead of user-chosen names such as on
Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
No hard drive is included, but there is 512 MB of internal flash
memory available, which is likely to be more than enough for most
users. For the exceptions, SD cards can be used. For those wanting
to play GameCube games, there are slots for both GameCube
controllers and GameCube memory cards, both of which will be
required. It comes only with composite cables, although component
cables are available separately.
To an extent, you know what type of Wii games you're going to find on a
Nintendo console--Mario, Zelda, and Metroid are old stand-bys. Other
popular exclusives include:
Super Smash Bros. Brawl - An extremely popular fighting game
featuring characters from many different video games.
No More Heroes - A unique (and spectacularly bloody) action game.
Cooking Mama: Cook-Off – Cook many types of recipes with Mama.
Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree - Test the size of your brain and see
how smart you really are.
Trauma Center: Second Opinion - A medical simulation game.
Now, let’s take a look back at those questions you asked yourself in
What type of games you're interested in is possibly the most
important aspect to consider. A console's features may be
incredible, but what does it matter if you have no games to play? In
general, those who enjoy traditional "hardcore" games such as action
games, shooters, and roleplaying games will be better off with an
Xbox 360 or a PS3. The Wii, while it does have its share of hardcore
games, is on the whole more populated by mini-game collections and
fun casual games.
If you own an HDTV, a PS3 might be worth it both for its HD gaming
and its Blu-Ray capabilities. An Xbox 360 will also give you HD
gaming, but a Wii will not.
If you're on a tight budget, the Wii is the cheapest option
available. The Xbox 360 Arcade is also viable, but not really worth
it. Chances are good you'll end up wanting to buy a hard drive,
headset, and an Ethernet cable sooner or later, so you can actually
save yourself money by going ahead and buying the Premium.
If you enjoy playing games with others, the Wii is an excellent bet.
Many of its games offer multiplayer, and with its intuitive control
system, it's easy to get even non-gamers involved. The Xbox 360 and
PS3 have their share of multiplayer games as well, and offer a great
online multiplayer experience. The PS3 and the Wii offer online
multiplayer for free, but the Xbox 360 has a smoother system and
And last but not least, if you already have a game console from last
generation, upgrading to the same company's console could allow you
to keep playing your older games without having to switch systems.
As you can see, there's a lot to consider. Each console has its pros
and cons, and none is better than the others. The important thing is
to figure out what you value the most, and decide which console
suits you based on that. You may even end up deciding to buy more
than one console, to best enjoy what different systems have to
Whatever your choice, you're bound to have a good time. Best of
luck, and enjoy your new console.
By Abagail Bloodworth