Microsoft Xbox 360
Your third and least trumpeted option is the increasingly appealing Xbox 360 from Microsoft. Almost a year old, the Xbox 360 has one huge advantage over both the PS3 and the Wii: You can buy it right now, without waiting in line for three days.
It's also competitively priced, with the core model selling for US$299 (an extra US$100 will get you the Pro version with its 20GB hard drive and wireless controller). With the US$600 you'd spend on a high-end PS3, you could buy a high-end 360 and have enough money left over for at least three games and a year's worth of Xbox Live Gold membership (US$50).
The 360 keeps looking better compared with the Sony PS3, thanks to a recent update to the Microsoft console's software that now lets it support resolutions up to 1080p -- just like the PS3. Further, Microsoft has also recently released an HD DVD add-on for US$199, pitting the console squarely against Sony not only in the console wars but in the high-definition DVD wars as well.
With a full year's worth of releases backing it, the Xbox 360 has a much larger and stronger library of games, and playing games is the point, right? The 360's latest releases run the gamut from the very mom-friendly Viva PiA±ata (an Animal Crossing-style life simulator with pinatas) to the very mum-frightening Gears of War.
While the retail games appeal to the hard-core, Xbox Live Arcade appeals to the, um, soft-core. This online marketplace features classic arcade titles like Dig Dug, Gauntlet, and Pac-Man, and casual gems such as Zuma Deluxe that should attract the nongamers in your home and make rationalizing your purchase even easier.
While Nintendo and Sony are just getting started online, Microsoft's yearlong head start has made its online component a real selling point. And there's even more on the horizon: video downloads.
'Wii60': Another option?
Of course, there is also a fourth option. A shiny new 60GB PlayStation 3 costs US$599, but if the money doesn't bother you, perhaps owning both an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii -- a pairing that's come to be known in Internet chatter as "Wii60" or "Wii360" -- may be an attractive alternative. It's certainly a bit cheaper.
Here's the math: If you were to buy a US$250 Wii in addition to the US$299 core 360 (which lacks the US$399 Pro pack's 20GB hard disk and wireless controller), you'd spend only US$549. That's fifty bucks cheaper than the high-end PS3, and you get two consoles.
However, to view high-def movie (HD DVD) playback on the Xbox 360, you'd still need its US$200 add-on and, even then, you'd be using component video versus the PlayStation 3's HDMI connection.