Christmas gift ideas: How to pick the right video game console

Gabe Semenza

Dec. 9, 2010 at 6:09 a.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2010 at 6:17 a.m.

Chances are, you or someone you love views a video game console as one of this year's Christmas gift must-haves.

Despite a decrease in 2010 video game industry sales, the holiday season seems to reverse even the most sluggish trends.

Last December alone, the industry amassed $5.53 billion in sales following a mediocre 11 months, according to The NPD Group, an analyst firm.

So what are the most popular gaming systems on the market this holiday season? What advantage does each hold, how much does it cost and where can you buy it?

With the help of Andrew Baerg, a University of Houston-Victoria digital game studies professor, the Advocate examines the most popular consoles.

XBOX 360

What is it?: A video game console produced by Microsoft. The console, sold first in 2005, has for years largely catered to young adults and adults who desire graphics-rich and sophisticated games.

As the console evolved, Microsoft added Xbox Live, a $50 yearly service that allows players to compete online against friends and strangers, download games and music and even rent movies and TV shows.

Xbox Live now offers content from Netflix, Zune, ESPN and Facebook, to name a few services.

Last month, Microsoft released Kinect, a plug-in device for the Xbox 360 that allows a hands-free gaming experience. Instead of using a controller, gamers with Kinect use natural gestures and spoken commands to maneuver within games.

Advantages: The console offers the fastest gaming experience, both online and off, and thus provides a stable platform for action, graphics-rich and sprawling games. With the introduction of Kinect, Microsoft broadened its market to include families and leisure gamers. Xbox Live, however, is the service that sets this system apart.

Disadvantages: The console has few disadvantages. The initial cost of the system, and the $50 to $60 price tag for new games, adds up quickly. Additionally, Xbox Live, which is a must-have for serious gamers, costs $50 per year. As for the Kinect, the motion sensor is so new to the market that developers have had little time to create compelling games. While the device is easy to use and fun, serious gamers won't be blown away yet by its function and game selection - and the market offers only a limited game selection so far.

Popular Xbox 360 games: "Call of Duty: Black Ops," "Halo: Reach," "Fallout," "Fable 3," "Madden NFL 11"

Popular Kinect games: "The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout," "Kinect Joy Ride," "Kinect Adventures," "Kinect Sports," "Kinectimals"


What is it?: A video game console produced by Nintendo. The console, sold first in 2006, primarily targets a broad demographic, including families.

Wii grabbed a lion's share of the video game market by creating the first widely accepted motion controller, which detects movement in three dimensions. Instead of manipulating a joystick, gamers can swing, point and turn the controller to simultaneously move a character or object in a game.

The Wii's games are simple to play, aimed at families and based on functionality rather than graphics.

Like the Xbox 360, Wii offers an online component, though not as rich. Via its online network, the Wii offers several channels, including the Forecast Channel, Photo Channel and News Channel.

In October, Wii added Netflix to its online arsenal.

Advantages: The Wii offers a stable platform for motion gaming. Games are simple, colorful and, by most accounts, affordable and enjoyable. While its online component lacks compared to the Xbox 360, casual gamers and families should enjoy the game selection and Netflix compatibility.

Disadvantages: The Wii lacks a DVD and Blu-ray player, as well as high-definition graphics. Its games are less rich than those offered by its console counterparts, and thus are unlikely to hold the attention of more demanding gamers. The Wii also offers only limited online selection. Additionally, documented reports show some gamers are apt to let go of the motion controller mid-game, opening the door to the risk of broken TVs and other household items.

Popular Wii games: "Super Mario Bros.: Wii," "Donkey Kong: Country Returns," "NBA Jam," "The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks," "Madden NFL 11"


What is it?: Known more commonly as the PS3, this is a video game console produced by Sony Computer Entertainment. The console, sold first in 2006, primarily competes with the Xbox 360.

Like the Xbox 360, the PS3 caters to young adults and adults who desire graphics-rich and sophisticated games.

The PS3 also offers a unified online gaming service, the PlayStation Network. The network connects via the Internet, is free and includes multiplayer support. Via this service, gamers can also download video content, shop and listen to music.

Additionally, it offers a motion controller dubbed PlayStation Move - Sony's answer to the Wii controller.

The feature that sets the PS3 apart is its Blu-ray Disc player, which allows users to play high-quality Blu-ray and DVS. This feature enables the PS3 to stand as a video game and home entertainment system.

What are PlayStation's advantages? The PS3 shares many games with its Xbox counterpart, and offers a fast, graphics-rich gaming environment. Its inclusion of a Blu-ray player helps to set this console apart - at least for those gamers who desire multimedia features.

What are PlayStation's disadvantages? The PS3's online service doesn't match Xbox Live in terms of content, speed and multiplayer capabilities, and its Move controller and motion games trail behind Wii, too.

Popular PlayStation 3 games: "Call of Duty: Black Ops," "Fallout," "Fable 3," "Madden NFL 11"

Additional analysis provided by Top 10 Reviews, a New York-based research company.



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