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A Guide to Buying a Games Console

Playing computer games used to be seen as solitary and geeky but these days, everyone from toddlers to grandparents now enjoy the benefits console gaming can bring.

From improving coordination or fitness to providing education and simply busting stress, gaming has never been more popular with people of all ages.

But how do you choose which machine would be right for you, your children or your family?

Below we look at the key questions to ask when buying a games console for the home.

What are my games console choices?

The three main home consoles are the Sony PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 from Microsoft and the Nintendo Wii.

If you’re looking to find out more about handheld gaming for devices such as the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS or Sony PSP, then read our specific buying guide for handhelds.

Who are they aimed at?

While all three consoles offer a wide variety of games, the Nintendo Wii is often viewed as being for younger players and families.

The PlayStation 3 is a machine more suited to established gamers while the Xbox 360 sits somewhere in the middle of all three.

Which is better – the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360?

There’s very little to choose between these two consoles in terms of the gaming, speed and graphical experience on offer.

Hardcore and more casual players will both find games to suit their tastes with the majority of big-name releases sold for both formats.

It’s worth remembering though that some games are exclusive to one platform or the other. For example, if you love the Halo series, then it is Xbox-only, while racer Gran Turismo 5 is only sold for the PS3.

What do I get off the shelf?

Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 come in “slim” versions, taking up far less space than previous models. Each includes one wireless controller to stop you being restricted as to where you sit.

The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 will play CDs and DVDs but one main benefit of the PS3 is it features a Blu-ray high-definition movie disc drive. This means you will not need a separate Blu-ray player if you want to experience cinema-like films on your HD telly.

Both also have Wi-Fi wireless technology to connect them to the internet. Using this means the console does not have to sit next to your broadband router.

What other features are there to consider?

The basic PlayStation 3 has a 160GB hard drive with the next model up featuring 320GB. The hard drive allows you to download trailers, previews, smaller games or demos and store music and video files.

Crucially, you can also keep data relating to your games on the hard drive for example, achievements and levels you’ve unlocked.

The Xbox 360 comes in a basic 4GB version or a 250GB model.

What about online gaming and internet-enabled features?

Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have their own online gaming arenas.

PlayStation Network

The PlayStation Network or PSN is free to access and is a place where you can chat with other players around the world, watch the latest sneak peeks of future titles and, of course, take on multiplayer challenges with others anywhere on the planet.

For an extra charge, you can subscribe to the PSN’s Music Unlimited service to listen to millions of songs or download movies via a LoveFilm subscription.

Catch-up TV is also offered through the BBC iPlayer, 4oD and ITV Player.

Xbox LIVE

Many gamers rate the Xbox 360’s online offering – Xbox LIVE – as the better of the two. They claim it is easier-to-use and has a greater number of features.

But while a free membership allows you to play games and download demos, the full experience is chargeable and you will need to buy a Gold membership.

This lets you use functions such as apps for Facebook and Twitter, music service streaming Last.fm and on-demand TV from Sky. But to get Sky TV, you will need to be an existing customer of the satellite company or pay an additional subscription.

Both systems allow you to create computerised characters known as avatars that represent you on screen. Using an optional webcam-style camera, these online services also allow you to chat face-to-face with friends and family who also have their own accounts.

How does the Nintendo Wii fit in to all of this?

Nintendo games have traditionally been seen as aimed at younger players, with cuter cartoon graphics and less adult themes.

But while not for the hardcore gamer, the Nintendo Wii still has plenty to offer for older and younger players alike.

It was the first console to feature motion-sensor gaming and is the cheapest living room machine of the three currently available.

Many of Nintendo’s classic games and characters such as Super Mario, his brother Luigi, Link from The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong all feature in their own Wii adventures.

Many big name titles will also be released with a Wii-specific version to take advantage of its motion controls.

What do I need for motion gaming on the Wii?

The Wii works using a handheld Wii Remote, which now has a Motion Plus casing in the box. This allows even more precision controls with your movements.

You simply hold the remote in one hand to replicate the swing of a bat, shooting of a gun or stick on a drum for example, while the Nunchuk controller is used in your other hand to move characters forwards, backwards, left and right.

What else does the Nintendo Wii offer?

The Wii Ware digital service allows you to download games and the Virtual Console brings many classic Nintendo titles to the Wii with games from old systems such as the Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo available.

The online interface is easy-to-use and also offers avatars to create known as a Mii. This internet-connected system is split up into simple channels offering the latest news, weather, trials and trailers. There’s also one for BBC iPlayer to catch-up on telly.

The Nintendo Wii is the least powerful machine of all three. It has a small 512MB internal memory for storage but an SD card slot for increasing this further. It can also wirelessly connect to the Nintendo DS handheld to share content.

What about motion-controlled gaming for the PS3 and Xbox 360?

Like the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 now offer games that are controlled by moving your body in front of a sensor.

The PlayStation Move accessory uses a small PlayStation Eye camera connected to the console along with a movement-sensing controller held in your hand.

It is a cheaper option than Xbox Kinect for the Xbox 360 but has less of the wow factor.

This Microsoft accessory simply works by players moving arms, legs, heads and torsos without having to hold anything. It is generally more family friendly.

Both have a range of games available but Kinect can also respond to voice commands and recognise each player too. You can also use hand gestures to control different functions of the Xbox 360, such as playing movies or starting up a song.

Cheaper bundle options are usually available for both PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect when buying them along with the console itself.

Can I play games in 3D?

By downloading a software update for the PlayStation 3, owners can play both 3D Blu-ray movies and also 3D games. However, there a very few of these in existence right now.

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