Video Game Consoles: Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 (and how to connect them properly)

I may not have any real-life combat training but if aliens ever attack our planet, I’ll be more than happy to fight them; just hand me the latest blaster rifle. After all, I’ve saved the world from evil forces many times. And I know that I’m not the only one. Millions of gamers around the world pick up their controllers daily to fight off the bad guys. Exactly how you fight them depends on your audio video gear and the video game you’re playing.

Until aliens really attack earth or turn out to be friendly green creatures, you can train yourself for action on one of the latest generation video gaming consoles, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Besides playing games, each console offers other exciting features and functionality that even non gamers can enjoy. Let’s take a closer look at each of the consoles starting with the most affordable one.

The Nintendo Wii is attractively priced at $279. Instead of building a graphically powerful system, Nintendo wanted to transform the way video games are played today. The Wii is powered by a PowerPC-based “Broadway” processor (729 MHz) together with an ATI “Hollywood” graphics processor (243 MHz). The console contains 88 MB of main memory and a 3 MB texture memory. The Wii has a storage capacity of 512 MB which can be expanded up to 2 GB with an SD memory card. The picture output of the Wii can be switched between 480i and 480p widescreen. The audio is delivered in 2-channel stereo.

What makes the Wii unique is its wireless controller, the Wii Remote, which can detect motion and rotation in three dimensions. This controller together with a Sensor Bar placed on top of the TV allows players to control the game using physical gestures as well as traditional button presses. For example, the player can swing the controller like a sword in a fighting game or use it like a tennis racket in a tennis game. A supplied Nunchuk piece attaches to the controller to further enhance the interactivity with some games. The Wii console communicates with the Internet via its built-in wireless card or a wired USB to LAN adapter (sold separately). Wii can also connect wirelessly with a Nintendo DS for enhanced gameplay. A cool feature of the Wii is that it’s backwards compatible with all GameCube games. The main Wii Menu contains a number of Wii Channels that allow access to other entertainment features of the console such as weather and news information, an Opera Internet browser, an online shop, a virtual console and a message board. Classic video games from NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis and NEC TurboGrafx platforms can be purchased from the Wii Shop using separately sold Wii Points. The Photo Channel allows the user to view and manipulate pictures from an SD card.

The Xbox 360 from Microsoft, priced at $399 for the basic console and $499 for the bundle, hit the store shelves one year earlier than the other two systems and became the world’s first high definition video gaming console. Powered by a custom, symmetrical, three-core CPU with each core running at 3.2 GHz, the Xbox 360 has 512 MB of shared system and video memory (RAM) and a custom built ATI graphics processor (running at 500 MHz) with unified shader technology. In addition to playing video games, the 360 can also play DVDs and music CDs. An add-on drive ($199) released at the end of 2006 allows the 360 to playback HD DVD movies. Unfortunately, the 360 does not decode or output TrueHD or DTS-HD, nor does it allow for pass-through of Dolby TrueHD or other new audio formats included on HD DVDs (due to the lack of an HDMI interface). Video from the 360 is output at 480i/p, 720p and 1080i/p resolutions. The 360 uses 32-bit processing for audio, with support for 48 kHz 16-bit sound and 256 audio voices.

Connecting digital cameras, MP3 and portable multimedia players to one of its three USB ports will allow you to view pictures, play music and movies stored in these devices. Music, movies and pictures can also be streamed from your personal computer (running Windows XP or Windows XP Media Center Edition) by connecting it to the 360 with an Ethernet cable or a wireless adapter (sold separately). Two levels of the Xbox Live online service are available: Silver and Gold. The Silver level is free and allows the gamer to create a personal profile and friends list, access Xbox Live Marketplace and send and receive voice and text messages. The Xbox Live Marketplace allows gamers to download additional content for their games such as new levels, characters, weapons, and cars and download arcade games. The Gold membership costs $59 per year and offers all Silver level benefits plus online multiplayer gameplay, exclusive Xbox Live Marketplace downloads and content. The 360 is compatible with a limited number of original Xbox games (the Xbox website contains the complete list).

The PlayStation 3, priced at $549 for the 20 GB model and $659 for the 60 GB, is Sony’s first high definition video gaming console. The PS3 is powered by a Cell Broadband Engine CPU (3.2 GHz, with seven cores) and an RSX graphics processing unit (running at 550 MHz), both custom designed just for the PS3. Also on board are two types of memory, 256 MB of XDR main RAM and 256 MB of GDDR3 VRAM (video memory). The PS3 has more sheer processing power than the Xbox 360. How much more? It’s a difficult question to answer without getting technical because both systems are built quite differently. In the end however, it boils down to how well game developers harness the processing power. Another important feature of the PS3 is its HDMI version 1.3 audio/video output since it allows the console to achieve the highest quality audio and video possible today. The PS3 is capable of outputting video at 480i/p, 720p and 1080i/p. Audio is output at 48 kHz, with support for up to 512 audio voices. The PS3 decodes up to 7.1 channels of audio in the Dolby Digital, DTS, SACD and Dolby TrueHD formats. Internal decoding of DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio is not yet supported but Sony will surely release a software upgrade in the future to support it.

In addition to playing games, the PS3 also plays Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs. Music, pictures and music can be played on the PS3 from CDs, DVDs or digital memory cards (the PS3 contains Memory Stick, SD and CF digital memory slots as well as 4 USB ports). Unfortunately, the PS3 cannot stream media from computers connected to a home network. The PlayStation Network is very similar to the Xbox Live service. It allows gamers to chat with each other and play online for free (which is very attractive and should draw many more gamers to play online). The PlayStation Store currently allows users to download games, extra game content and game demos. The PS3 interface also contains a built-in Internet browser. The PS3 is backwards compatible with all PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games.

Regardless of which new gaming console you choose to go with, one thing is for sure – only proper cables will produce the best possible gaming experience.

Making the Right Connections

To get the best performance from any of the consoles, you will need to make the proper audio and video connections. Let’s look at what cables each console comes with and what cables you’ll need to purchase separately. Keep in mind that you will also need to access the setup menu of each video gaming console where the TV ratio, resolution and audio options are configured.

The Nintendo Wii comes with a basic composite AV cable. This cable contains a composite video connector (that sends a 480i picture) as well as left and right channel audio connectors. If your TV is capable of displaying a 480p or better picture, you should definitely pick up a Wii Pro Component Cable. This cable contains three connectors for component video and two audio connectors. A digital audio cable is not available for the Wii. If you want to hear “surround sound” from the Wii, you can connect the 2-channel audio to an A/V receiver switch the receiver to a Dolby Pro Logic II mode.

The Xbox 360 comes available in two different models, each with different cables. The Xbox 360 core system is supplied with a composite AV cable similar to the Wii. The Xbox 360 bundle includes a component AV cable that will allow the Xbox to produce a 480p, a 720p or a 1080i picture. In order for the 360 to deliver a high definition picture to an HDTV set, the component AV cable must be used. A 1080p picture is output from the 360 via a separately sold VGA cable (your display must have a VGA input in order to use this cable). An A/V receiver or a speaker system with built-in surround decoding is required to get surround sound from the 360, in conjunction with a separately sold optical cable. The optical cable connects from a jack on the AV component cable to an optical input on the A/V receiver or speaker system.

The PS3 offers the most advanced audio and video performance out of all three systems but you’ll have to spend a few bucks on additional cables. Both the 20 GB and the 60 GB versions of the PS3 come with a basic composite AV cable. This cable delivers a 480i picture and analogue video, which hardly showcases the systems’ true abilities. The PS3 delivers the best audio and video through its HDMI output. If your HDTV or A/V receiver has an HDMI video input, this is the connection you should be using and you will only need this single HDMI cable (since it carries both audio and video). This connection will produce a high definition picture in up to 1080p and deliver high resolution sound such as Dolby TrueHD from Blu-ray movies. If your TV and A/V receiver don’t have HDMI inputs, the next best connection to use is component video. A component AV cable is available from Sony. When using the component connection, you’ll also need to purchase an optical cable to get Dolby Digital or DTS sound from games and movies.

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