As Microsoft unleashes its Xbox 360, gamers face a difficult decision - whether to buy the new machine or wait for the next gen consoles from Sony and Nintendo. Three game journalists present the case for their console of choice.
MICROSOFT XBOX 360
By Steve Brown, editor, Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine
Xbox 360 is the first console to take advantage of the new high definition standard. All games made for the console will run in this new widescreen graphical format which, if you have the correct screen, is the biggest leap forward for games graphics since the first home 3D games in 1995.
Microsoft's 360 is sleeker than the original Xbox
Even those without a high def screen will notice a considerable step up in graphical prowess for the games they play on Xbox 360.
This is most notably in the tiny details that helps make games seem real - spectators faces in the crowds of sports games, for instance, or the stitching on the leather upholstery of one of the supercars in Project Gotham Racing.
However, graphics are only one of the areas of gaming that the extra power of Xbox 360 will revolutionise.
The main difference between Xbox 360 and other next generation consoles is the fact that it is designed to be a completely connected experience; from simple things like wireless controllers and wireless internet connectivity, to the killer feature of the Xbox 360 world, Xbox Live.
While Live existed on original Xbox as an online gaming network, Xbox Live on the 360 improves that experience with enhanced, more reliable matchmaking and then adds more besides.
The system's Marketplace feature will allow connected gamers to download new game content for free, as well as share custom content they have created with friends.
Perfect Dark Zero is a flagship Xbox 360 title
Subscribers to the service will be able to talk to their friends whenever the console is turned on and in the future will also be able to video chat using the system's bespoke video cam.
The inclusion of a hard drive, pioneered in the original Xbox, offers owners of the Xbox 360 further benefits.
The console is designed to connect seamlessly with all MP3 players, video cameras and other media devices.
Music can be ripped to the system's hard drive and played as a custom soundtrack for games or the console can simply be used as an 'amplifier' for any media users want to plug into it
Using the optional wireless receiver, the Xbox 360 will even link to home networks and communicate directly with home PCs.
However, even with high definition and unrivalled connectivity, it is still the games that matter most in the Xbox 360 world.
The games available in the first three months of the Xbox 360's life are some of the best ever created and of a standard some consoles have had to wait their entire lifespan to amass.
Project Gotham Racing 3, Perfect Dark Zero, Gears of War and Kameo are only some of the highlights. The rest of 2006 will provide plenty more.
SONY PLAYSTATION 3
By Tim Clark, associate editor, Official PlayStation 2 Magazine UK
Six months ago I snuck into work just before midnight to meet several like-minded colleagues. The reason we were there was to watch PlayStation 3 being unveiled live on the net.
The PlayStation 3 could be in the shops in Japan by the spring
Those of us huddled excitedly around the screen were ready to see, and more importantly, play something new. The display of raw power that followed was little short of astonishing.
Here, finally, was a games machine capable of pumping out the kind of eye-watering visuals you would normally associate with high-end special effects used in movies.
To get a real idea of just how powerful the PlayStation 3 is you need to speak to a developer working on the system.
Chris Keegan is technical director at Climax. He says that if the PS3 existed in 1998, it would have been the most powerful super-computer in the world.
He reckons the PS3 is roughly 250 times more powerful in raw processing terms than PS2.
But computing power counts for nothing without the support of software publishers.
Today, every major third-party publisher is onboard and there are more than 150 titles in development. Highlights include Resident Evil 5, the next Grand Theft Auto and Vision Gran Turismo.
But pick of the bunch so far has to be Metal Gear Solid 4. The latest instalment in the series, which has long been synonymous with Sony hardware, looks incredible.
To really get the most out of the PS3, you are going to need to get involved with high definition TV. The console is equipped with two HDMI outputs which, when hooked up to a compatible Plasma or LCD display, will result in images of unparalleled clarity and detail.
Work is under way on Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PS3
Further future-proofing comes from the Blu-Ray disc format which the PS3 uses. Blu-Ray discs can hold up to 25 gigabytes of data, as opposed to 4.7GB on a standard single-layer DVD which are used on the Xbox 360. Layered discs versions with even more capacity are possible.
Sony's trump card is its recently released handheld, the PSP. Further down the line, the suggestion is that you will be able to use the PSP's network browsing functionality to log onto your PS3 remotely, managing content such as music and movies, while on the move.
During the current generation, Microsoft dominated online console gaming with Xbox Live. I would expect to see Sony offering a fully integrated network service to support PS3 this time around.
Now the waiting game starts. US and Japan gamers will get their hands on the machine in November but European gamers have to wait until March next year.
But Sony is used to managing consumer expectations and playing the wait and see card. After all, going first brings its own set of problems. Just ask Sega.
By Tom East, editor, NGC magazine
Nintendo's Revolution is undoubtedly the most exciting console of the three next generation machines.
The Revolution is due to go on sale sometime next year
While the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 can offer improved graphics and sound, Nintendo, with their amazing new controller, are promising to change the way you actually play games forever.
The Revolution controller may look like a TV remote but, with its built-in motion-sensor, it is perhaps the most radical innovation in console history.
Players will hold the new freehand unit in one hand and control the action onscreen by pointing it at their television and waving it around.
So, instead of pressing the A button to, say, kill an enemy with a sword, you can make slashing movements with the controller and your actions will be replicated on the screen.
This can only improve your playing experience, offering levels of interactivity that have so far only been realised through basic PlayStation 2 EyeToy games and Nintendo's own wonderful handheld, the DS.
With other consoles, you will be playing better looking versions of the games you have already got.
Sure, the games will be smoother, prettier and offer levels of realism that have yet to be seen in video games.
But when you are paying more than £200 for some new hardware you should expect a great deal more than shinier cars and realistic grass that moves in the wind.
Nintendo plans to offer a one-handed controller
Revolution's technology should, like the other consoles, be cutting edge, but it is the only console that will actually offer you new experiences.
While we have yet to see any actual games running on Revolution, Nintendo have produced a video that hints at the many ways the controller can be used.
We have seen a man using it as a light-gun in a first-person shooter game, a child using it as a fishing rod even old people conducting an orchestra.
And that is just the new games, you will also be able to download classic Nintendo games online to play on Revolution.
With Revolution, Nintendo have been keen to emphasise that their new controller will be so easy to use that it will not only appeal to their hardcore fans, but also people who have never played on a games console before.
The message is, similar to DS, it does not matter if you are young or old, male or female, you will have fun playing games on Revolution.