For serious living room gaming, you have two choices. Sony and Microsoft square off in our feature-by-feature battle.
The current generation of game systems have been around for more than five years, and they're going to stick around for a while. At the E3 gaming convention this week neither Microsoft nor Sony announced new consoles, and we won't likely see next-gen boxes for at least a couple of years. The Nintendo Wii has its place, but the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3 stand as the leaders of current gaming generation. We take a look at each system, feature by feature, to determine a winner.
The Xbox 360 has a very slight advantage at the low end, with a $199.99 bundle that includes 4GB of storage and a wireless controller. The Xbox 360 Elite with 250GB of storage rings up at $299.99. If you like to play motion-controlled games, a $299.99 (4GB) or $399.99 (250GB) bundle adds a Kinect sensor. Meanwhile, the Sony PlayStation 3 with 160GB of storage is available for $249. A bundle with a 320GB PS3 and Sony's motion-control add-on, PlayStation Move, will cost you $349. The $200 Xbox 360 is the least-expensive entry, but if you want your game console to double as an entertainment system, the $250 PlayStation 3 with 40 times the storage and a built-in Blu-ray player is a better bet for the money.
The Xbox 360 is a year older than the PlayStation 3, and arguably less powerful—on paper, that is. However, years of cross-platform games delivering similar performance on each has proven that, where it counts, the two systems are equal. Some games will have slightly different graphics filters or slightly longer load times on each box, but both systems can play the same games (besides exclusives, of course, and even those exclusives each have rough equivalents).
The biggest games of the last five years are mostly cross-platform titles, like the Call of Duty series, Elder Scrolls, and Madden franchises. Each system has its own exclusives (Gears of War, Halo, Forza Motorsport for Xbox 360; and Uncharted, God of War, and Gran Turismo for PlayStation 3), but they're a matter of taste. It's so objective that neither is superior to the other.
Microsoft backed the wrong horse in the media format wars. While Sony included Blu-ray playback in the PlayStation 3 from the beginning, Microsoft stuck with DVD playback and an optional HD-DVD drive. You know how that turned out. Blu-ray won, and the PlayStation 3 is an excellent Blu-ray player.
Winner: PlayStation 3
This is tricky. Both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network are rich complementary Web-based services with loads of multimedia, matchmaking (as in finding you a viable game opponent, not necessarily a life partner), and streaming media features—and they're both very similar. You can keep lists of friends, talk to them inside and outside of games, and watch services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on both services. PlayStation Network has the advantage here because you can enjoy most of the features without paying for the premium membership (which still offers bonuses like free games and discounts), while Xbox Live still requires a Gold membership to play online and watch streaming services. Xbox Live Gold is also more expensive than PSN Plus, at $24.99 for a three-month subscription and $59.99 for a year-long subscription compared with $17.99 and $49.99 for PSN Plus.
Winner: PlayStation 3
Because of Kinect's unique features and relative success, the Xbox squeaks by here. Instead of waving around a wand like the Nintendo Wii or PlayStation Move, the Kinect camera detects how you're moving without props or batteries. As the commercial says, "You are the controller." Motion-controlled gaming hasn't taken off like Microsoft or Sony hoped, and while the Kinect still has some momentum with games like Star Wars Kinect, it's not the main reason you should get an Xbox 360.
Winner: Xbox 360
And the Winner is...
Sony PlayStation 3. For gaming, the two systems are almost identical in power, selection, and experience, but the PS3 pulls ahead in online service with free online multiplayer and media playback with Blu-ray support. The Xbox 360's biggest advantage is the Kinect, and even that's an option with few games and dubious usefulness. With the PS3, for $50 more than the Xbox, you get more storage, more functionality, and you can play with your friends without paying a subscription fee.
What's your console of choice? Tell us why you picked the platform you play in the comments below.