The videogame industry’s largest confab of the year, E3-more formally known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo-is currently underway in Los Angeles, and already several big gaming hardware unveilings have been made.
Nintendo made perhaps the biggest splash by introducing the follow-up to its hugely popular Wii console-the Wii U. Just as the original Wii revolutionized the controller market with the motion-based handheld “nunchucks,” the Wii U controller is a tablet. Gamers can use it to draw or engage in other stylus-based controls, or use it in conjunction with the existing handheld motion controllers by acting as a sort of extension to the TV screen (the E3 demo, for instance, used the tablet to display a golf green, placing it on the floor to allow for more realistic putting motion using the handheld motion controller). It also acts as a TV content remote, letting users swipe photos off the tablet into the TV screen via the console, and can also be used for Skype calls, browsing the Web on the TV, etc.
In just over six years, the Wii sold more than 47 million units in the U.S. alone and for several years was the best-selling game console on the market, thanks to both its innovative motion-based gameplay features and its lower price. Microsoft’s Kinect leapfrogged everyone in the industry with regard to motion-based gaming last year, so an update to the dated Wii was considered essential for Nintendo to compete.
Sony, meanwhile, bowed the Vita-a new portable handheld gaming system that will replace the company’s PlayStation Portable unit (which to date has sold 70 million units worldwide). The Vita features both touch-screen and motion-sensitive interfaces. The Vita also boasts pervasive connectivity via both WiFi and cellular networks thanks to an exclusive service agreement with AT&T.
In addition to multiplayer gaming, the social features include in-game voice and text chat capabilities, as well as the ability to send in-game virtual gifts and so on. No music-specific features were discussed, but it’s clear that the Vita is Sony’s answer to the growing “cloud” content movement, and as such is worth watching to see what develops. It will be available this holiday season for $300.
Microsoft did not introduce any new hardware, but rather enhanced the features of its existing products, most particularly the Xbox 360 and the Kinect motion capture systems. The biggest news for the Xbox console is the planned addition of live TV content. Microsoft did not provide details at its press event Monday, but said several domestic and international broadcasters will provide direct feeds through the game console rather than through a traditional cable box. It also expanded the Kinect’s ability to control all console functions via voice and gesture commands. For instance, it added voice search features powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine so users can search for YouTube music videos or songs on Zune accessible on Xbox Live using the Kinect’s voice-recognition system.