The Ultimate Video Game and System Buyer's Guide: Systems

Bottom Line: The PlayStation 2 may not have the allure of next-generation video game consoles like the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360, but it's significantly cheaper and has a huge library of games to choose from. This is a great choice for casual gamers and those looking to save a few dollars on a new system.

To learn more about the PlayStation 2 click here.

Xbox 360

Though Microsoft's second attempt to crack the video game console market came a year earlier than those from Sony and Nintendo, the Xbox 360 is still selling strong and its arsenal of games has only gotten bigger and arguably better in that time.

Beautiful graphics and top-rated games, plus a year head start, have given Microsoft a chance to create a big gap between what it can offer and what the competition can offer in games.

A library of top-rated titles, like the blood-soaked, near-future shooter "Gears of War" and the adorable and well reviewed kid's game "Viva Piñata," allow Microsoft to offer real options for the whole family.

One of the biggest selling points on the Xbox 360 is the subscription-based Xbox Live, an online service similar to those offered with the PS3 and Wii. Players can connect to the service to play, but they're also given access to a library of downloadable arcade-style games, demos for the latest 360 titles, game documentaries, music videos and recently, movies and television shows, some even available in high definition.

The Xbox 360 also plays a number of Xbox games and the list is growing all the time. It features a built-in Ethernet port to connect to Xbox Live and wireless controllers. The 360 comes in two flavors.The "Core System" goes for $299.99 and comes with a wired controller. The "Pro System" features a 20-gigabyte hard drive and the wireless controller, and costs $399.99.

Frugal shoppers beware: There are rumors that there will be as much as a $100 price drop on both Xbox 360 systems, so if you pick one up, see if the retailer will honor the price drop after the holidays.

Bottom Line: Microsoft's year head start has led to an impressive lineup of games and downloadable content on Xbox Live. This machine is a great all-around value and a comparable alternative to the hard-to-find PlayStation 3. Don't get suckered into buying the Core System though. The hard drive is key, and that plus the included wireless controller is worth the extra money.

To learn more about the Xbox 360 click here.

Xbox

Unfortunately, Microsoft has no plans to continue supporting the Xbox into the future. While there are a number of great games made for the original Xbox and players can connect to Xbox Live via a broadband connection, there are no further plans to release games or peripherals for the machine.

You may see the Xbox available used or refurbished at local video game stores, but buyer beware: Those Xbox game sections are disappearing in traditional brick and mortar stores and even online at major video game retailers like Gamespot and EB Games.

If you're in the market for a new gaming machine, stick with the next generation consoles, a PS2 or handheld system or juice up your PC.

Bottom Line: Forget it. The Xbox is dead. All of Microsoft's efforts are in the Xbox 360. Though there are some great games for the original, you're better off saving your money for a 360 and hoping those older games can be played on the new system.

Wii

"Playing is believing." That's Nintendo's mantra in its new effort to take back the market it started.

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