Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PS3 vs. the Wii

Better late than never I always say. Here's my breakdown of the two new consoles, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii. The story originally ran in last Sunday's paper, along with some quicky reviews of various launch titles. I'll post the reviews tomorrow.

Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendos Wii might be video-game consoles, but theyre aiming for much different markets and have completely different viewpoints toward what video games should be. Comparing them is really rather unfair.

But then who ever said we were fair? Heres a look at the two competing consoles and how they measure up:


THE PLAYSTATION 3

THE BREAKDOWN
$600 gets you one PlayStation 3 complete with a 60GB hard drive, Blu-ray DVD player, Ethernet and USB ports, one wireless controller, built-in Wi-Fi and a Blu-ray copy of Talladega Nights. For $500 you get the same items except that its a 20GB hard drive and theres no Wi-Fi.


WHAT IT DOES BESIDES GAMES
The PS3 can play Blu-ray and regular DVDs, display digital photos, copy music (though you cant incorporate the music into your games the way you can on the Xbox 360) and play old PlayStation 2 games. It should be noted, however, that some folks have had trouble with some PS2 titles.

THE CONSOLE
Sleek, black, beveled and large. Stylish, but also rather heavy. It doesnt, however, make an ungodly whirring noise like the Xbox 360.

THE SETUP
Much more complicated than it ought to be. The PS3 is supposed to take full advantage of your average HDTV, but it doesnt come with the proper cables. As soon as you pop in the first game expect to go through a 10-minute (or longer) update installation. Plus, you have to plug in your
controller in order for the console to recognize it. Bah.

THE INTERFACE
Anyone who owns a PlayStation Portable will recognize the PS3s menu system. The vertical menu lets you switch from games to music and movies pretty easily.

THE CONTROLLER
The Sixaxis controller (as its being called) is extremely lightweight and fits in the hands rather well. It boasts motion-sensitive capabilities somewhat similar to the Wii, though it doesnt seem as intuitive. Sadly, one thing it doesnt have is rumble vibration, which is sorely missed.

THE GRAPHICS
This is where the console shines. Just about every game played on the PS3 looks phenomenal,
featuring stunning detail and texture, though a few are only appreciably different from what you see on the Xbox 360.

ONLINE
Presently, Sonys online area is pretty anemic, but then so was the Xbox Live at first. The Sony store offers some game demos, trailers and one or two arcade-style games, but not much else. The store is easy to navigate, but unlike the 360, you cant download while doing something else, so expect to see lots of progress bars.

You can surf the Internet via the built-in Web browser, though typing in addresses is a hassle. You also can make a friends list, but only for each individual game; theres no real integration between games.

OTHER STUFF YOULL HAVE TO BUY
If you have an HDTV (and why did you even try to get a PS3 unless you did?) youll need an HDMI (a good ones about $100) or component cable. An extra controller will set you back $50. A USB keyboard ($14 and up) is essential if youre planning on spending a lot of time online. Sonys maddening key pad system was obviously not designed with real people in mind.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Unless youre hankering for a Blu-ray player, the PlayStation 3 is about as far from an essential purchase as you can get right now. With its high-grade tech specs but low-interest launch library, the PS3 is little more than a tease. It would be foolish to count the console out at this
early date, but those who missed out on the initial launch should sit on their hands and wait until some really noteworthy games come out. The PS3 suggests incredible potential. But right now thats all it is.


THE WII

THE BREAKDOWN
For $250 you get the Wii console, a “Wii-mote” controller and “nunchuck” attachment, cables, a sensor bar, Wi-Fi Internet access and a copy of the game “Wii Sports.”

WHAT IT DOES BESIDES GAMES

Not much. You can display and manipulate digital pictures by inserting your camera’s memory card into the console (which enables you to then send photos to friends and family). That’s about it. No DVD or CD features to speak of.

THE CONSOLE
Small enough to be unobtrusive, the Wii resembles more of a peripheral PC hard drive than it does a video-game console. Considering how big and clunky the 360 and PS3 are, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

THE SETUP
Thankfully easy. Just put the sensor bar on top of your TV, plug in the appropriate cables and voila. Getting the controller to recognize the console took a bit of effort on my part, but that’s what manuals are for.

THE INTERFACE
The Wii screen displays an array of different “channels” — one for playing games, a “news channel,” a “weather channel,” etc. The most interesting one is the “Mii Channel,” where you can create amusing little avatars to stand in for you and your friends, which can then show up in games like “Wii Sports” or be sent over to other consoles.

THE CONTROLLER
Here’s where the magic happens. The “Wii-mote” is a wireless, motion-sensitive controller that resembles a TV remote. Operating the device is remarkably easy and fun. Playing a tennis game? Just swing the controller like a racket. Is your game character holding a sword? Swing the controller to have him vanquish his enemies.


There’s even a small speaker in the controller so you can hear the crack of the bat. Plus, it vibrates!

For games that require a bit more button-pressing, like the new “Legend of Zelda” game, just plug in the “nunchuk” attachment.

Overall the controls offer a new way of playing games, one where standing and moving about is required, though your arms do get tired rather quickly.


THE GRAPHICS
Passable. Wii games look about as good as your average GameCube title. Not bad by any means, but nowhere near the kind of crisp definition that the 360 and PS3 offer.

ONLINE
It’s still being tweaked, but the online Wii store offers a variety of classic games like “Donkey Kong,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Super Mario 64” to download and play. You buy the games with Wii points, which you purchase via credit card (1,000 Wii points equals $10; most games run about $5 and up).


You can also download alternate channels, like the aforementioned news and weather channels, though they’re not available yet. A Web browser is also in the works.

OTHER STUFF YOU’LL HAVE TO BUY
If you don’t have a strong wireless signal in your house you’ll need some sort of attachment to directly connect to the Internet (an official Wi-Fi USB adapter is $40). If you have an HDTV and want to take advantage of the nice picture, you’ll have to buy the appropriate cables. Another “Wii-mote” will set you back $60. To play the downloaded games, you’ll need a “Classic Controller” ($60).

THE BOTTOM LINE
By eschewing the shiny graphics arms race and instead attempting to attract the casual gamer with innovative game play, Nintendo has come up with a winner. The Wii is an impressive and, more importantly, fun piece of machinery. Games like “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,” “ExciteTruck” and “Wii Sports” give you some A-list titles right out of the gate, too. At long last, here’s a console the whole family will want to play.


Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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