On Friday, the UPS and Federal Express trucks got to the house at the same time -- with great news: one shiny new black PlayStation3 and one Nintendo Wii, which is much, much smaller than the PS3 but comes equipped with a new revolution that should -- SHOULD -- turn the videogame world on its ear.
We'll explore both game systems more in-depth later this week, but when Wii debuts Sunday and PS3 Friday in North America, they will be in short supply. Some stores are not even taking pre-orders, which could be good news for Microsoft, whose excellent Xbox 360 is heavily stocked in area stores.
First off, let's look at Wii.
NINTENDO WII: FIRST LOOK
Nintendo's new unit is not HD-capable, which in this digital age is a fairly big drawback, but Nintendo is not exactly going after the geek-crowd with this machine. It wants to capture the family's imagination, promoting simple games that are easy to play. I think it's hit the mark.
Out of the tiny white box it comes in, Wii is split into two smaller blue boxes. This isn't the old days of grab your console, your red, white and yellow cables and go. Wii comes with what looks like a small TV antenna that you attach to the top of (or just below) your TV set. It will serve a very important purpose.
There's a stand included and a controller that is in two pieces.
With Wii, you actually hold both parts of the controller, at times, in either hand separately. This is new, and it's kind of liberating.
The right controller is basically a motion-sensor that is read by that antenna you stuck on top of your flat screen and attached to your console, which sits on its side in a cool gray stand.
Even when you're registering your Wii online via its built in WiFi support, you get to use that motion control controller. You move your hand and the pointer on the screen moves with you.
It doesn't take too long to figure that this might be fun.
Graphically, the Wii cannot stand up to its HD cousins from Microsoft and Sony, but it's better than any Nintendo offering to date. When you play Wii on an HDTV set, it will impress you at times. But the thing that will make you want to add a Wii to the collection is not the graphical display. It's the controller.
The system comes with a Wii Sports sampler game. It's really good. When you box, you really stand up and move your arms and bob and weave. When you golf, I'd suggest you stand sideways, like the real thing, and make a real swing. This is truly innovative and might help some teens and kids who get accused of not getting enough exercise because they spend too much time sitting in front of a TV with a console game remote in their hands.
Honestly, I got a good sweat in the boxing game and felt as though I was working on my golf swing in golf.
The tennis game can detect 100 different kinds of shots and really responds to your moves. I hit a topspin forehand and saw a topspin forehand. I tried a slice backhand and it worked, too. The controller has a rumble feature and a speaker and is just super easy to use.
I would imagine that the competition will be introducing similar features (Sony actually already has; more on that later) in the near future. I cannot wait to see what third party companies do with the motion-sensitive controller, and there are 62 Wii games scheduled before the end of the year.
Bottom line? PS3 and Xbox 360 looked better and I had more games to try with them this weekend, but for pure fun, Wii was king. If I were buying I'd have to have at least two next-gen systems. The 360 and Ps3 are close in a lot of ways. Wii's just different.
PlayStation 3: First Look
Open the box, and you'll find a serious piece of Audio/Visual equipment. The PS3 is not "toy-looking" like the white 360 and white Wii. PS3 looks like it belongs on your entertainment rack, whether sitting on its side or on its feet.
It's an impressive machine. It's also a very expensive one.
You can buy it for $499 with a 20-gig hard drive or $599 with a 60-gig hard drive, and if you have the money and have a HD television set with an HDMI connection, this is the unit you'll probably want to have. Out of the box, the PS3 will play all PlayStation and PS2 games so if you have a favorite in your library, you can keep it on the shelf. X360 can play some old Xbox games, but not all.
Microsoft has released a $199 HD-DVD adapter for the 360, which we hope to test, but right out of the box, for the well-heeled, you get Blu-Ray DVD support with your PS3 and historically, gamers have not liked adding onto their hardware.
I've never seen any HD-DVD or Blu-Ray discs before, but via PS3, I've never seen HDTV look as good. I watched "Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky-Bobby" and was just awed at how good and how clear and how colorful the picture was.
It was a jump over the DirecTV and Time Warner cable HD I'm used to seeing and was even a slight step-up from over-the-air HD, where I was watching a Giants-Bears game on NBC.
Given that Blu-Ray players are about $999 and some HD-DVDs go for $499, buying a next-gen console game with this kind of next gen HD DVD support could be seen as a bargain. I'd think Sony is taking a loss on all PS3s it sells and is probably hoping to make up the margin with spectacular sales numbers.
If you don't have an HD set and don't plan to buy one for awhile, I'm not sure if the PS3 is enough of a jump past the 360, or if it's a jump at all. I don't have any like games to compare yet, but I can report that NBA 07: The Life is much sharper on PS3 than NBA Live 2K7 on 360, which looked blurry in the corners and grainy on the 32-inch JVC LCD HDTV I ran the game on. If that continues to be the case, we'll have a clear winner. Again, keep checking back during the week as we go into the machines and games in more depth and detail.
But, The Life on PS3 was letter perfect sharp as was the Halo-like Resistance Of Man game I tried. That one shocked me with its crystal clear graphics and depiction of war in the 1950s.
I think Sony has made a misstep with its ultra light weight controller, though.
Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, who require the wireless remote to use batteries, Sony's unit charges through a front-loading USB port on the PS3, which is nice. Saves me a couple of midnight runs to Wal-Mart. But Sony's new controler doesn't have rumble support, a basic feature that adds to the game experience and something I think most gamers expect.
Sony new controller, like Wii, has a motion-sensitive feature (that Microsoft needs to add). The games I tried with the new controller, I didn't notice any motion activities, however, unlike the Wii controller and games, which were innovative.
Sony's controller uses a Bluetooth connection for wireless gameplay and the PS3 will support up to seven wireless connections at once. Sony also has a new online network, which I signed up for. It's not the equivalent of Microsoft's excellent Xbox Live, which has four million users, but it shows promise.
Bottom line? Christmas is coming and parents want to know which game to get. All three next-gen consoles have something to offer: Wii has fun and price and ease of use; 360 has graphics, second generation games coming, and a better price point than PS3. PS3 offers about everything you could want but with a much steeper cost.
Let me know what you guys are thinking.
I'm thinking it'll be hard to go wrong with any of these.