Gaming systems have come a long way since the days of Pong and the Atari 2600. The graphics are high–definition (practically photo-quality), the processor speeds create smooth, realistic animation, and the controls require the dexterity of a contortionist to access all of the functionality loaded into these software powerhouses.
However, there are a multitude of consoles for sale, all offering various perks. It can be tough to know exactly what to buy. Understanding how the top consoles stack up against the competition will help you know exactly which console is the right one for you.
Best Stationary Gaming Systems
1. Sony Playstation 3 Slim (160GB)
Since the release of the original Playstation in 1994, Sony has been on top when it comes to offering quality gaming consoles to the masses. In fact, the second generation Playstation, more commonly known as the PS2, is still on the market and is recognized as the most successful gaming console to date, outselling every other platform available. The Sony Playstation 3 builds on this success.
- Full of Features. The Playstation 3 is packed full of features designed to delight a wide variety of media connoisseurs. The Playstation 3 Slim is actually the second generation Playstation 3 model, which has some design characteristics that set it apart from its predecessor.
- Energy Efficient. First of all, the new Slim version uses a lot less energy than the former “fat” version. This actually has an impact on a couple of key elements: your utility bill and placement of the device. Since the PS3 uses less energy, it emits less heat and is less prone to overheating like its power-gulping predecessor. This allows you to keep your console in your entertainment cabinet with your other peripherals instead of setting it on your floor or on an open shelf for proper ventilation.
- High-Definition Games. All of the games offered for the PS3 are in high-definition, which makes gameplay super realistic and sharp, especially when connected to a flat screen HDTV.
- Blu-ray Feature. The PS3 doubles as a Blu-ray player, which is great, but what’s even better is that the Blu-ray capabilities of this console are largely considered one of the best, which can save you quite a bit of money by not having to purchase a comparable Blu-ray device.
- Up-Converting DVD Player Feature. Additionally, the PS3 not only plays back regular DVDs, but upscales them to high-def, saving you money and space in this area as well.
- Wi-Fi Integration. The PS3 console has built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to connect to streaming video services, the online gaming community, the Playstation Network, and the Playstation Store wirelessly, keeping cable clutter to a minimum. You can easily download content (movies, games, and more) directly to your PS3 from the Playstation Store. And Sony even added a fully functional web browser to the mix, making it easy to access your Facebook page, YouTube, or other Internet-based content in a snap. Who wouldn’t want to see their profile picture on the big screen?
- Online Player Community. What’s truly exceptional about the Playstation Network is that, unlike Xbox Live, access to the Playstation Network is free.
- Lacks Backward Capability With Previous Models. The only major flaw with the PS3 is its lack of backwards compatibility with PS2 games. Every other Playstation console has this capability, and with so many worthy PS2 games on the market today, this is problematic.
- No Infrared Remote Compatibility. While the Bluetooth connectivity of the wireless remotes isn’t really a con, the lack of an infrared detector for non-Bluetooth remotes is. This means that you are pretty much stuck buying Bluetooth remotes from Sony directly or another Bluetooth remote manufacturer, which equals more expensive remote controls.
- Lack of Maturity of Playstation Network. The Playstation Network isn’t quite as mature as Xbox Live in terms of features and connecting online players together, but it is slowly becoming a more robust experience.
- Requires the Purchase of a Stand to Be Placed Upright. In the previous version, the console was designed to be stored either horizontally or vertically, your choice. The new slim version on its own can only be placed horizontally, but Sony did decide to market a stand into which you can slide your console vertically without the worry of it tipping over.
Sony did itself a huge disservice by not making the PS3 Slim a backwards-compatible console with the PS2 platform. This would have put them well over the top of all the competing systems out there. But, that being said, the superior Blu-ray player, up-converting DVD player functionality, and wireless network capabilities makes this console a welcome addition to any multimedia-loving household.
2. Microsoft Xbox 360 Slim (250GB)
The biggest claim to fame for the Xbox was that Microsoft managed to get their next-generation gaming system, Xbox 360, to market before Nintendo or Sony could, giving it a strong competitive edge. The addition of the Xbox Live online gaming community catapulted it to the top position rather quickly, where it has managed to live comfortably for quite some time.
- Large Title Availability. The biggest advantage that the Xbox has over the Playstation 3 is game title availability. Maybe it’s because the Xbox was the first on the scene when it comes to high-definition video gaming, or maybe Microsoft just has a stable of prolific game writers, but whatever the reason, there are simply more titles available for the Xbox than for the PS3.
- Large Internal Memory Capacity. The large memory means that none of the 250GB of internal storage space will be wasted, as you have so many game progress files to store on it.
- Ease of Peripheral Equipment Connectivity. Microsoft has also packed this particular device with five USB ports, making the addition of peripheral equipment extremely easy.
- Quiet Operation. This device has been highly touted as the quietest operating gaming unit on the market today. This is a really great feature, especially for those who are easily distracted by the hum of a whirling game, DVD, or Blu-ray disc.
- Blu-ray Player Feature. Of course, the Xbox 360 Slim, like the PS3 doubles as both a Blu-ray player and an up-converting DVD player, which means that there’s a lot less clutter under your TV.
- Integrated Wi-Fi. This console comes with built-in Wi-Fi, a fully functional web browser, access to Xbox Live online gaming community (for a fee), and an insane optical digital audio function that pushes your TV speakers to their limits.
- Overheating Issues. In the early days, Xbox 360 was plagued by overheating units that caused catastrophic failure in one out of every four units. The Xbox 360 Slim has added a better cooling function, but even this may not be enough to prevent the “red ring of death.”
- Proprietary Hard Drive. Additionally, unlike the PS3, the hard drive in the Xbox 360 is proprietary. This means that unless you plan on replacing your existing 250GB hard drive with a larger Xbox 360 hard drive, you can’t replace it at all.
- Unwieldy External Power Supply. Microsoft also didn’t do anything about the clunky exterior power supply. It’s there, it’s ugly, and there’s nothing you can do about it but try to hide it behind your TV stand.
- No Included HDMI Cables. Lastly, Microsoft got a little stingy and didn’t include any HDMI cables in the box, so if true high-def gaming is what you seek, plan on buying your own HDMI cable.
The Xbox 360 Slim is very similar to the original Xbox 360 console, so if Xbox is your thing, I wouldn’t replace your existing system with this one, unless your three-year warranty against the red ring of death is about to expire. The availability of game titles and the quality of the Xbox Live online gaming network are the real claims to fame for the Xbox 360, giving it a slight edge over its competition – at least, if these are attributes that you value in a gaming system.
3. Nintendo Wii Mario Kart Bundle
In the world of high-powered, high-definition gaming systems, the Nintendo Wii left quite a bit to be desired. However, it was the first and notably the best “live action” video gaming system, meaning that the Wii encouraged tons of couch potato gaming enthusiasts to get off the couch and move around.
- User Remote. The one thing that set the Nintendo Wii apart from its competitors is its unique remote, which you can move around to control the game.
- Huge Library of Games. The system has a huge library of games. Additionally, you get access to a virtual library of downloadable games, as well as direct access to Netflix streaming services.
- Wi-Fi Integration. Of course, the Wii is lacking many of the features that make the PS3 and Xbox 360 so great, but this is reflected in its $150 price tag. Online connectivity exists, but is limited by some technology issues. You can connect with other users online and play multi-player games over the Internet thanks to a built in Wi-Fi connection, but there is currently no online gaming community. Nintendo announced this past January plans to create such a feature for Wii U users that would mimic the communities offered by Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.
- No Integrated Browser. As I mentioned previously, the online connectivity for this device could be an issue, but without an integrated browser to support, you really couldn’t call it a con.
- Lack of Multimedia Playback Support. You can’t play CDs, you can’t play DVDs, you can’t play Blu-ray movies. Heck, you can’t even stream from any video service other than Netflix.
- Remedial Game Graphics. The game graphics are cartoonish and outdated when compared to the offerings of other consoles, but the games are fun and family friendly nonetheless. And, of course, the novelty of motion game play is no longer exclusive to the Wii. The Xbox 360 has introduced Kinect and the PS3 has Move.
The Wii gaming system is fun, but is on its way out. Casual gamers will enjoy playing “Wii Sports” and “Mario Kart” for years to come, but hardcore gamers will avoid this console like the plague. It’s a good thing that there are so many family friendly quality games available for the Wii, as this will help keep it relevant for a few more years.
Best Portable Gaming Systems
It’s pretty hard to name the “best” overall portable system, as there are really only two manufacturers that offer anything notable. However, both of these systems are wildly popular and are worth mentioning.
1. Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo has long been the leader in portable gaming systems, and the newest iteration of its best-selling DS series, the Nintendo 3DS, is no slouch. The no-glasses-required 3D gaming experience is quite a bit better than most expected, though the weak launch title availability slightly hampered Nintendo.
- Good 3D Gaming Functionality. The main claim to fame for this particular system is its ability to produce a good 3D gaming experience, no glasses required. I love the fact that Nintendo added a 3D “slider” that allows each gamer to adjust the 3D experience to their own preferences, and even remove it if they so choose. This feature helps reduce eye strain during game play.
- 3D Picture-Taking Functionality. Not only does the 3D functionality work well during gaming, but the pictures you can take with the rear facing cameras can also be displayed in 3D.
- Integrated Wi-Fi. You also get integrated Wi-Fi to facilitate both Internet browsing and access to the eShop for game downloads and Netflix streaming video service.
- Easy Recharging. The other notable addition is the ability to “drop and dock,” which makes recharging the relatively short-lasting battery both faster and more stylish than using the previous versions’ AC adapter cable.
- Backwards Compatibility. This unit is also backwards compatible with all of the existing DS game libraries, so you won’t have to replace all your existing games with their new 3D counterparts. And, of course, the price drop from $299 was a welcome surprise.
- Expandable Memory. The expandable memory slot allows you to access audio files for music playback, and the 3DS has a microphone that allows you to create your own audio files for playback.
- Wide Range of Preloaded Software. The preloaded software allows your 3DS to not only recognize Wi-Fi hotspots, but to also “sniff out” other 3DS consoles within certain proximity and “invite” the other players into multi-player game play. This is actually a really cool feature, since most of the portable gaming devices have been a solo game playing endeavor.
- Lack of 3D Titles. Thank goodness this unit has a backwards compatibility function because the existing library of 3D games is lackluster.
- Eye Strain Issues. While the 3D game play feature is awesome and amazing for some, it can cause eye strain and headaches for others. I would definitely advise potential customers to take this one on a test drive before diving in head first.
- Short Battery Life. The battery is extremely short-lived. I’m not sure what the issue is, though I imagine the energy needed to produce the 3D image must be placing a strain on the battery, which is no doubt the same model found in the 2D versions that have been on the market for some time.
The Nintendo 3DS is the first and so far only 3D gaming system on the market today. This makes it the best in its category, though with the immense popularity of the DS gaming systems, this newest system would have probably been a big hit without the 3D feature. There are tons of games available both in physical form and for download, and the ability to play other players via a Bluetooth connection makes this a best pick for anyone looking for a full featured portable gaming system.
2. Sony PSP 3000
The Sony PSP, or Playstation Portable, is one of the most feature-rich portable gaming platforms I’ve ever experienced. This device is a true portable entertainment system, allowing users to play fully functional miniature versions of the same titles available on the PS2 or PS3. It also offers audio playback functionality, video playback functionality, expandable storage via SD card slots, and an integrated Wi-Fi system coupled with a fully functional browser.
- Sleek Design. This is a sleek-looking gaming device that does so much more than play video games.
- Large, Easy-to-See LCD Display. The screen is large (4.3 inches to be exact), brightly lit, and responsive to the action on the screen. I found the screen to be much more watchable than the screen included on the Nintendo models.
- Skype and Wi-Fi Integration. Sony added a pre-installed mobile version of Skype, which means that you can video chat wherever Wi-Fi is available.
- Expandable Memory. You can watch full-length movies comfortably on a screen this size, and store them away on removable memory cards, which leaves the internal memory capacity intact for storing game data. Music files can be added to a removable media card as well, and the addition of skins or video effects makes listening to music both audibly and visually stimulating.
- Large Title Availability. There are tons of quality game titles available for the PSP 3000, as well as UMD formatted movies which can be purchased wherever you buy video games.
- Slow Physical Media Loading. I was a little unimpressed by the time it takes the PSP 3000 to load physical media games and movies.
- Screen Glare. The hard glass screen produces a lot of glare, which can make game play under bright lighting conditions difficult.
- Tough Internet Navigation. The web browser is fully functional, but a little tough to get information entered into. Furthermore, there is no support for streaming media services, so if you want to watch video you’ll need to bring it with you in the form of a UMD disc or via memory card.
This portable gaming system is definitely head and shoulders above the Nintendo 3DS, but many consider it second fiddle. Regardless, for those of you who are looking for a solid gaming system, you won’t be disappointed here.
Gaming systems are as unique as the gamers who play them. Depending on the functionality you are looking for, your interpretation of which one is best may greatly differ from someone else’s opinion. Consider your needs carefully before deciding which is the right system for you.
Do you have any experience with gaming systems? What do you consider to be the best?