The Game is On
1. Sony PlayStation 3 $500 or $600
Best features A powerhouse, the oft delayed, eagerly anticipated PS3 has a Blu-ray drive for high-def movies and visually realistic games. For $600 you also get wi-fi and a 60-GB hard drive.
Hot Games Resistance: Fall of Man ($60); Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas ($60)
2. Nintendo Wii $250
Best features The ballyhooed Wii Remote lets you swing virtual swords and invisible baseball bats using natural gestures instead of a joystick. The low price and the Wii Sports collection bundled with it make Wii a real value.
Hot Games The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess ($50); Call of Duty 3 ($50)
3. Microsoft Xbox 360 $300 or $400
Best features The Xbox Live online service connects players looking for sparring partners. It also markets new titles and retro games. The $400 system includes a hard drive and a wireless controller. Hot Games Gears of War ($60); Viva Piñata ($50)
New Ways to Play
'Tis the season Every five years or so video-game companies launch a new generation of consoles. Game fanatics and tech lovers alike rejoice in the spectacle - and the specifications - of each new machine. Former heavyweights like Sega and Atari were knocked out in earlier console wars, but none of today's contenders show any signs of yielding.
The big three Microsoft's Xbox 360 had a head start, coming out last fall. Its focus so far has been on building an online gaming community, Xbox Live, which just hit 4 million subscribers. Now a free software update increases high-def gaming options and adds compatibility with Microsoft's new Zune portable media player. With the $200 HD DVD player accessory, the 360 can also play high-definition movies. Meanwhile Sony has warned that on launch day, Nov. 17, the PS3 will be harder to find than Tickle Me Elmo, but those who do grab one should be in for an immersive high-def experience. The PS3 will come in two configurations; we recommend the more expensive package because the value of the extras (including a bigger hard drive) is greater than the price difference, and upgrading can be messy. Finally, Nintendo's Wii (pronounced "Wheeee!") does not deliver high-def video, nor was it designed for online shoot'em-ups. It's about engaging new gamers and veteran players in fresh ways. The radical Wii controller is motion sensitive: to play the games you just wave it in the air.
Which is best? The Xbox 360 has the most momentum, the PS3 is drawing the highest expectations, and the Wii has the best price and most nongamer appeal. It all comes down to which way you like to play.