Completing the Console Trifecta Earlier than Expected - Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 (also, DS and PSP)

Bill Loguidice's picture

Well, it happened sooner than I thought--I got a refurb Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) in late November 2007, completing the "next generation" console trifecta. With enough time passing now, I thought it would be a good time to provide some insight into my thoughts around this current generation of consoles and handhelds. I'll start in the order of consoles I purchased and then finish up with the handhelds.

I pre-ordered the Microsoft Xbox 360 online about two years ago, right before launch. It was one of those unfortunate launch bundle deals where the retailers make you buy the system and various games and accessories in order to actually walk away with one. It was better than waiting in line, even though I got several games from that forced purchase I've put very little time into (though plan on doing so eventually, even though some are res'd up junk). My favorite console of the previous generation was the Xbox 1, followed by the PlayStation 2 (PS2), with the Nintendo GameCube bringing up the rear. The simple fact of the matter is that I took to the Xbox 1's controls (even the original, very large and bulky "Duke" model controller, though the smaller "S" sealed the deal) and nearly universal 480p or greater resolution, with digital surround sound.

Anyway, it's amazing how having something superior makes something you previously liked seem like crap. That's what the wireless Xbox 360 controllers make the Xbox Controller S controllers feel like - bulky crap. These 360 controllers work extremely well, with nice spring on the triggers. What doesn't work so well is the d-pad, which would be useful on classic Xbox Live Arcade games. That really is the major failing with the controller though - otherwise it's well balanced, works well wirelessly and even works well on the PC with the right adapter.

Obviously the 360 supports hi-def and widescreen by default, probably being most comfortable in 720p, but going all the way up to 1080p, but only if you have one of the models that supports HDMI output or you use a VGA adapter. My TV only does up to 1080i, so my launch 360 is just fine with component cables. I also use the optical audio output to connect to the switch box, which goes to my Sony surround sound receiver.

It has a built-in network port, but no built-in wireless networking. I had it hooked up to a Linksys Wireless GameBridge adapter, but recently got the official Xbox 360 wireless option (a small USB dongle) with a big online sale at Toys R Us recently. It works flawlessy with my D-Link Wireless N WPA security network at G speeds.

The 360 also connects flawlessly to my Windows Vista Tablet PC from Gateway. I can wirelessly stream music, video and photos, and the 360 also acts as a Windows Media Center Extender, the latter being a feature not particularly useful to me, since the other features are just fine. I stream music from my laptop alot, particularly when playing Xbox Live Arcade games, since EVERY 360 games, boxed or otherwise, allows you to use your own custom soundtracks, a feature the Sony PS3 would be wise to imitate (one game I have on the Wii - Excite Truck - allows this with the use of an SD card on a very limited basis).

As for Xbox Live, you have full access to movies, TV shows, videos, demos, themes, gamer pictures, instant messaging, friends lists, achievments, etc., all from a nice unified interface. Purchasing stuff with points is not a big deal as you can associate a credit card with your account if you so choose or use pre-paid cards. There are also ways to easily extend your pre-paid Xbox Live Gold annual membership (figure about $50 a year, give or take).

Anyway, nearly every game, be it boxed or virtual, has a demo. This is huge, particularly since the PS3 only offers a relative handful of demos and the Wii none at this time (they only offer gameplay videos of virtual console content). Many of these demos are highly playable and you could, in theory, content yourself with the hundreds of free demos indefinitely. However, you wouldn't get achievement points...

Achievement points are high scores turned on their ear for a new generation. Essentially, your gamertag (mine is "billlog") has both a reputation (given by other gamers) and a total score of all your achievements in every full (non-demo) game you ever play. Some are easy ("beat level one"), some are hard ("finish the game on impossible without losing a life"), but it gives playing each and every game an extra dimension that's great competitive fun, even if you only want to excel for yourself. Of course you can also compare your scores and games with your friends, right in the console.

Is this my favorite console this generation so far? Yep. I like the generally polished commercial games (lots of AAA titles) and love the Xbox Live Arcade games, which offer a good mix of nearly every genre you can think of and then some (this is where you'll find the most innovation).

My next purchase, around October 2007, was a Nintendo Wii. I was going into this not expecting much, but after playing it at my wife's friend's house, I thought it might be worth it. I also had to buy it in a bundle, but this one was not quite so bad, as it was really just Wii:Play, which comes with an extra controller, and a nunchuck add-on.

First the things I don't like. It doesn't play nicely with my HDTV with component cables, so I can't go into 480p mode. Your mileage may vary. Not everything is widescreen, so this requires a lot of switching modes on your TV unless you want 4:3 content stretched (not cool when playing something the NES version of Super Mario Bros. on virtual console). There is no optical audio support, only RCA cables. Not a major deal as there is still some surround sound support, but it's not the best possible. I'm also not fond of the Wii sensor bar you have to put on the top or bottom center of your TV. Just another thing in the way, but it's required to make the Wii-mote work properly.

As for the Wii-mote, contrary to popular belief, to this point, in my mind, the Wii-mote is not necessarily the Wii's killer app - the bundled Wii Sports is, particularly bowling, which seems to be universally loved by young and old alike. There is a good enough combination of sensing/acceleration and smoke and mirrors to create a very convincing, fun and approachable experience. Some of the other games on the disc work just as well, like Baseball, where swinging the Wii-mote as a bat is great fun, while some of the others like Boxing, which requires use of the nunchuck, don't sense well at all, and tennis kind of feels like its playing itself. This hit-or-miss sensitivity is prevelant throughout the Wii's software collection - some games get it right, some don't.

What's nice is that there is an IR sensor on the Wii-mote, so it works pretty well when used as a light gun, which is a nice bonus. There's also a nifty built in speaker on the remote for extra sound effects.

The Wii has built in wireless, which can be always on, receiving system messages and what-not. It has nifty extra applications in the main menu, like a very cool weather map and news, both of which can integrate with each other. It's a very nice interface and there's even a Web browser available for a small extra fee, something the 360 does not offer. Of course with the system not able to display hi-def, it's utility is hit or miss, but it does allow for Websites to cater to the system and its remote, which is a nice bonus.

The system lets you create Mii's, which is rather addictive. We've done our whole family and extended family. These are cartoony caricatures, but easily identifiable. Not every game supports your custom Mii, but it is like a user name.

Obviously there is near 100% GameCube support built-in, which is nice versus the 360 software-only emulation and the PS3's (depending upon model) hardware emulation, but lack of legacy ports without an adapter.

The Virtual Console is nice, offering a GameTap-like selection of emulated games on older systems like the NES, SNES, N64, TG-16, Neo Geo, etc. Again, without widescreen support, you have to change modes yourself on your TV for these, which I don't enjoy. Still, I've bought both Super Mario Bros. for the wife and Ice Climber for the both of us, both for the NES on there, and it plays reasonably well when you turn the Wii-mote to its side like a classic NES controller. What stinks is that even though the system supports SD cards (I have a 2GB card in there), games only install to system memory, which is limited. Save games go there too. So if you're very active with the system, it WILL fill up. Nintendo's answer is just to download content and redownload it when you want to play it again. Workable, but NOT cool, particularly when the 360 and particularly the PS3 offer virtually unlimited storage options.

So, what do I think of it? It's fun, but it definitely fails to make concessions to HDTV owners. When games work right, they're lots of fun, like Excite Truck - where you use the Wii-mote like a steering wheel - and Mario Strikers Charged - where you use the Nunchuck to move and the Wii-mote to take people out. Target games are fun too. The system - as I've always stated - does need a few more epics that make special use of the Wii-mote. The system is very heavy on mini-game compilations. Also, Nintendo really has to make with the demos already!

As for the Sony PS3, I got a refurb original 60GB model specifically because I wanted the model with hardware PS1 and PS2 backwards compatibility, since the software solution of other models left something to be desired. It has wireless built-in, which works fine both with my network and in talking to my Tablet PC laptop for streaming music, video and photos. It also nicely wirelessly integrates with the PSP, where you can stream content to the handheld. It's also nice because you can buy PS1 games in the Sony virtual store that plays on both the PS3 and PSP.

Obviously the PS3 supports all the same resolutions and audio that the Xbox 360, with the added support for Blu-Ray, which is nice. Right now, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD offer roughly the same features and quality (I have the HD-DVD add-on for the 360, which I received in December 2007), but it seems like Blu-Ray may be gaining the upper hand in terms of support. Regardless, it plays hi-def Blu-Ray films very well, with great sound.

The wireless controllers don't have rumble like the 360 or Wii controllers. In fact, the PS3's controllers are exceedingly light. Also, you can't change the battery - it has a built-in rechargeable battery that can't be replaced if it ever goes dead. Rumble-capable controllers should be released here in the US within six months. Yeah, right now, it's sometimes missed. Otherwise, the controllers are virtually identical to PS2 dual shock controllers, save for the R2 and L2 buttons becoming true triggers. Unfortunately, these are tougher to press than they should be, so I don't care for them much.

Interestingly, the PS3 controller has somewhat similar functionality to the Wii-mote, but without a sensor bar. It's not very accurate (at least not in any of the games yet that I tried), but it does pick up your motion-based movements when supported in-game. I usually revert to standard control schemes myself, but I suppose the option is rather nice. And I would try it on some of the downloadable games, but again, you need to buy before you try, so no thanks. I was interested in both Pain and the bowling game, but I'm not dropping $10 sight unseen, regardless of reviews.

I'm not a fan of the system's interface - the 360 is still the best of all three in my opinion - but I'd probably put this third behind the 360 and Wii. It's the same type of interface in a lot of Sony products, including the PSP. To each their own with that, though. It does have a built-in Web browser which works quite well, particularly for YouTube content. I also like the fact that the system is bluetooth-based, so I had no trouble mating bluetooth devices, like a portable keyboard, to the system.

There are versions of Linux available for the system, but I didn't devote any of my hard drive space to it, something you're asked whether you want to do if you format the system (which I did when I first got it - it took forever!). I probably should have since I love doing stuff like that, but frankly it's hard enough finding time for games and I can play with Linux on a computer when I'm so moved.

Games have been rather underwhelming up to this point, but the potential is obvious. It definitely needs a few killer apps and more AAA titles. It's definitely light in that area, though. Again, the system screams potential, but may not bring a lot of joy right now.

As for the PSP and DS, I believe I got my PSP first back when I thought I was going to contribute to a book on PSP hacking (though I certainly could have already had the DS - I just don't remember, really). This was quite some time ago. I've enjoyed it mostly as a portable console since that time, playing LOTS of high-end baseball on the thing. I don't use it much for media purposes, but it's constantly improving in that area, and the PS3 streaming is very cool. The DS is the DS. It has good enough technical abilities and obviously a very functional touch screen, which makes it ideal for certain games. I play lots of Chessmaster on the DS right now. I've probably put more time into the PSP, but overall I'd say they're both superb purchases with tons of great games available. Just keep in mind the various library and capability differences. Both have built-in wireless and do online well, but only the PSP has the ability to stream content from a PS3 and also has a built-in Web browser. The DS may at some point get the ability to receive games from the Wii, but we may have to wait a while before that happens. Doing "homebrew" on the DS is a bit easier, if you're into that sort of thing.

So, what are YOUR thoughts about these systems? Obviously I did a stream-of-consciousness type of thing here, so there's still tons more to talk and debate about.

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Bill Loguidice
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RESTORED COMMENTS FROM GOOGLE CACHE

"I only have a PSP (and gp2x), its kind of funny. The PSP had a very underwhelming launch, every one panned it, now its a very versatile, very capable device and I think sony did very well with it. I like that its "PS2 portable" in a sense that you can play GTA or tony hawk on it.

I think the PS3 will outclass the 360 eventually but it might take another year or two. The PS3 feels like it has longer legs/lifespan than the 360. But that could change and I forsee each copying all the others features.

Will I ever buy a 360 or ps3? Probably not within the next two years (no HD tv here). and I cant see myself ever getting a WII. The wii seems like a real joke console to me (I thought the same of the n64 and gamecube), more of a toy than a 'gaming experience'. The motion control nunchuck thing doesnt interest me at all and just screams gimmick."

"One of the nov/dec 2007 dashboard updates introduced divx/xvid avi support on the Xbox 360 enabling it to play those avi files from a shared directory. Don't try to play them using the media center but connect to one of the shares created by media player. Works like a charm.

The only thing missing from my console collection is a PS3, the recently introduced PS3 models with lacking PS2 emulation are nicely priced but the lack of backwards compatibility causes it to have a larger threshold for me when it comes to actually buying it. Perhaps I should go for a refurbished older model. "

"yakumo9275 wrote:
I only have a PSP (and gp2x), its kind of funny. The PSP had a very underwhelming launch, every one panned it, now its a very versatile, very capable device and I think sony did very well with it. I like that its "PS2 portable" in a sense that you can play GTA or tony hawk on it.

Yeah, the days of anyone panning the PSP's software library should be long gone now. It's also a very competent portable media device with all the updates over the years, as long as you have a decent memory card. In fact last night I tried the new free Internet Radio feature (I chose the Shoutcast option), and it works like a charm with great fidelity.

yakumo9275 wrote:

I think the PS3 will outclass the 360 eventually but it might take another year or two. The PS3 feels like it has longer legs/lifespan than the 360. But that could change and I forsee each copying all the others features.

Honestly, the only way the PS3 can truly trump the 360 in a noticeable manner will be if someone can actually leverage the extra storage capacity of the Blu-Ray medium and/or leverage the fact that every PS3 has to have a hard drive (though a developer can make an exception in the 360's case for extraordinary circumstances, like the MMORPG Final Fantasy). It will also help the PS3's case when developers use that system as the primary development platform, a la the new Burnout, but even then the 360 has a few advantages over the PS3 release. Power-wise, it seems to be a wash, really, so it all comes down to who gets the best developers to develop the most AAA titles. The fact that the PS3 is only a partial bust in Japan, while the 360 is a total failure there certainly helps the former's future case.

yakumo9275 wrote:

Will I ever buy a 360 or ps3? Probably not within the next two years (no HD tv here). and I cant see myself ever getting a WII. The wii seems like a real joke console to me (I thought the same of the n64 and gamecube), more of a toy than a 'gaming experience'. The motion control nunchuck thing doesnt interest me at all and just screams gimmick.

It IS fun if you pick and choose your games (seems like an obvious statement). I've found that when games don't work right, they fail miserably, but the if the motion sensing is used intelligently, you do get a unique experience. The catch is, you DO have to stand for a lot of games, and after a long day or if I don't want to risk sweating, I just avoid all that and go for an ass-on-the-couch system..."

"Mark Vergeer wrote:
One of the nov/dec 2007 dashboard updates introduced divx/xvid avi support on the Xbox 360 enabling it to play those avi files from a shared directory. Don't try to play them using the media center but connect to one of the shares created by media player. Works like a charm.

That is a nice feature of both the 360 and PS3. Those features were rough on both systems after each system's respective launches but through a series of updates on each, they've really made nice media center systems and thoughtfully integrate with existing Windows PCs.

Mark Vergeer wrote:
The only thing missing from my console collection is a PS3, the recently introduced PS3 models with lacking PS2 emulation are nicely priced but the lack of backwards compatibility causes it to have a larger threshold for me when it comes to actually buying it. Perhaps I should go for a refurbished older model.

I obviously agree with that. I was going to wait on the PS3, but I KNEW I wouldn't have been happy with one of the "crippled" models, which really only offer the advantage of a bigger hard drive, if any at all. Otherwise you get a smaller hard drive or fewer features. On the PS3 obviously the hard drive size is a non-issue, because amazingly and thoughtfully Sony allows you to put your own hard drive of any size in there. The fact that I was also somehow able to take advantage of the five free Blu-Rays (because mine came withe box) even on a refurb unit and even with an eBay "receipt" was just icing on the cake on top of the fact that the system was in great shape and was a good price (it actually even came with two controllers, but the way that the seller packed the second controller, it got smashed by the immense girth/weight of the PS3 console - so I got a partial refund)."

"At MrCustard's place I experienced some PS3 to PSP streaming. Avi's play well, DVD is not streamed, psx 1 games are streamed in such a way that the emulation itself is running on the PS3 and the screen is streamed/sound to the PSX. This results in a great feature but unfortunately also a lag in gameplay and varying framerates.

I was hoping the PSX games were streamed in a different fashion where the actual game files are accessed by the PSX emulator within the PSP over the wifi connection. It must be fast enough to facilitate the actual 1xspeed cd-rom transfers PSX games use (150Kb/sec). Having the PSX emulation taking place on the PSP itself will definitely improve image quality and response rates. I am curious as to why Sony opted for emulation on the PS3 and only streaming the video and audio over.

I say PSX game streaming the way it is done right now is just not good enough for action games, RPG's or games with little going on on the screen might benefit more from the current implementation. Mind you, the streaming of PSX games might be possible over the internet! So if things improve a little then I might be tempted. It would have been one of the points to make me go out and get a PS3 but seeing the quality of this feature it's not worth it. But perhaps the poor performance of PSX game streaming has something to do with MrCustard's wifi setup? How are the experiences of others?"

"Mark Vergeer wrote:

I say PSX game streaming the way it is done right now is just not good enough for action games, RPG's or games with little going on on the screen might benefit more from the current implementation. Mind you, the streaming of PSX games might be possible over the internet! So if things improve a little then I might be tempted. It would have been one of the points to make me go out and get a PS3 but seeing the quality of this feature it's not worth it. But perhaps the poor performance of PSX game streaming has something to do with MrCustard's wifi setup? How are the experiences of others?

Don't the games run from the memory card of the PSP once transferred?"

"PSX games do run from the memory stick, no lag is experienced but only a few games are available through the Sony store. A new feature making it possible to 'stream' PSX games to the PSP was introduced with the latest firmware and this is what I wrote about earlier.
So with the regular PSX emulation the game resides on memory stick but you are limited to newly bought content. Performance is good and responsiveness is fine. A game does take up quite a lot of memory stick space though. With the new 'streaming feature' it is possible to stream just about any compatible game to the PSP and the good part is that it doesn't use valuable memory stick space. But alas the framerate and responsiveness do suffer in such a way that I don't find the streaming-feature appealing in the current state it is in. A wonderful concept though which doesn't require you to re-buy the PSX games you also want to play on the PSP."

"I guess that that makes sense, since all the PS1 games in the PSN store are dual-format now. I doubt the PC version of the PSP store supports streaming either, so that's probably download-to-memory card only."

n/a

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