The seventh generation of video game consoles began in 2005 with the launch of Microsoft's successor to the Xbox, the Xbox 360. In 2006, Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii entered the marketplace, providing consumers with multiple forms of new gameplay experiences.
The Xbox 360 revolutionized the online multiplayer experience, while the PS3 provided more home entertainment options with the addition of a Blu-Ray player. Of course, Nintendo's Wii eschewed high-resolution graphics and state-of-the-art hardware for simple, gesture-based games with an emphasis on playing together with friends.
Since launching, the Wii has shipped nearly 100 million consoles worldwide, while the 360 and PS3 shake out somewhere around 75 million. In 2012, Nintendo released its next-generation console, the Wii U, its first console to support high-definition graphics, capable of producing video output up to 1080p. Basically, Nintendo's playing catch-up — the Wii U is the modern HD gaming console the Wii should have been, with a Wii U GamePad controller that features an embedded touchscreen used to supplement gameplay.
This brings us to the eighth generation of video game consoles, including Microsoft's third device, the Xbox One, and Sony's PlayStation 4. At this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft took some serious flack for introducing a console that required a 24/7 Internet connection, mandatory game installs and a bizarre policy that wouldn't allow users to play used games.
Microsoft was forced to change its tune when Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 with none of the restrictions of the Xbox One, for a hundred dollars less. Of course, each company has its blind supporters, loyal fanboys who will fight to the death (and by "fight," I mean argue on message boards) about the superiority of their preferred console, but the similarities between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are perhaps too numerous to decide which one is right for you.
Both consoles feature Blu-Ray/DVD drives, 8GB RAM, 500GB hard drives, cloud storage, cross-game chat, online subscription services and plenty of A/V hookups for 4K and 3D HDTVs.
Like the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One will not require an Internet connection to play offline games or to check in every 24 hours; instead, the Internet will only be required when initially setting up the console and critical system updates.
Sony plans to place more focus on social gameplay, incorporating a "share" button on the new DualShock 4 controller that lets players view in-game play streamed live from friends. Adding to the console's interactivity, other services like the PlayStation app will allow players to use smartphones and tablets as a second screen to enhance elements of gameplay.
Microsoft has similarly described the Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment system, making it a competitor to other home media devices like Apple TV and Google TV. Their next-gen console will feature a game DVR system that allows players to save and share gameplay with friends. Similar to the PlayStation 4's "share" functionality, the Xbox One console will constantly record your most recent gameplay sessions, which you can then access, edit and share through social media networks and Xbox Live.
Like the Wii U GamePad, Sony's DualShock 4 controller will feature a touch pad which can also function like a laptop click bar. It also features a light bar that can display different colors to help identify players and alert them with critical messages like low health or ammo. If motion control is your thing, the PS4 will also feature PlayStation Eye and PlayStation Move, Sony's answer to Nintendo's gesture-based gameplay and Microsoft's Kinect functionality.
The Xbox One will not function unless the Kinect sensor is connected; however, if you're not a big fan of Microsoft's voice-activated, movement-based system, you can easily turn off all Kinect functions while the sensor remains connected to the console. The Kinect ships with the Xbox One, while the PlayStation Eye and Move are sold separately for users who have no interest in waggle-style gameplay.
Let's talk about the two most important factors when deciding on a video game console: price and games. The Xbox One launches in November (no official date has been set) for $499, while PlayStation 4 hits shelves on Dec. 31 at $399.
With Microsoft's system, you can expect exclusives like Halo 5, Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Titanfall and Ryse; PlayStation 4 offers Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadowfall and The Order: 1886. Of course, both systems will support popular third-party titles like Madden NFL, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield and Final Fantasy.
Nintendo's Wii U will be releasing more exclusive first-party titles featuring its all-star roster of iconic characters, including Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, New Super Luigi and Super Mario 3D World. Aside from their impressive catalog of games, the Wii U offers a lower price point — $349 Deluxe Edition / $299 Basic Edition — and it's already available in stores; no long lines or inflated prices on eBay!
Ultimately, the choice is yours and yours alone, but a little old-fashioned compare and contrast will help you decide which device fits your gameplay style best. The eighth generation of video game consoles will no doubt be an exciting, surprising entry in the history of electronic gaming, with high-resolution graphics reaching disturbingly realistic heights and offering new ways to play and interact with fellow gamers.
(Console Me, Creative Loafing's electronic gaming column, consists of previews, reviews and commentary penned by Charlotte writer Adam Frazier, a regular contributor to CL and the websites Geeks of Doom and Hollywood News.)