The Sony PlayStation 3 is just out of reach.
On Nov. 17, the high-tech next-generation video game console will hit retailers with a whopping $600 price tag, but the company wants you to know, not everything is going to cost you an arm and a leg.
At an event in San Francisco to show off the final details of the machine's highly anticipated online offerings, Sony announced that, unlike at its rival Xbox, gamers would be able to connect to its network service for free.
While Xbox Live charges players a $50 annual fee to connect and play, the PS3 would do it for nothing -- though players will still be forced to pay for downloadable games and other media from the service.
But even with free online play, is the PlayStation 3 really worth 600 bucks?
"The thing that still bugs me is the cost of entry -- it still feels high," said Tom Byron, editor in chief of Official PlayStation magazine and an attendee at the event. "I understand it's really a $600 machine, and I'm sure it's the lowest they could go, but if you want another controller, it's 50 bucks and you'll have to buy games. There's no question about the power, the games and everything else, but now I have to wait for my holiday bonus or not vacation for a year."
Byron said that although the price still rubs him the wrong way -- and many consumers, too -- he believes this is the machine Sony said it is and is truly excited to get his hands on one. But does that mean it's right for you?
Enough Bang for Your Buck?
Since Sony announced the price tag on the PS3 in May at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, speculation has run rampant as to whether or not consumers -- even brand loyalists -- would be willing to plunk down so much money on a video game console.
But since then, Sony has tried to make the argument that it's not just a video game machine you're buying but an entertainment system, and that it's an investment in a product that will be in your living room for years to come.
"The thing about the PS3 you can't forget is that it's a Blu-ray player, too," said Sam Kennedy, editor in chief of 1Up.com. "If you do have an HD TV and you want a way to watch HD movies, the PS3 is a great bargain."
The PS3 can not only play Blu-ray movies, but DVDs and CDs and the processing power in the console is expected to keep it on the cutting edge well into the future.
Kennedy also said that in private meetings with Phil Harrison, president of Sony Worldwide Studios, the exec talked about their hopes to bring the entire back catalog of Sony PlayStation One games for download on the network.
The company hopes to make those downloaded games playable on Sony's handheld gaming system, PSP, Byron said, as well as other media downloaded from the service.
Still, Kennedy said it's something that casual gamers, and those unconvinced the machine is for them, can wait for.
"If you're a parent and you're wondering if you need to spend $600 this year, I would probably wait," he said. "I do think it's a safe bet -- all three consoles are a safe bet [PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii] -- but it wouldn't hurt to wait."
Byron agreed, adding that this holiday season is really about the early adopters, those gamers who can't wait and need to be the first on their block to play with the new machine.
What About the Other Guys?
The horsepower and additional functionality of the PS3 will likely make it hard to find before March of next year, but Sony's not the only show in town if you're trying to keep up with the Joneses.
As mentioned before, the Xbox 360 has been out since late last year, and while it was tough to get last holiday season, consumers shouldn't have too much trouble finding one this year.
"Right now, the better library is on the 360, in large part because it's had a big headstart," Kennedy said. "You also have a lot more variety with the online games."
The 360 is also on its second generation of software titles, which means developers have had a chance to learn more about how to design games for the unit, leading to some truly next-generation games.
Nintendo is going a different route, something they're not calling "next-generation" but "new generation," with Wii.
The Wii (pronounced "we") features a controller that the company hopes will remove the barrier between gamers and nongamers.
"I think Nintendo is taking a stand and saying, 'No, graphics aren't the answer, it's game play and people are playing games for the game play,'" Kennedy said. "If you look at the gaming audience, yes, it's expanded slightly in casual game space, but the vast majority of people who never play games do so because they're intimidated by the controller."
Nintendo's philosophy is that if you can't control the game, you won't play it, and that the complexity of games and controllers have turned potential gamers away.
With that in mind, the $250 Wii, which launches Nov. 19, features a wireless controller in the shape of a remote control that tracks players' movements. Play baseball by swinging the controller as if it were the handle of the bat, or conduct an orchestra by waving the device like a maestro's baton.
"Nintendo knows it can never win the graphics hardware war against Microsoft or Sony -- they're not an electronics maker, and Microsoft has been working with graphics card companies for many years," said Kennedy. "Nintendo knows their strength is great gameplay and that's what they're exploiting."
So, who will reign supreme when the dust settles from the holiday console war? It's anyone's guess, but Byron believes he can pick a winner.
"I think a year from now, Microsoft will be second," he said. "It is definitely a war between those two [PS3 and Xbox 360], but by sheer force of will, if nothing else, Sony is going to win this war."