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The thumb season

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, Whistler is officially in a time and space known as the "shoulder season" – the slow season between summer and snow that presumably must be borne on our shoulders like the weight of the world.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, Whistler is officially in a time and space known as the "shoulder season" – the slow season between summer and snow that presumably must be borne on our shoulders like the weight of the world.

Summer jobs are winding down and winter jobs are still weeks away from starting up. The flood of tourists is slowed to a mere trickle.

The weather also changes for the worse, generally driving people indoors.

There’s nothing to do but wait – eat, sleep, read, sleep, watch movies, sleep, and exercise your thumb playing hours and hours of video games.

If you don’t own a game console, or are thinking about upgrading to one of the new super systems, it’s going to be an interesting winter – a heavyweight competition is emerging that should make the Lewis vs. Rahman rematch look like a sissy slap fight.

It would be an easy match to decide if the systems were all the same, but each one has different capabilities, prices, and availability of games. Choose well.

The Sony Playstation 2 (PS2) beat all of the other systems to the market last winter, and have recently celebrated the sale of their 20 millionth (!) console – not too shabby when you consider that people lined up in the cold for days last Christmas because of the limited supplies that were available.

The graphics are high quality, the action is fast, and while it still takes a while to load games, it’s generally worth the wait.

At the core of the Playstation 2 is Sony’s so-called "Emotion Engine"; the lethal combination of hardware that powers the PS2 experience. Without going into too much detail, the central processing unit, or CPU, of a regular computer is designed to be generic in order to handle all of the various tasks that computers are called upon to perform. The CPU of the PS2 is designed for one specific purpose – 3D gaming – and as a result it is faster than anything ever designed for home computing. While most computers run on a 64 bit CPU, the PS2 runs on the first 128-bit CPU ever developed with about four times the bandwith of a computer.

Sony also developed the fastest graphics rendering processor with built-in, high-bandwith memory to make the graphics as seamless as possible.

The story at the time of the PS2’s release was that the CPU and graphics processors were too fast – the U.S. military reportedly asked Sony to adapt it in such a way that it couldn’t be reused to control a missile.

In addition to games, a PS2 unit plays audio CDs, DVDs, and original Playstation games, which makes it one of the most versatile home entertainment systems on the market. Recently, Sony won the right to build Java decoders into PS2 consoles, which open the door for PC games.

In the future, you will be able to surf the Web and play online against other PS2 owners. In the meantime, the biggest development for this Christmas is the lame launch of PS2 in different colours.

Speaking of games, in the past year PS2 has chalked up more than 170 titles, or an average of 15 games per month. When you add in all the Playstation One games, you’ll be able to play more than titles.

The cost of a PS2 is hard to gauge – I couldn’t find a console anywhere that didn’t come with a game or two. Since the other super system manufacturers are doing the same thing, it’s hard to make a direct comparison.

Futureshop at is offering Playstation 2 with Grand Turismo for $479. Radio Shack Canada is offering PS2 with three games, Grand Turismo 3, ONI and Ready to Rumble for $599. is offering the system on its own for about $299 U.S. With the exchange and shipping costs, you’re probably better off with a bundle.

Microsoft recently dove into the home gaming melee with the Xbox, which has been delayed more times than a shuttle launch. It’s still not ready, although it should be in stores by the release date of Nov. 15.

That didn’t stop it from selling out through advance orders, however. Not wanting to make the same mistake as PS2 did in launching with only a limited number of consoles available, you can bet that the "sold out" sign on the Future Shop Web site is only temporary.

Like PS2, the Xbox is all about power. It has the fastest CPU of any console, plus a high-speed graphics card that rivals anything available on home computers.

It hasn’t been stacked up against the PS2 yet in a pixel by pixel comparison, but Microsoft is convinced they have the superior machine. The 733 Megahertz CPU is faster than the PS2’s 300 MHz Emotion Engine, but it is more conventional in its architecture.

It has an internal hard drive, a first for game consoles, which is an added bonus for gamers – PS2 users have to use memory cards, which can be lost, stepped on, and accidentally erased.

On the graphics side, it has a top-of-the-line NVIDIA graphics cards which apparently delivers "three times the graphics performance of other consoles" – without mentioning the PS2 specifically, this could be a measure of apples and oranges.

It also plays DVDs, and comes equipped with an ethernet port that will allow Xbox users to connect over a high-speed Internet connection.

The controller has had good reviews, and there are a number of other interesting peripherals available, like steering wheels and a balance board for snowboard, skateboard and surfing games.

On the game side, the Xbox is being released alongside 35 different titles.

Price-wise, it’s on par with the other systems.

You can get an Xbox console with two games – your choice, not Bill Gates’ – at Future Shop for $599.

Nintendo went a slightly different route than Sony and Microsoft with the GameCube, focusing on the kind of gameplay that made N64 such a success a few years ago – in other words, it should be a hit with younger audiences. It’s also a lot smaller than the other consoles, powered by a three-inch disk that holds about 1.5 gigabytes of information.

The CPU is an IBM Gekko processor that uses copper wire throughout the architecture to maximize speed while minimizing its footprint.

Three-inch disk, each holding about 1.5 GB of information. The graphics were also bumped up a notch to provide better 3D rendering and seamless gameplay.

There’s no video support, but that means load times are a fraction of other consoles. Wireless remotes are available with a range of up to 10 metres. In the near future, the capability will exist to play online against other Cube owners.

Other than that, there’s not a lot of information available for GameCube, which makes it hard to compare – once again, it’s apples and oranges. A complete comparison will be made once all three systems are available.

There are approximately 50 game available for GameCube, including popular SuperMario and Donkey Kong titles.

GameCube will be available on Nov. 18, but like the Xbox, the first shipments have already sold out.

The Cube’s advantage will likely be in price, which is substantially lower than either the PS2 or Xbox. A GameCube bundle from Future Shop, including two games of your choice, retails for $439.