2006: Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3
Updating the competitive landscape, Nintendo and Sony brought two impressive consoles to market in 2006.
Arriving just days after the PlayStation 3 swaggered into town, the Wii has already proved to be a hit with casual gamers and longtime Nintendo fans alike. It 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-definition DVD drive can't yet play movies (Nintendo and Sonic Solutions are working on that shortcoming).
The Wii's most noteworthy innovation is its motion-sensing controllers. 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 Wii Remote for further game control. In practice, it's addictive, and everyone wants to try it. Nevertheless, the $20 "classic" controller is quite handy for retro games.
My favorite Wii feature is its friendliness toward consoles of yesteryear: Through the Wii, users can go online and download games from the Nintendo 64, the NES, the Super NES, the Sega Genesis, and the TurboGrafx16.
For more information, see our in-depth Wii review (complete with video).
Sony PlayStation 3
Sony's latest console hit the United States in November 17 like the marketing spawn of Tickle Me Elmo and a Cabbage Patch Kid. Though observers criticized the PS3's high cost, supply has not kept pace with demand. The console has next-generation features such as HDMI output (for 1080p HD) and a built-in Blu-ray disc drive. It's available in two configurations: The $599 version features a 60GB drive, 802.11b/g wireless networking, and media slots for Memory Stick, SD Card, and CompactFlash. The $499 version lacks wireless capabilities and has a 20GB drive.
Okay, what's up with the creepy baby in this ad, Sony? Maybe it's an homage to the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe it symbolizes rebirth. Maybe it's evidence of the aforementioned Elmo/Cabbage Patch tryst. Whatever the particulars, it's pretty twisted.
Though the PS3's updated wireless controller lacks force feedback, it's lighter than the PlayStation 2's controller and improves on the older model's L2 and R2 triggers. And because the PS3's controller can sense motion along six axes, you can turn and tilt it to steer in driving or flying games.
The dulcet voice of Lance "Bishop" Henriksen explains the PlayStation 3's six-axis controller:
Both PS3 models feature a 3.2-GHz Cell Broadband Engine CPU (developed jointly by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM). Additionally, both include gigabit ethernet and built-in Bluetooth, and both let users copy photos, MPEG-4 videos, and music files to the hard disk.
For more-detailed coverage, read our in-depth review of the PlayStation 3 (complete with video).