Most experts say the PlayStation 3 Slim and Xbox 360 Slim are excellent gaming consoles. Both have terrific graphics performance, a solid game library and can output games and video in 1080p high definition to an HDTV. On paper, the PlayStation 3 Slim has more features, and most reviewers say it's the better value. Although the Xbox 360 includes integrated Wi-Fi like the PS3, it still lacks a Blu-ray drive. This drive adds considerable value to the PS3 Slim, considering that you can spend more than $100 alone on a good Blu-ray player with similar capabilities (BD-Live compliant, built-in wireless, 3D support, Internet streaming support and more). The PlayStation 3 also boasts integrated Bluetooth, and you can pair the console with compatible accessories like keyboards and headsets.
Sony slightly revamped the PS3 in late 2012, making the slim console even slimmer. The most notable change was to the Blu-ray drive, swapping out the long-standing front-loader for a top-loading drive with a sliding door. It's a change that's drawn some negative reactions as the build quality of the drive seems a touch flimsy in reviewers' eyes. Others say that the sliding door, which moves out to the side, makes accessing a PS3 in an audio/video cabinet a little awkward.
It also doesn't play well with mounting the PS3 vertically -- of course, Sony says that due to the decreased height, placing the PS3 that way without the aid of a non-included stand (*Est. $14) isn't the best idea. Some grouse that the change from matte black to glossy black plastic gives the case a cheaper look and feel. In the end, however, those who test the PS3 say that the latest version retains everything that's good -- and not so good -- in its predecessor.
Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 offer robust online gaming communities. For a long time, Xbox 360 enjoyed a decided edge in that, but the most recent reviews indicate that PS3 now more than holds its own. PS3 owners do have one advantage over the Xbox 360 -- online gaming is free. Those that want to game online with the Xbox 360 need to sign up for Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold subscription, which runs $5 per month.
Sony used to lag behind Microsoft's Xbox when it came to overall game selection as well, but reviewers again say that's no longer the case. The PlayStation 3 rivals the Xbox when it comes to exclusive titles. The editors at Britain's TechRadar.com sum up the reviewer consensus: "If gaming is your major consideration when buying a console -- and it seems likely that it is -- your best bet is just to look at the games available for each platform and make a decision from there."
For those who want their console to do more than play video games, the PlayStation 3 Slim bests the Xbox 360 Slim in most reviews. Microsoft has done an admirable job of late bringing streaming content to the Xbox 360, including most of the major over the top (OTT) streaming providers, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant and more. You can also use the Xbox 360 as a cable TV set-top box -- although one with limitations -- if you are a Comcast or FiOS subscriber. Newly added is the ability to share content with mobile devices.
However, the PS3 matches up well in that regard. Though it can't be used as a cable box, most of the same providers are available via its platform, as is the NFL's Direct TV package -- formerly only available on DirecTV. But in the end, it's the Blu-ray player that tips things in the PS3's favor as the Xbox 360 only plays back DVDs and audio CDs.
Reviewers also give the PlayStation the nod when it comes to motion-control technology. Those who have tested both PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect say the PS3 offers better accuracy and more gaming options than Kinect. Experts say Kinect is innovative, but it has a noticeable lag and other limitations.
Nintendo's Wii U is the first brand new video gaming console in a number of years, and anticipation certainly built up prior to its late-November launch -- just prior to the Black Friday shopping season. The initial reports are in and what they say is that the Wii U is a potential powerhouse, with an innovative GamePad touch screen and motion controller that could reshape video gaming, and even reshape users' relationships with their TVs.
The key word here, though, is potential. Even the most enthusiastic reviewers recognize that the Wii U is not yet fully realized. Some features were not ready at launch, though a few of those were added via a firmware upgrade on the first day of public sale. Others -- such as the anticipated TVii service (which turns the controller into a super TV remote with a custom guide that pulls together streaming content, live TV, and video recorded to a TiVo DVR) -- have been pushed off until at least the month following the Wii U's release. The game library is very limited, but that's not a surprise given that the Wii U is brand new. What's disappointing in some experts' eyes is that not all of the games released at launch take the best advantage of the power of the Wii U and the GamePad.
The Wii U is a departure from the original Wii in that it brings high-power gaming chops and high-resolution (1080p) gaming graphics, but that's par for the course with the PS3 and Xbox 360. No, the real difference maker is that GamePad controller, which brings with it the concept of two-screen gaming. Depending on the game, the 6.2-inch GamePad touch screen can mimic what's on the TV (and in some cases allow you to play without needing a TV at all), provide a different view of the game action, or provide auxiliary game information and menus. The GamePad is also chock full of the types of buttons, pads and joysticks that adorn most non-Wii (original) gaming controllers and offers Wiimote-like motion control.
After reading through that, the GamePad could seem like some type of ungainly Frankenstein's monster of a controller, especially compared to the original Wii's far more basic ones. But most reviewers say that somehow Nintendo pulls it all together into a device that's surprisingly usable. Most is not all, however, and we found a few that say that using the GamePad is not as much fun as they had hoped and that with at least some games, it's safe to expect a learning curve.
The Wi U is offered in two bundles at launch. The Wii U Basic Set (*Est. $300 and up) is a bare-bones configuration with just a console with 8 GB of internal storage, the GamePad and some basic accessories -- including an HDMI cable, however. Most who comment, give the edge in value to the Nintendo Wii U Deluxe Set (*Est. $350), which increases the console's built-in storage to 32 GB (note, you can increase the storage on either version via a USB flash drive or external hard disc drive). The Deluxe Set also bundles in a Nintendo Land video game and some additional accessories, most notably a charging cradle for the GamePad -- and that's an extra you might really appreciate since one of the most consistent reviewer gripes is about the controller's short battery life between charges.