Just for the sake of argument let's take a look at all the systems, how they stack up. (Note: All prices are in US dollars)
Launch: (US+Japan) Nov 17 (Europe, rest of world) Q1 2007 estimated
Base Price: $499
Premium Price: $599
Format Of Choice: Blu-Ray (BD-ROM)
Special Features: 20GB HDD (base) 60GB HDD (premium) HDMI output (premium only) broadband internet capable (wired). Reverse compatibility for all PS2 and PS1 games. Wireless controllers with full motion sensing capability. Free first-party online gaming (third party games may charge for access and/or content)
Game Cost (estimated): $60
Controller Cost (based on cost of X360 wireless controller): $50
Bare minimum cash outlay required to play: $460 (console plus one game) plus tax.
Launch: Available Worldwide
Base Price: $299
Premium Price: $399
Format of Choice: DVD-ROM
Special Features: 20 GB external HDD (included with Premium, sold seperately in base package), broadband internet capable (wired) external flash memory drive (64 MB) available (sold seperately), wireless controllers (Premium package only--base package includes wired controller) Controllers feature force feedback but no motion sensor. Online gaming network (free for limited access. Online multiplayer requires $50/year subscription)
Game Cost: $60 for first-party titles
Controller Cost: $40 for wired. $50 for wireless. (Note: Wired controller is PC-compatible, connects via USB)
Memory Unit: $30 (64MB)
Bare Minimum Cash Outlay Required: $389 (base console, memory unit, one game)
Launch: (North/South America, Japan) Nov 19 (Europe) Dec 8
Format Of Choice: Proprietary 12-cm optical disc
Special Features: Reverse-compatible with Nintendo Gamecube 8-cm discs. Available back catalogue of downloadable N64, SNES and NES games, with some Sega Genesis and Turbografx 16 titles also to be available. Special "Virtual Console" controller available for playing these games. Wireless controllers with full motion sensing and a speaker built-in for added immersion. 512MB onboard flash memory. 4 Gamecube controller ports, plus 2 Gamecube memory card slots. Wireless internet capable (802.11 wifi), wired internet access capable with USB adapter. Can communicate wirelessly with Nintendo DS handheld. Can access Internet and download updates and other content automatically. No onboard region coding (first-party games will be region-free, meaning a Japanese Wii game will run on an American Wii with no modification. Third-party games MAY be region-locked) SD card slot for memory expansion. Game included (Wii Sports--a compilation of several sports including golf, tennis, bowling and a few others)
Game Cost: $50
Virtual Console Game Cost: $5-10
Controller Cost (estimate): $30
Extra Nunchaku Cost: $15
Virtual Console Controller Cost (estimate): $15
Bare Minimum Cash Required: $249 plus tax (console only. Game included with package, along with onboard memory to save games and other content)
Winner: Wii by a landslide.
PS3: Poor. Launch supply was recently cut to half a million in the US and Japan. The rest of the world is getting the shaft until next year. Shortages are expected, demand despite the high price is expected to be extreme, and the already high prices are expected to skyrocket on eBay. If you don't have one pre-ordered by now, don't expect to get one until 2007.
XBox360: Good. The system has been out for a year, so only the usual holiday rush is expected. The early adopters have theirs and production is up to full steam, so you shouldn't have a problem finding one. In fact, preowned systems are becoming available (and at deep discounts, more than 25% off new) so if you've been waiting for a price drop...
Wii: Good to fair. The Wii's simpler architecture means there are fewer production hoops to jump through, which means fewer hangups on the assembly line. Also, production began more than a month ago while PS3 production has only started in the last week or so. There should be plenty of systems available. However, the low price combined with the buzz of the early adopters could cause sellouts in some areas. If you want one, it might be wise to call your local game store and order one now. If you want one you SHOULD be able to find one before Christmas, if your local stores get adequate stock.
Winner: X360 by virtue of its head start.
PS3: About two dozen titles from both first and third party--most of which look thoroughly mediocre. The usual sports games, a Ridge Racer title, and MotorStorm (which last I heard was a launch title) which actually looks promising. I'm not expecting great things from the PS3 until the second wave of software hits.
Xbox360: Over a hundred titles to be available by the holiday season--the X360 is in its second major wave of software and the publishers are beginning to hit their stride. Titles like Dead Rising and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are getting rave reviews, and the amount of content on Xbox Live is large and growing quickly. This is all thanks to the 360 getting a year head start.
Wii: About two dozen Wii titles are expected to be available at launch, with Zelda being the key franchise to represent. Metroid and Mario titles are in the wings but will not be ready by launch time. Some of the remaining Wii launch titles could be fun (Excite Truck looks interesting). There are also expected to be around 30 Virtual Console titles available for purchase and download at a relatively low cost, all from Nintendo's previous consoles.
Winner: X360, again by virtue of its head start.
PS3: Power, and lots OF it. In the console world, the PS3 is the 800-lb gorilla. It's got more raw processing speed than the other two systems combined. It has the new Blu-Ray media format which could take off or could flop. Stand-alone Blu-Ray players are going for close to a thousand bucks, which makes the PS3 look like a bargain in comparison. It's the only console with native HDMI support and the only console capable of outputting a true 1080p HD signal for the highest possible picture quality. This is the system of choice for videophiles who insist on the best possible appearance. The PS3 comes standard with wireless controllers and a 20GB HDD--to get both on the 360 you have to pay for the premium package. Having licenses like Gran Turismo and Metal Gear Solid at your beck and call will drive a lot of sales. Plus there are some truly class-A looking games on the horizon that, while not available at launch, should make the second wave a lot of fun.
X360: Its biggest advantage that it's been out for a year already. The tech is a little more basic than the PS3 which helps bring the price down. It was the first system to include wireless controllers. There are loads of games to choose from with plenty of top-notch titles in the mix. MS' Xbox Live online service is a known entity--by establishing a native service that's fully integrated with the system they ensure the best online play quality, and a free Silver membership is included with each system.
Wii: Cheapest of the three by a WIDE margin. Should be more widely available than the PS3. First system to show fully motion-sensitive controller (this feature was copied by the PS3). The motion-sensing controller is integral to gameplay in many games, which should allow for some really unique gameplay for people who aren't too self-conscious. (Oughta be fun to watch, too) Whereas the other two systems focus on raw computing horsepower, the Wii is focused more on gameplay--which should hopefully result in more fun games. Memory slot takes standard SD cards, which are relatively cheap and hold a lot of stuff. Nintendo's stable of franchises gives it a distinct leg up on the competition and many will buy Nintendo just so they can play Zelda, Metroid and Mario games.
PS3: Price. At $499 for the base system (which doesn't include a game) it's the steepest by far. All that technology costs money, and even though having a Blu-Ray player may be a bargain it's still not a cheap one. Availability is going to be SEVERELY limited at launch. Game selection at launch doesn't look to be anything special either, and the really good stuff is still several months to a year off. Then there's the Blu-Ray format. It's competing with HD-DVD, and if it loses the current format war PS3 buyers are in trouble (as is anyone else that bought a stand-alone Blu-Ray player. The lack of force feedback in the PS3's wireless controllers is a glaring omission (the official word is it interfered with the motion sensors--in reality Sony is losing a legal battle and had to remove the feature to avoid getting sued). Sony is also taking a HUGE loss on these consoles, so don't expect a price drop for a couple of years at least--if the system even lasts that long. Even Sony execs themselves have gone on record saying they may lose this round of the console wars.
Xbox360: While the price is lower than the PS3, EVERYTHING is extra. The base console is a stock stripper--no hard drive, no wireless controllers, no game, no nothing. It comes with one wired controller and an XBL Silver membership (which is useless if you don't have any way to save content). The Premium package is basically essential if you want to use the system as it was designed, and all the nickel and diming MS is doing to base system buyers is really wrong. Then there's XBL. While a Silver membership is included with every system, if you want to play multiplayer games online you need to pony up for XBL Gold--which costs $50 per year. More nickel and diming. Most content available on XBL costs money as well--and the only way to purchase it is to first buy Microsoft Points--essentially locking your cash into MS' coffers. MS is also reportedly taking a loss on 360 systems of both flavors, so while a price drop is rumored, don't count on it until the system begins to make a profit.
Wii: It's technical capbability is nowhere near the other two systems, and is actually closer to current-gen systems in terms of graphics quality and presentation. HD is not supported in any form on the Wii, and the system is not even capable of playing DVD movies. If you don't have a wireless network at home you'll have to buy a seperate adapter to hook your console up to the internet. Game selection at launch appears to be fairly limited, but there could be some fun games in there depending on what you like. The system's onboard storage is paltry compared to the other two at only 512 MB.
The PS3 is the system for technophiles. It's the most powerful, most capable and unfortunately the most expensive. It's not a system I'd buy at launch--instead I'd wait a year for the really good stuff to hit shelves and make a decision. (Of course, if you haven't pre-ordered the system, you will end up waiting whether you like it or not)
The X360 is the one to get if you want a next-gen system NOW. Get the Premium package because despite its higher price it's actually a better value than the base package (which really isn't worth paying for).
The Wii is the cheapest and quirkiest of the three. Unlike the other two, everything you need to set up and play is included--even a game. Availability should be good, and its native Wifi support will be an advantage to those who have wireless networks in their homes. Familiar franchises will also make a return, though not many of them at launch. If you're on a tight budget this year--or just tired of the console arms race--the Wii is probably your best bet.