Let the Games Begin

Some have been waiting outside Rockville's Circuit City since Monday to score one of Sony's new PlayStation 3 consoles.
Some have been waiting outside Rockville's Circuit City since Monday to score one of Sony's new PlayStation 3 consoles. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Inside the Circuit City in Rockville sits a stack of 100 PlayStation 3 gaming consoles. Outside the store, far more than 100 people are camped on the sidewalk -- the first person arrived Monday -- waiting to get their hands on one.

The PS3 -- Sony's response to Microsoft's year-old Xbox 360 -- goes on sale tomorrow morning, 48 hours before the Nintendo Wii also hits the shelves.

This is the most-anticipated weekend of the year for video game fans, as the three big names in gaming gear up for a console war that not only renews a long-fought battle for a place in the living room but also looks to entice folks who otherwise might not be interested in video games. The PS3 costs as much as $600, but Sony's supply is so small that the cutting-edge multimedia device is expected to sell out across the country within hours, possibly minutes.

Talk to the folks in line and you get a few different reasons for why they are there. Some want to be among the first to play what they hope will be the best version of Madden ever. Others are excited about the built-in Blu-ray disc player, one of the competing formats that promises crystal-clear versions of DVD movies that will play on their high-definition sets.

And a good-size chunk of this line wants to sell one of these devices on eBay or Craigslist for a couple of thousand dollars, helping to offset the sort of sore back you get from sleeping on the ground for three nights.

If you haven't pre-ordered -- or if you're reading this from somewhere other than a sidewalk outside an electronics store -- you're likely out of luck.

Nintendo's new Wii console goes on sale Sunday at a relatively inexpensive $250. But like the PS3, the Wii (pronounced We) is being featured on auctions all over the Internet. While Sony and Microsoft are in an arms race for bragging rights to the most powerful machine, Nintendo is playing a slightly different game.

The Wii console is less of a technological powerhouse but allows players to interact with games in a new way -- by waving their arms and hands rather than pushing buttons on a controller. In a boxing game, for example, players make punching motions with the system's wireless controllers; in a bowling game, players make an underhand throwing motion.

Though die-hard fans may snatch up every unit Nintendo and Sony can put out this year, the two companies are hoping that their new products will eventually reach beyond this crowd and help introduce a more mainstream audience to video games. And so is Microsoft, the early mover in the console wars this time around with last year's debut of the Xbox 360.

To try to attract consumers in the mainstream market who don't, as yet, care much about games, console makers are loading their machines with the latest, cutting-edge technology -- from graphics processors that deliver high-definition visuals to Internet connections that allow the console to extend beyond its comfort zone of playing a game.

Sure, owners can surf the Web and play each other online, but that's a given these days. It's the new uses of the Web connection -- like adding new features to existing consoles on the fly -- that will differentiate one device from the other.

Starting next week, for example, the Xbox 360 will be able to download full-length movies and TV shows to their consoles in high definition. That wasn't a feature that was advertised when the unit came out last year.

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