A gaming console refers to dedicated electronic devices designed to play video games. Gaming consoles have come a long way; early gaming consoles relied on cartridges as game discs, and had severe limitations on the type of graphics and images that they support. On modern gaming consoles, we see towards CDs (5th generation consoles) and DVDs (6th generation consoles) as game media. Additionally, the mid 1990s 5th generation consoles also heralded the 32-bit/64-bit era, featuring 32-bit (Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation) and 64-bit (Nintendo 64) consoles that dominated the market. In particular, this era gave rise to emulation as the average home PC became powerful enough to emulate the 8-bit and 16-bits of previous generations of game consoles. The rise of the Internet facilitated the distribution and downloading of ROM images of such games (mostly illegal), and it eventually led to the modern 7th generation game consoles to support having such older games available for purchase or download to be played on the consoles themselves.
This article shall concentrate on more modern gaming consoles that have had a significant impact on recent gaming trends and its evolution.
5th generation gaming consoles
The Playstation is a 32-bit console by Sony that utilises CDs as its game media. It was launched December 2004 in Japan (2005 in other regions) and was remarkably successful and well received, being the first console to have shipped over 100 million unit.
The Sega Saturn is a 32-bit console that utilises CDs as its game media. It was rushed to be launched before the Playstation in both Japanese and American markets. However due to the difficulty in programming games for the Saturn and its rushed release, there were few games available at launch. In addition, Sega utilisation of a "surprise attack" launch in America (in part because it had the 32-bit market to itself at that point of time) caused much tension with many of its distributors and eventually backfired on itself.
6th generation gaming consoles
The Playstation 2 is Sony's second video game console, and the successor to the Playstation. Released in 2000 (October-November in America and Europe), it shipped one year later than the Sega Dreamcast but a year before the Xbox and Gamecube. Despite launching later than the Dreamcast, it nonetheless was the most commercially successful, fastest selling and dominant console in video game history. As of May 2007, it has shipped over 120 million units worldwide . Like the Xbox, the Playstation 2 can read CDs and DVDs, and supports DVD video playback.
The Xbox was Microsoft's first foray into gaming consoles, and was the first console to utilise a hard-disk drive to store game memory. Architecturally, it was one of the most superior of its era as the Xbox utilised hardware specifications similar to that of a low end Desktop PC, blurring the line between PC and hardware gaming. Indeed there have been people who have modified their Xbox to run various operating systems such as Linux or used it as a network file server due to its hard disk capacity. Through the Xbox was bulky and utilised an awkward controller, it managed to gain popularity due to the success of the Halo franchise for the Xbox.
The Nintendo GameCube was the first console by Nintendo to finally utilise optical media instead of cartridges. Amongst the consoles of its era, it is the most compact and least expensive console. It continued to enjoy relative success even with the emergence of the Microsoft Xbox console with traditional Nintendo series such as the Legend of Zelda, Mario, Resident Evil, Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon.
7th generation gaming consoles
The Sony Playstation 3 was released in November 2006, about one year after Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 and at about the same time as Nintendo's Wii. Though it is the successor of the highly successful Playstation 2, its high retail price ($500/$600, compared to Wii's $250 and Xbox's $300/$400) has resulted in sales for the Playstation 3 to be lackluster. The Playstation 3's primary storage media is the Blu-ray Disc, although it supports DVDs and CDs.
The Xbox 360 is Microsoft's latest gaming console introduced to the market. It featured a sleek new look for its console, and utilised wireless controllers out of the box. This served to rebrand the Xbox significantly, repositioning the Xbox360 as a "cool" home digital entertainment replacement gadget to own, as the Xbox 360 was able to support HD TV display, play DVDs, and stream music and movies from various sources.
Architecturally, it processed superior CPU and GPU hardware configurations that allows it to render some of the most memory or graphics intensive games realistically, especially on HD TVs. The console hardware is based on a custom IBM PowerPC-based Xenon CPU and a custom ATI Xenos graphics processing unit (GPU). It is equipped with 512 MB of RAM and uses the DVD-ROM storage medium for Xbox 360 game software. The console's 64-bit processor cores each run at 3.2 GHz. Designed to handle the high sustained bandwidth the game console requires, the processor can support two simultaneous threads and is projected to reach a peak bandwidth of 21.6 Gbps. The 90nm SoI chip, manufactured by IBM and Chartered Semiconductor, features a split L2 cache in which the first part runs at the CPU frequency, and the other part runs at half that speed.
The Xbox 360 also featured Microsoft's online gaming platform, the Xbox Live service extensively. Besides allowing gamers to play against other gamers, the Xbox Live service also allows the Xbox 360 to integrate several PC features such as Windows Live Messenger (essentially Instant Messaging) integration, ability to download game demos and movie trailers, as well as Gamerscore and Gamecard that tracks user achievements that are unlocked with each Xbox 360 game they play.
The Wii is Nintendo's fifth and latest video game console, and the successor to the GameCube. It was released on November 19 in 2006, almost one full year after Microsoft's Xbox 360. Despite the late launch, its monthly sales numbers of the console have been higher than its competitors across the globe, in part due to the different demographic the Wii targetted. Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, iterated that "We're not thinking about fighting Sony, but about how many people we can get to play games. The thing we're thinking about most is not portable systems, consoles, and so-forth, but that we want to get new people playing games." Indeed, one of the Wii's most unique features is its unique controller that resembles a TV remote, capable of detecting motion and orientation to a very high degree of precision and allowing games to be designed in a revolutionary manner based on a user's motion.
In terms of gameplay, first time users of the Wii are introduced to the revolutionary concept by Wii Sports, a bundled game by Nintendo with the Wii console. Players would take control of the Wii remote and manipulate or swing it as though they were actually playing the actual sport. This unique control experience, together with the cutesy/Sim-esque look and feel (such as the Mii Channel), have served to make electronic gaming very much more accessible than its competitor consoles.
For an idea of how gameplay on the Wii is like, take a look at these video clips: