Update: This comparison was updated in November 2007 to reflect the now-current Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hardware lineups. New and changed items are highlighted in PINK.

It's the battle of the ages, played out with a new generation of hardware that, for the first time, appears to leave all but the most high-end gaming PCs in the dust. Opinions about Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 vary, but it's pretty clear that both devices kick serious butt from a technical perspective. Looking over the specifications, and listening to representatives of both companies, however, I've come away with a few general thoughts.

From a pure processing standpoint, the PS3 appears to beat the Xbox 360, but the first generation PS3 games are not graphically superior to anything that's available on the Xbox 360, and now, a year later, the PS3 game selection is still somewhat lacking. Amazingly, Sony's late 2007 PlayStation 3 models are less powerful than the hardware it shipped a year ago, and the company has stepped away from its previous plans to make the PS3 fully backwards compatible with PS2 and PS1 games.

The Xbox 360 drops the bomb on the PS3 in a few important categories. In addition to a 300+ title game library, the 360 includes features that aren't available anywhere else. Its HD Media Center Extender experience blows away anything Sony offers on the PS3, and it supports live and recorded HDTV over your home network, along with TV show and movie downloads. Device connectivity--including direct support for Apple iPod and Sony PSP devices--is top notch. And the hugely compelling Xbox Live service gets even better with Xbox 360. Sony has nothing like it: On the PS3, games are isolated islands of connectivity, allowing gamers only to communicate with others in the same games.

And then there's the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo's next-generation console eschews technical prowess for a truly innovative new controller system that includes two devices, a remote controller that can double as a classic NES-type controller for older games, and a Nunchuk, which plugs into the Remote Controller and provide additonal functionality. The Remote Controller is wireless and provides gamers with a degree of motion and freedom that is largely unheard of on either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3: For example, to swing a golf club in Wii Sports, which is bundled with the console, you literally swing the remote controller as if it were a golf club. To hit a baseball, you swing the controller like a bat. This system is much less expensive than Microsoft's and Sony's offerings, and it is much more appealing for kids of all ages. It is also much less compelling to traditional gamers. In my experience, the Wii's unique game play gets less interesting over time.

Looking for more information? Check out my showcase, Choosing a Video Game System from April 2007, in which I describe each system in a bit more depth and provide some advice for those looking into these consoles.

No matter what your perpective, this is an interesting battle to watch. Here are the facts, and only the facts, completely updated to reflect the systems Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are now selling to the public:

Pricing (US)
  Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Low-end model $279
(Xbox 360 Arcade)
n/a n/a
Mainstream model $349
(Xbox 360)
$399
(PlayStation 3 40 GB)
$249
High-end model $449
(Xbox 360 Elite)
$499
(PlayStation 3 80 GB)
n/a

 

Microprocessor
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Processor type 3.2 GHz PowerPC with 3 dual-threaded processor cores 3.2 GHz Cell processor with 7 single-threaded synergistic processing units cores (not directly comparable to Xbox 360 processor cores) 729 MHz IBM Broadway processor with 5 execution units

 

Graphics processor
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
GPU Type ATI-based custom processor NVIDIA-based RSX "Reality Synthesizer" ATI Hollywood processor
Clock speed 500 MHz 550 MHz 243 MHz
Video RAM Up to 512 MB GDDR3 system RAM (700 MHz) plus 10 MB embedded DRAM (eDRAM) frame buffer 256MB GDDR3 (700MHz) 24 MB of system RAM (486 MHz) plus 3 MB of embedded DRAM (eDRAM)
Video memory bandwidth 21.6 GBps to system RAM; 256 GBps to eDRAM 22.4 GBps 3.9 GBps

 

Video
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Native video resolutions 16:9 widescreen 720p, 1080i, 1080p (will downsample to standard definition) 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p (will downsample to standard definition) 853 x 480 (480p) in widescreen or 4:3 aspect ratio
HDMI output Yes Yes No
Component HDTV output Yes Yes No (But supports 480p EDTV via optional component cables)
Video cables included Arcade model includes composite cables only. Xbox 360 model includes composite and component cables. Elite model includes composite, component, and HDMI cable. Composite only Composite only

 

Audio
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Analog sound output Dolby Pro-Logic II Stereo Dolby Pro-Logic II
Digital sound output 5.1-channel Dolby Digital 5.1-channel Dolby Digital (HDMI), 7.1-channel LPCM n/a
Number of voices Software-based, limited only by CPU and memory Hardware based: 320 compressed channels; software based: limited only by CPU and memory Hardware DSP with 64+ channels

 

System memory
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Main System RAM 512 MB GDDR3 RAM (700 MHz), shared with GPU 256 MB XDR RAM (3.2GHz) 64 MB GDDR3 RAM
Memory bandwidth 22.4 GBps 25.6 GBps 1.9 GBps

 

Storage
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Optical drive 12X dual-layer DVD; HD DVD drive offered as $179 add-on (for movies only). Blu-Ray Proprietary optical drive
Supported optical formats Xbox DVD, DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, and JPEG Photo CD (HD DVD supported with optional HD DVD drive). BD, BD-ROM, Blu-ray Disc, CD, CD-DA, CD-DA (ROM), CD-R, CD-RW, DualDisc (audio side), DualDisc (DVD side), DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-ROM, DVD-RW, PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM, PlayStation 3 BD-ROM, PlayStation 3 DVD-ROM, PlayStation CD-ROM, PlayStation2 CD-ROM, SACD HD, and SACD Hybrid (CD layer). Wii discs (both 4.7 GB single layer and 8.5 GB dual layer), Nintendo GameCube discs. Not DVD compatible.
Included storage Arcade: 256 MB Memory Unit (MU)
Xbox 360: 20 GB removable hard drive
Elite: 120 GB removable hard drive
40 GB or 80 GB replaceable hard drive. 512 MB of internal flash memory
External hard drive support Yes, but limited to media playback only. Yes No
Memory card ports 2 Xbox 360 Memory Unit ports (64 MB or 512 MB). PS3 40 GB: No
PS3 80 GB: Memory Stick, SD, CompactFlash ports
1 SD card slot, 2 GameCube memory card ports.
USB 2.0 ports 3 PS3 40 GB: 2
PS3 80 GB: 4
2

 

Networking
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Ethernet 1 port (100 Mbs) 1 port (1 Gbps) No; optional with USB-based add-on.
Wireless networking No. 802.11g is optional ($100) on all models. Bluetooth 2.0, Bluetooth controller interface, Wi-Fi. Integrated Wi-Fi for networking and Internet access; Bluetooth 2.0 for controllers.
Online service Pervasive online experience through Xbox Live Silver (free), Xbox Live Gold ($49.99 per year); includes ability to download full-length movies and TV shows, many in HD format. Free PlayStation Network with micropayment system; includes a Web browser. Individual game makers can choose to charge for online services. Free Wii Network online service includes online shopping, Web browsing, messaging, and other features.

 

Multimedia features
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Full Media Center Extender 2.0 experience Yes No No
Live and recorded TV support (including HDTV) Yes No No
Supports streaming video from PCs Yes Yes No
Supports streaming audio from PCs Yes Yes No
Supports streaming photo slideshows from PCs Yes Yes No
Plays content from portable media players, including iPod and Sony PSP, and with digital cameras Yes Yes No
Displays content from portable storage devices Yes Yes Photos, MPEG and Quicktime movies, and MP3 music files from SD storage only.
Displays content from console on portable devices No Yes. Content from PS3 can be used on PSP using Remote Play feature. No
Plays DVD movies Yes Yes No
Upscales DVD movies to HD resolutions, including 1080p Yes Yes, but only on HDMI compatible TVs. No
Supports next-generation DVD formats No. Can play HD DVD movies with optional add-on. Yes. Blu-Ray drive included with console. No
Includes integrated TV show and movie download service Yes, with both HD and standard definition content. No No

 

Controllers
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Number of supported controllers 4 wireless (plus 3 wired controllers via USB), controllers will work with Windows PCs as well. Controllers feature removable AA batteries and can be replaced with removable rechargeable battery packs. 7 wireless and/or wired controllers total. PS3 controller does not feature a removable battery. 4 wireless Remote Controllers. Also supports Nunchuk add-on controller (attaches to Remote Controller and for many Wii games) Wii Classic Controller (also attaches to remote controller; for older, downloadable games), and up to four legacy GameCube controllers.
Rumble functionality Yes No Yes
Motion sensor functionality No Yes Yes
USB keyboard support Yes Yes Yes

 

Compatibility
Feature Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Wii
Compatible with previous generation games Over 300 original Xbox titles are currently compatible. Both models offer compatibility with PS1 games. PS3 40 GB offers no compatibility with PS2 games. PS3 80 GB offers only partial compatibility with PS2 titles. Plays all GameCube game titles (but doesn't include GameCube controller or memory card); Nintendo offers some downloadable versions of Nintendo NES, SNES, and N64 titles, as well as NEC TurboGrafix-16 and Sega Genseis titles, for $5 to $10 each via online service.
Improves legacy game experience Yes. Original Xbox games are upscaled to HDTV resolutions and some games (like Halo 2) are graphically improved. Yes. Original PlayStation and PS2 games are upscaled to full 1080p quality. Downloadable N64 games offer enhanced graphics quality.
Integration with portable game systems No Yes. PS3 can integrate with PSP devices using Remote Play feature. Yes. Wii can integrate with Nintendo DS devices.
Can play against PC-based gamers Yes, however, only one game, Shadowrun, currently offers this functionality. No, however, one game, Unreal Tournament 3, will add this feature in the future. No
Integration with PC-based instant messaging systems Yes, with Windows Live Messenger. No No

I'd like this table to remain the definitive guide to the differences between the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. Please email me with any additions, comments, or corrections. Thanks!