Geek Gifts 2009: 3rd generation game consoles

Avid gamer Shawn Morton says that if you've been waiting to purchase a 3rd generation console, there is no better time to buy.

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Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have been lowering prices on their 3rd generation consoles: Xbox 360 Elite ($299), PlayStation 3 ($299), and Wii ($199). With all of these consoles under $300 a piece, it's a great time to pick up your first (or second or third) 3rd generation console.

The good

Better hardware for a lower price

The current crop of $299 consoles from Microsoft and Sony were at least $100 more expensive just a few months ago. In addition, the Xbox 360 Elite and PlayStation have upgraded hardware. So, the $299 Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 that you buy today is better than the $399 console you bought six months ago. You can't beat that.

And while the Wii console hasn't received a major upgrade with its price cut, Nintendo did introduce a new MotionPlus controller add-on that brings improved control to newer games.

The bottom line is you're getting more console and technology for your money.

Large game catalogs

One of the biggest downsides to being an early adopter of gaming consoles is the size of the game catalog. Most consoles launch with a couple dozen titles. If you're picking up your first 3rd generation console this holiday season, you will have access to more than 1,000 games across all three platforms.

All of these newer consoles (the version of your PS3 will affect backward compatibility) can play select games from the original Xbox, PlayStation 2, or Nintendo GameCube, too.

Multimedia features

The days of a gaming console just being about play games is over. All of the current 3rd generation consoles offer some sort of multimedia integration for photos, music, and video.

Xbox 360 has an exclusive partnership with Netflix that allows you to stream thousands of Netflix titles directly to your console. There is also Windows Media Center integration that will allow you to access all of the photos, music, and video on your home PC. And, there is a video download service for TV shows and movies within the Xbox Live Marketplace. The optical drive in the Xbox 360 is a DVD drive, so you can play DVDs as well.

The big multimedia feature in the PlayStation 3 is the integrated Blu-ray drive. The PlayStation 3 is the only 3rd generation console that offers Blu-ray. With most standalone Blu-ray players running $150 or more, the PlayStation 3 is a great value if you have (or are looking to start) a Blu-ray movie collection. It was just announced that, beginning next month, you'll be able to watch Netflix titles on your PlayStation 3. As with the Xbox 360, you can also access media from your home PC and play standard DVDs.

The Wii has the fewest multimedia features of all of the 3rd generation consoles, although there are rumors that Neflix is coming to the Wii. Basically, you're limited to accessing photos from your camera's SD card (which can be inserted into the Wii).

Online gaming

All three consoles offer the ability to play games with others online.

The Xbox 360 with its Xbox Live service offers the most mature and stable online gaming experience. It has been up and running for eight years and boasts more than eight million members. A silver version, with limited capabilities, is available for free. The full gold membership is $50 per year.

Sony offers a free online gaming service via its PlayStation Network. Nintendo has integrated online play into the game titles.

So regardless of which console you choose, you won't have to game alone.

Integration with social media sites (Xbox 360 only)

The Xbox 360 will soon be getting a software update that will allow you to access your Facebook and Twitter accounts from within the console's dashboard. Some titles from EA, including Tiger Woods PGA 2010, allow you to share content from within the game to Facebook.

Although Microsoft will be first in this space, it is just a matter of time until Sony and Nintendo offer similar integration.

No new hardware looming

Although there are rumored new consoles in the works, there are no immediate plans to release 4th generation consoles. That means you should get a couple of years of gaming goodness for your hard-earned cash.

The bad

Nothing If you're a gamer, there is no reason not to get one.

Geek bottom line

It's a buyer's market in the gaming console industry. If you've been waiting to purchase a 3rd generation console, there is no better time to buy.

With the majority of the biggest game titles coming out in the 4th quarter, you should stop reading this right now and head to your favorite retailer.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****