First Look: Sony PS3 Versus Nintendo Wii

Nintendo and Sony's next-generation game consoles are finally ready for play, and bring significant advances to the gaming world. The pricier Sony PlayStation 3 packs a lot into a console, including high-definition graphics, a hard disk, and a Blu-ray Disc drive that delivers great image quality. But with its innovative controller, Nintendo's Wii may offer the better gaming experience.

We tested the $599 PS3 that features a 60GB drive and 802.11b/g wireless networking plus Memory Stick, SD Card, and CompactFlash media slots. A $499 version lacks wireless and has just a 20GB drive. Both PS3 models let you copy photos, MPEG-4 videos, and music files to the hard disk, and both offer gigabit ethernet and built-in Bluetooth.

The Wii (pronounced "we") costs $250 and builds in Wi-Fi (but not ethernet). Like the PS3, it has an SD Card slot and can display photos, but its standard-def DVD drive can't yet play movies (Nintendo and Sonic Solutions are working on that).

What's in the Bundles?

Both consoles were easy to set up. However, neither comes with the cables necessary to experience their full graphics capabilities: Each bundles only composite video cables, so you must buy component cables (for the Wii's 480p resolution) or HDMI cables (for the PS3's 1080p resolution; you also need an HDCP-compliant HDTV).

The higher resolution is worth it, especially with the PS3, which provides stunning visuals. I was particularly impressed with NBA 07, which ran at 1080p resolution and played at an incredibly smooth 60 frames per second.

The PS3's vastly improved physics and environmental (including lighting) effects also add to the eye candy. Sony's updated wireless controller is no slouch either. Though it lacks force feedback, it's lighter than the PlayStation 2's controller and improves on the older model's L2 and R2 triggers. The PS3's controller can also sense motion along six axes, so you can turn and tilt it to steer in driving or flying games, for example.

The Wii's graphics seem to be equal to, if not a shade better than, the PS2's--but they can't equal those of the PS3 or the Xbox 360, which recently upgraded its graphics output to 1080p HD (and also offers a $200 HD DVD drive option). Still, Nintendo's own Excite Truck launch title conveyed an impressive sense of speed, and the Wii Remote controller raises the bar for game play. It features motion-sensing and force-feedback technology to further immerse you in the game. To throw a pass in Madden 07, for instance, you mime the movements of a quarterback.

A joystick-style controller called the Nunchuk connects to the remote for further game control. In practice, it's addictive, and everyone wants to have a go. Nevertheless, you may want a $20 "classic" controller for games where such movements may slow you down and cost you the game, such as fast-paced fighting games.

Titles Abound

Sony and Nintendo have confirmed that the new consoles will support titles from previous-generation models. No fewer than 62 games will be available for the Wii within the first five weeks; a further 32 games, including favorites like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Madden NFL 07, will be available by year's end.

In contrast, the PS3 will have a little over 20 games available through the holidays, including the eagerly awaited Resistance: Fall of Man and NBA 07, the console's first 1080p title. The first 500,000 PS3 units sold will include a Blu-ray Disc version of the Will Farrell comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Nintendo, on the other hand, bundles a copy of the Wii Sports game with its console; it's a basic but fun title that really highlights the Wii's intuitive new controller setup.

Online and Extras

Both consoles also allow you to browse the Net, send messages to other players during multiplayer online games, access special content, and shop at their specialty gaming stores. (Though we haven't tested it, we've been hearing that the PS3 just notifies you if you have a message; you must then interrupt your game play in order to read it.)

The services will be available when the consoles launch. (The PS3 goes on sale in the United States on November 17, and the Wii debuts on November 19. The PS3 went on sale in Japan last week.) For example, the Wii Shop Channel will let users get its Virtual Console and then download and play games from past consoles such as the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis. Sony's PlayStation Store will sell retro games, episodic content, and someday perhaps even full-length movies.

Bottom Line

Though expensive for a console, the PS3 is a veritable bargain if you're in the market for a Blu-ray player, as dedicated Blu-ray players cost between about $900 for the Philips BDP9000, which just went on sale this month, and $1500 for the forthcoming Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1, due out by the end of the year. Moreover, in our preliminary tests the PS3 produced sharper and generally better images than did the Samsung BD P-1000 Blu-ray player we've previously tested. Add on a $25 remote (not included), and the console makes a more-than-adequate Blu-ray player.

Deciding between the two new consoles will likely come down to personal preference and perhaps long-held allegiances. The refreshingly different and affordable Wii has broad appeal, especially to casual gamers who may not have played on consoles in the past, but its graphics can't match the quality and detail of the PS3.

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