[tab:Intro][flagallery gid=2 name="CrunchGear Gift Guide 2009"]
Ah, gaming consoles. They pick up where TV left off. Back when TV was still entertaining, it served as the perfect babysitter.
“You kids watch Full House and Urkel until your mom and I get home from our key-swapping party, okay?”
“What’s a key-swapping party?”
“Okay, gotta go!”
Now consoles are here to fill that void. Well, and Facebook. Whatever the case, if you’re looking to buy your kids (or yourself!) a console this holiday season, here’s some info on a bunch of the available options in no particular order…
[tab:Microsoft Xbox 360]
Microsoft Xbox 360: Starting at $199.99 (Xbox.com)
Among the current generation of gaming consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been around the longest. Don’t let its age fool you, though. There’s still more than enough power under the hood, a vibrant online community, and plenty of media-centric features like Netflix streaming and Windows Media Center integration to earn the console a spot in your living room.
The Xbox 360 comes in two main flavors: the $199.99 Xbox 360 Arcade and the $299.99 Xbox 360 Elite. There’s also a $399.99 Elite version for the holiday season.
Pros: Huge library of available titles, low starting price, high-definition TV and movie downloads, Netflix streaming, Windows Media Center integration
Cons: Wireless internet connection costs extra, premium online gaming (Xbox Live Gold) costs extra, Arcade system has very little built-in storage for game and movie downloads
[tab:Sony PlayStation 3]
Sony PlayStation 3: Starting at $299.99 (PlayStation.com)
A massively powerful system with built-in Blu-ray player and Sony’s signature sex appeal — what’s not to love? Sony’s flagship gaming system has finally reached consumer-friendly price points and ought to see some healthy sales this holiday season.
The PlayStation Network serves up movie, TV, and game downloads and Sony has just recently added Netflix streaming to complement robust online and home network integration features. The PlayStation 3 console had been available in two different form factors – the original on the left (above) is now being replaced by the newer, “slim” version on the right.
Pros: Built-in Blu-ray, built-in Wi-Fi connection, no additional charge to access online gaming features, slimmer console, slimmer starting price tag
Cons: Still the most expensive console on the market, not as many available titles as Xbox 360, no compatibility with PS2 games
Nintendo Wii: $199.99 (Nintendo.com)
While its competitors were busy stuffing as much horsepower into their consoles as possible, Nintendo opted for a much simpler approach: an inexpensive, gesture-based, pick-up-and-play gaming experience. No complicated controllers, no high-definition graphics, no big heavy box sitting next to the TV – just a cute little slot-loading console named Wii.
Industry pundits may have scoffed at the Wii’s relatively underpowered guts but consumers didn’t seem to mind, and the console went on to sell more than 55 million units worldwide to date in the face of popularity-induced inventory shortages.
There’s only one version of the Wii available. It features the following:
Pros: Simple family fun, compatible with GameCube games and controllers, great first-party titles, no shortage of available accessories, great retro gaming with Wii Virtual Console
Cons: Doesn’t work as a DVD player, lack of compelling third-party titles, buying all available accessories would eventually bankrupt you, no HD, no movie or video downloads
[tab:Portable Gaming Systems]
Portable Gaming Systems
If gaming on the go is more your style, there are plenty of portable options available.
Sony PSP Go: $249.99 (PlayStation.com)
Sony’s newest portable gaming machine, the PSP Go, eschews physical media in favor of download-only software. There’s 16GB of built-in memory, a 3.78-inch 480×272 widescreen LCD, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, music and movie playback, web browsing, and more.
PROS: Small form factor, no game discs or cartridges to misplace, multimedia playback
CONS: Old PSP games won’t work, unbelievably high price tag
Sony PSP-3000: $169.99 (PlayStation.com)
Not to be pushed aside by the newer, smaller PSP Go, the PSP-3000 boasts a big 4.3-inch widescreen at 480×272 pixels, is compatible with UMD disc-based games as well as downloadable games, and features most of what’s available in the PSP Go at a much more reasonable price.
PROS: Big 4.3-inch screen, reasonable $170 price tag, support for game downloads
CONS: Comparatively large at 6.7 x 2.9 x 0.9 inches, no built-in memory
Nintendo DSi: $169.99 (NintendoDSi.com)
Nintendo’s latest portable adds two built-in cameras, audio recording, SD card expansion, web browsing, and direct-to-device game downloads to the familiar dual-screen setup that’s been the distinguishing feature found in the DS series of gaming devices.
PROS: Cameras and audio recording features add new depth to games
CONS: Iffy web browser, selection of available downloads is pretty limited so far
Nintendo DS Lite: $129.99 (NintendoDSi.com)
Take the DSi, chop a quarter of an inch off the screen size, take out the cameras, and remove the ability to download games. Boom — you’ve got the DS Lite. You also get a lower price tag and backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance games.
PROS: Cheapest mainstream portable game machine around, backwards GBA compatibility
CONS: Lacks the online features of all its competitors, small screen
Apple iPod touch: Starting at $199 (Apple.com)
We could argue about whether or not the iPod touch is an actual gaming system until the cows come home, but two things are certain: 1. Apple actively markets it as “A great portable game player” and 2. There are hundreds of quality games to download from major publishers like EA, id, Konami, and Gameloft. Not to mention 100,000+ other apps to boot.
PROS: Plenty of inexpensive games, great web browser and multimedia playback
CONS: No tactile controls, games not as complex as what’s available for Sony and Nintendo