Gaming consoles bring to mind irate parents, neglected studies, and of course, late nights and frantic button mashing. Perhaps because of this, Microsoft’s and Sony’s two consoles haven’t quite been the proverbial hotcakes that they expected them to be. It’s sad to see technology associated with such negatives. This also explains why so many people in India still think of gaming in the vein as the PC — and the console is perceived to be a strict gamer only toy. If you told someone that Sony’s PlayStation 3 was also a Blu-Ray player they’d go “Oh? I thought it was used to play games”. Or if I told your parents that MS’s X360 can connect to the Internet they’d go “No way! You need a computer for that, and where’s the keyboard?” The point I’m trying to make is that people ought to stop viewing a console as a gaming box only. It is that and more — and manufacturers the world over are looking to make consoles even more multipurpose — so called Jacks of all trades.
Sure, consoles are 90 per cent about gaming. Of course a PC can do anything a console can, and then some. But a PC isn’t really a console’s competitor, although most gamers in India will feel so. We feel that a hardcore gamer will find space for both a PC and a console (or two) in his gaming room. After all, some of the best console game titles aren’t available on PC at all and vice versa — God Of War comes to mind. Also a console gives a radically different experience to gaming than a PC can. Although PCs totally kick consoles in the backside when it comes to visual quality, the console has the advantage of having a much longer upgrade curve. Your eight month old GeForce 8800GT is already panting by now — but your five-year old PS2 still delivers the goods. After all, PCs are nearly infinitely upgradeable, while with consoles, game developers actually have to design a game with hardware constraints — since a consoles’ hardware is more or less fixed. This forces developers to actually use their brains to design efficient games that look good, play well, and don’t kill the hardware in the console. Because they know that the likes of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft aren’t going to design a replacement console for another three years at least.
Another significant plus for a console is its price — consoles are much cheaper than gaming PCs. For example an XBox 360 costs around Rs 17,000 for the base version, while a good gaming PC will cost upwards of Rs 40,000. The costliest version of the XBox 360 with 1080p support and a 120 GB HDD, the XBox 360 Elite costs Rs 30,000 in India, while a high-end gaming rig will cost upward of Rs 60,000, or more. Add to this the fact that your XBox 360 or PS3 will last for another 2 or 3 years at least, while your new PC may struggle to get past the first quarter of 2009, and you will see why consoles are actually a better deal than most people think. Of course, some people will argue that the cost of a large screen TV can be added to the price of a console. However, the large screen can also be used as a home cinema system when you aren’t gaming.
Of course gaming consoles also include handhelds like Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP). Such portable game stations allow you to enjoy gaming on the move, and are good alternatives for gamers over PMPs and their ilk. The new PSP Slim even supports a TV-out attachment, so you can connect it to a large screen display for even more fun. The PSP Slim is available for an unbeatable price of Rs 7,500 and this often includes a memory card (Sony’s proprietary MS Pro/Duo memory cards are used). Also, take into consideration the price of game UMDs (Universal Media Disks), as newer PSP titles can be priced as high as Rs 1,500. Even older titles are relatively costly, i.e. Rs 500, or so. I’ve come across PC titles that are cheaper. Some people will offer to hack your PSP, which involves an install of pirated firmware, thereby allowing you to install non-legal copies of games. Beware, this voids any warranty, is illegal, and you will need to keep upgrading your pirated firmware as well. The GameBoy is a little less common in our markets, owing to it’s not being officially available in India. Look out for the Nintendo DS — the newest avatar of Nintendo’s portable entertainment system. The PSP 3000 from Sony is also expected soon, and will offer a brighter screen with reduced glare, better colour gamut and the inclusion of a microphone. This will be 100 per cent compatible with UMDs of the older PSP (internally known as the PSP 2000). For me, something like a PSP doesn’t mean I’d miss out on a full scale console. I feel ownership of these consoles shouldn’t be exclusive, and for me, ownership of a PSP and an XBox 360 or PS3 is essential. But then, that’s just me — the proverbial gadget freak.
The Nintendo Wii, (pronounced wee), is a novel concept. A gaming console that has controllers with inbuilt gyroscopes allows its users to control the game with gestures and motion movements. Playing tennis or cricket for example on the Wii is a lot of fun, since you can swing, smash or cover drive, just like the real thing! Even arcade fighters like kickboxing games are enjoyable, as are shooter-based games. Couch-potato-button-mashers beware — the Wii has potential as a workout machine as well. It has WiFi connectivity, and can also be used to connect to the Internet.
The most important thing for a console isn’t how well it does HD, or what formats it supports. A Rs 15,000 HTPC can do all that a console can, and more! A console’s appeal is mainly decided by game developer support or simply how many game titles are developed for use with it. And this is where Microsoft’s XBox 360 and Sony’s PS3 totally rock — they have maximum developer community support. Microsoft also has the distinct advantage of having all PC game developers eating out of the palm of its hands, courtesy Windows, which is synonymous with PC gaming. Most of these developers also develop for consoles, giving Microsoft something of a leverage in the console development sphere.
The XBox 360 is an older console than the PS3, and doesn’t have the same processing grunt that the PS3 does, owing to its cell processor. Note that the GPU hardware is nearly the same generation — both the XBox 360 and PS3 have jurassic 90nm parts from ATI’s X1800 series and NVIDIA’s 7800GTX series of GPUs respectively. The PS3 has the important inclusion of a Blu-Ray drive while the X360 still features a (now defunct) HD-DVD drive. I’d say the PS3 is a more future-proof buy, although this is only my opinion.
In terms of application support today, there are twice as many X360 titles out there than PS3 titles, and some of the best console games I have played are on this platform. Mass Effect, Gears Of War, and many other PC titles that are also developed for the X360 are some of your best reasons to invest in the X360. Sony does have a few exclusive game designers, which is why their God Of War series and their Metal Gear series sell more PS3s than the temptation of a Blu-Ray player.
The X360 is available in a number of configurations that are priced equally variably. The Core system comprises of no HDD and two wired controllers. The Premium version, ships with the same controllers and a 20 GB HDD, out of which around 13 GB is available for media storage. These two versions are available for Rs 17,000 and Rs 22,000 respectively. The top-end version, called the X360 Elite, features one wired and two wireless connectors, 1080p support and a whopping 120 GB HDD. This one costs in the region of Rs 35,000. Sony’s PS3 is available in two versions — a 20 GB and a 40 GB — the former costs around Rs 22,000 while the latter is priced at Rs 25,000. The PS3 ships with two wired controllers. There is a 60 GB version which isn’t legally available here. This version also has inbuilt WiFi which the two earlier mentioned version miss out on.
As a gamer you will have to look closely at the games available for each console. For many buyers (me included) it was more a choice of game than hardware technology that determined which console I was looking at. As of today the XBox 360 is a more mature product and has a lot more variety in games available than the PS3. I feel the year 2009 will be the year of the PS3, and I’ve come across countless titles scheduled for a 2009 release which should make the PS3 a very attractive proposition indeed. Of course, some people may covet the console for its seamless Blu-Ray playback capabilities and if you are one of this fraternity, who wants to game and watch movies with equal fervour, then the PS3 is definitely worth a look at.
Since both these consoles support HD 1080p, I recommend a 32-inch flat screen panel for a display. Although you can use an LCD monitor or a CRT TV, large screen gaming just has to be experienced. For someone on a budget you may not be able to fit in an LCD or plasma display. If you plan on an LCD monitor make sure it has an HDMI port — Dell’s new SP2208WFP is a good candidate for pairing with a console. This monitor should cost you around 15,000, which coupled with an X360 Premium will cost just under Rs 35,000 — a sweet deal. Microsoft is planning to update all XBox 360s with Blu-Ray optical drives — this may be something you want to wait for, as the current HD-DVD drives are useless for movies and such, since the format itself has become obsolete.
If you’re looking to build a gaming PC on a budget of Rs 50,000 or so, and already have a two year old workhorse PC, it may be worthwhile to think out of the box (pun) and pick up one of these boxes instead. Use the change to buy an LCD monitor. May the button mashing commence!