Cybernaut 

Go go gadgets

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It’s official. The Sony PS3 (www.playb3yond.com) hit the stores on Thursday, Nov. 17, and by all accounts is completely sold out until at least two months after Christmas. It also turns out that most of the people you saw waiting in line to purchase the console were opportunists who turned around and sold them on eBay for an average of $1,400 U.S. — 13,000 consoles sold so far for almost three times the sticker price.

The Nintendo Wii (http://wii.nintento.com) launched on Saturday with similar fanfare, and while Nintendo can guarantee more units than Sony for Christmas it’s still going to be a hard console to get your hands on. Think Furby and Tickle Me Elmo, with 50 per cent less department store trampling.

Rounding out the gadget extravaganza was the Nov. 14 release of the Microsoft Zune (www.zune.net), which is expected to compete directly with iPod but will be lucky to beat out any of the half dozen companies that are vying for the 18 per cent market share that doesn’t yet belong to Apple (www.apple.com). Reviews for the Zune have generally been harsh, citing everything from buggy software, lack of online video and music content, an oddball points-based song purchasing system, the limited wireless capability, and so on, but you have to remember that this is Microsoft. No company has deeper pockets, the cross-platform capability, or the built-in customer base that Microsoft commands, and the company does listen to its customers from one product generation to the next. Look at the leap from Xbox to the Xbox 360.

For the customer on a fixed budget, or the kid who has to combine birthdays and Christmases to get big ticket items, what to get this Christmas is a difficult decision. The Xbox 360 (www.xbox.com) has been out for a year, is slightly cheaper than the PS3 (once you load up with accessories) and already has a massive library of games including all the top PC titles.

But you have to give a slight hardware edge to PS3 by virtue of the fact that it’s also a Blu-ray disk player and has built in wireless (both expensive Xbox 360 add-ons) and free online gaming. There’s also the fact that Sony has too much riding on the PS3 to allow it to fail while gaming remains a small and so far unprofitable part of Microsoft’s business spectrum.

Nintendo Wii is the cheapest game system by far, but the first version to hit the stores doesn’t even offer DVD playback. I sold my wife on the PS2 by virtue of the fact that it can double as a DVD player, and would find it hard to justify buying a system at any price that actually has less capability than the console I bought four years ago.

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