Hi-Tech Horseplay

Hi-Tech HorseplayA Novice Takes on Next-Gen Gaming 

By Jason Dehart 

Thirty years have passed since the grand old Atari 2600 and its kin created the video-game console market. Since 1977, home consoles and their ancillary components have made a quantum leap in power, processing, sound and graphics. Instead of two bricks playing tennis with a smaller brick (that would be “Pong”), we now have gaming consoles with more computing power than the Department of Defense’s best war-fighting simulators (which may, or may not, be an exaggeration).

The three big contenders in the business today are Sony’s PlayStation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii (pronounced “wee”). Since I’m not a technophile and wouldn’t know “16x dithering” if it bit me in the aspect ratio, I spent an afternoon with co-worker and videogame enthusiast Marc Thomas – who owns and plays all three.

His mission was to astound this old-school, upright arcade player old enough to recall spending hard-earned quarters playing “Asteroids” in the ’80s. And astound he did. The PlayStation 3 runs around $600 for the 60-gigabyte hard drive version; the Xbox 360 costs around $300 without a hard drive; and the Wii is about $250. And that’s just for the systems themselves, which come with one controller and all the basic cables for audio, video and power.

Let’s talk about games and accessories, using the Xbox 360 as an example. You spend half a paycheck on just the basic machine and maybe one game. But to get the full “next generation” experience, you will need the hard drives, wireless router, Internet hookups, camera for live video feed, high-definition component video cables, wireless controllers, communication headsets and other geegaws and doodads. The biggest gotta-have-it accessories are the 6-foot-wide, high-definition, wall-mounted TV and the 15,000-zillion-watt surround-sound home theater system. Those two items could set a family back a cool $3,000 or more.

So, which one of these “Next Gen” game systems is the best? Hard to say. They all are pretty powerful systems. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 feature especially jaw-dropping graphics and various other hi-tech gaming capabilities.

These new systems can support 5.1 Dolby surround sound, 1080p resolution (the industry standard for “high definition”), and a robust online component that boasts such features as online multiplayer matches, a unified friends list, and live video and voice chat. The Xbox 360 graphics are amazing, the online component is the best in the biz and, with Microsoft’s “cafeteria-style” plan, you can pick and choose which components you want without spending more than you can afford.

Having seen and played it myself, I can say that the Xbox may indeed have a great “wow” factor, but for a pure gaming experience that’s unfettered by too much high-tech stuff, Wii is the way to go. True to its business model, Nintendo has created a system built for the casual gamer who doesn’t really care so much about graphics and power but instead is focused on just having fun. Unlike the competition, it has a motion-sensing “nunchuk”-style controller that really puts the player in control of his or her environment (you know, by breaking the ceiling fan, TV, living room window, et al). And like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the Wii is “backward-compatible,” so don’t throw out your old GameCube games.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which system is better. Most hardcore gamers will end up owning all three anyway. And why not? It’s only money, after all.