As rumors of price drops and pack-in reconfiguring swirl ahead of E3, how are things stacking up value-wise between Sony's PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360? Here's the latest breakout chart, with the usual caveats about consumer preferences (you want the one thing, someone else wants that other thing, etc.). Maybe you don't need wireless and an Ethernet cable's enough. Maybe you think paying $50 a year to play games online is criminal. Don't read these as bottom line prices, but use the chart as a build-it-yourself tool and craft your arguments accordingly. Prices for systems and components were taken from Best Buy, accessed on June 4, 2010.
Points of clarification: The PS3 hard drive is user-swappable for anything that meets the standard laptop 2.5-inch SATA spec. While I haven't included larger hard drives in the chart, 2.5-inch SATA 500GB hard drives retail for between $70 and $90. The Xbox 360 uses proprietary Microsoft-enclosed hard drives and won't allow upgrades beyond 250GB.
The PS3 uses an internal 802.11b/g wireless chip, while the Xbox 360's external USB wireless adapter offers the more recent 802.11n spec.
The PS3's HDMI connection offers the 1.3a spec, which yields higher data transfer speeds, a new expanded color format called "Deep Color," automatic audio syncing (lip syncing), and Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio support. The Xbox 360 supports the older HDMI spec 1.2. In practice, the only functional difference given current TV and broadcast limitations would be the Dolby/DTS-HD spec, and then only in relation to lossless, uncompressed audio situations, such as Blu-ray video playback. For more on this, see here.
RJ45 is shorthand for Ethernet. CVBS stands for "Composite Video, Blanking, and Sync" (the lowest quality video cable, only a step above coaxial RF). YPbPr is shorthand for Component Video, and refers to the discrete green, blue, and red video plugs (component is the second-highest quality video cable, next to HDMI).
The Xbox 360 Arcade comes with 5 arcade games, while the Xbox 360 Elite is available in two $400 bundle configurations--one with Splinter Cell: Conviction, another with Final Fantasy XIII ($60 each if purchased separately). The Elite bundles also include a 250GB hard drive (instead of 120GB), and two wireless controllers (instead of one).
Both Xbox 360 models (Arcade, Elite) come with Microsoft's Xbox LIVE Silver membership, which basically allows you to create a Gamertag and message friends. If you want Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and online multiplayer support, you'll have to upgrade to Xbox LIVE Gold, which costs $50 a year, e.g. $250 for five years. The PS3 currently offers online services including competitive multiplayer at no additional cost (though a "premium" service may be in the offing).
Some retailers sell refurbished systems for considerably less money. GameStop, for instance, sells a 40GB PS3 refurbished for $250, a 120GB PS3 with God of War III for $374.97, a model bundled with accessories for $379.97, and an 80GB PS3 refurbished for $270. Factor accordingly if you're shopping the used market.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: Remember that the above chart doesn't gauge the "soft" value of features like Xbox LIVE or PlayStation Home, or how having a network of friends clustered on a given system influences purchases.
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