Hard(ware) decisions

If you're still in the market for a Blu-Ray player, then you might want to hold off for a few weeks. Last week Sony silenced critics and aggravated game companies alike with the announcement of a PS3 Slim, an updated version of the PS3 with a slimmer profile, faster processors, lower power architecture and a retail price that's $100 less at $299.

It also includes a 120 GB hard drive to save movies, games and music, an integrated web browser, free online gaming and other perks.

After the PS2 dominated the last round of the console wars with over 140 million units sold around the world, the PS3 is in a distant third this round with the Wii way out front and Xbox 360 still making huge gains at Sony's expense. One of the complaints from the beginning has been price, and the PS3 Slim answers that with a powerful, affordable system that will double as your home media centre as well as a games console.

Although Blu-ray has been slow to catch on following a protracted battle with the ultimately doomed HD-DVD format, sales of Blu-ray movies have started to increase lately. Technology that is supposed to replace the need for media such as disks is slow to market, and download services like Netflix have drawbacks as well - ever try to stream an HD movie? Downloading HD movies, which can be 30 GB in size, is not a practical option at today's Internet speeds, and most downloaded HD films are in 720p format rather than higher resolution 1080i and 1080p offered by Blu-Ray. The PS3 slim will also upscale your traditional DVDs into something approaching HD.

By the way, the cheapest standalone Blu-ray player at Future Shop these days in $249. An extra $50 will get you so much more.

Zune HD versus the iPod Touch 3G

Apple has dominated the portable media market for the last few generations, despite the best efforts of a dozen companies to build better, cheaper media players.

Microsoft - which was late to market with its line of Zune players - may actually do the impossible and give the iPod Touch a run for its money when its Zune HD players ( hit stores on Sept. 15.

There's really no contest when you compare the Zune HD with the first generation iPod Touch - it's cheaper, has a slightly smaller (but better- looking) screen, can play HD radio, can display and output HD video, can browse the web, download apps, has an on-board accelerometer for tilt control and gaming, and other features. It's also cheaper than the iPod Touch, at $219 for a 16 GB model or $289 for the 32 GB (vs. $399 for the 32 GB Touch).

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