Nintendo changed the face of gaming when it unleashed the Wii way back in the winter of 2006, pulling in multi-generational horde of new gamers, eager to shell out for the big N's pared-down, accessible fun. Skip forward to the present day, and in the run-up to Christmas both Microsoft and Sony are hawking their own nifty motion-gaming wares -- Kinect for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Move respectively.
But which of these three motion marvels deserves your hard-earned pennies this year? We've played extensively with all three and present our findings here.
When it launched four years ago, the Wii was lambasted for its bizarre remote-style controllers and frankly hilarious name. An astonishing 74 million sales later however, and the Wii has not only snuck into just about every living room in the western world, it's made Nintendo enough money to purchase the entire solar system. Affordable, and so simple to use that your Nan could humiliatingly trash your high scores in under five minutes, the Wii is the motion-gaming system to beat.
If Nintendo shook things up by removing most of the buttons from its controller, Microsoft has gone one step further by scrapping the controller altogether. Kinect is powered entirely by your own body -- monitored by a sophisticated array of cameras mounted in a black bar that sits under your telly, you'll be flailing your way up the leaderboards in no time at all. Kinect doesn't hit the UK until 10 November, but we've given the hardware a thorough test.
Sony's motion-gaming effort takes the idea the Wii made popular -- waggling a remote -- and skews it in a new direction. Move operates slightly differently to the Wii and like Kinect is able to deliver motion-gaming thrills in glorious HD. The PlayStation is also probably in the best position to bring motion-gaming to the hardcore market, something that could potentially prove very lucrative.
We're all about the technology here at CNET UK, but which of these three gaming systems brings the coolest tech to the table?
The Nintendo Wii blew our tiny minds when we first played with it -- we remember the childish delight with which we spun the Wii remote, observing how neatly the cute little Miis rotated along with our own movements. Despite the high-tech appearance, however, the Wii's motion-control system is deceptively simple. Hidden inside the Wii sensor bar (that grey thing that sits atop or under your telly) are ten infrared LEDs. A sensor inside the Wii remote is able to keep track of these sets of lights, and uses them to triangulate the remote's precise location.
This is then relayed to the Wii console wirelessly via Bluetooth. Inside each remote there's an accelerometer, and by attaching the Wii MotionPlus add-on, additional accuracy can be added courtesy of a tuning-fork gyroscope.
Move works on the same principle, but swaps a few bits around. With Sony's system, the sensor is the PlayStation Eye camera, and the infrared lights in the sensor bar are replaced by a great big luminous ball on top of each Move controller. The PlayStation Eye tracks the location of that glowing ball. The Move controller, like the Wii remote, is loaded with an accelerometer, but goes a step further by adding a gyroscope and a magnetometer, which monitors the controller's orientation against the Earth's magnetic field. Pretty cool stuff.
Kinect, however, blows both the Wii and the Move away in this field. Visually nothing more than a shiny black bar that plugs into the Xbox 360, Kinect sneakily houses three separate cameras. The one in the centre is an RGB model that identifies people standing in the playing area -- in front of the sensor bar. This camera distinguishes people from the background, so Kinect is able to track your entire body without getting the sofa in the picture too. It can track an impressive 20 points of articulation in each person.
Those other two cameras work in tandem to create a 3D image of the room, and your position in it. This means Kinect knows how far you are from the screen, and when you're rotating your body. We were highly impressed when tried this out. In terms of sheer technofoolery, Kinect blows our brains the furthest out of our ears.
Coolest Tech: Kinect
When the kids are going mental on Christmas morning, or when your friends are round and you have half an hour to fill before the pizza arrives, the inner gubbins of your gaming toys are the last thing on your mind. You want some proper fun. That means easy setup, and fast, frantic multiplayer action. But which system delivers?
The Wii has a pretty fiddly setup -- you'll need to cobble together all the Wii remotes strewn around your living room, as well as plug in the sensor bar, which has a needlessly long and tangle-prone cable.
Once everything's in place however, you won't have to wait long before multiplayer gaming can commence. The Wii has no trouble crowding four players round the telly at once for some arm-swinging action and each remote takes batteries rather than using an inaccessible, rechargable internal battery. As long as you have a steady stream of double-As to hand, nobody's left out.
Kinect is dead easy to set up -- you only need the Kinect sensor bar plugged into your Xbox 360 and you're good to go. There's a fatal flaw, however, when it comes to initiating multiplayer madness -- the games available at launch will only support two players. That could increase in the future, but the formality of switching places and taking turns is no substitute for crowding a bunch of baying crazies around your telly. One plus is that due to the intensely physical nature of the gameplay, Kinect will exhaust anybody playing, and is perfect for ritual humiliation.
Move's setup is pretty simple: just position the Eye and grab the Move controllers. Power is handled via internal rechargable batteries though, so if you forgot to plug in one of the controllers at the end of your last gaming session one of your friends will have to sit out. Not much fun!
Secondly, while Sony's offering supports four players simultaneously, when we reviewed Move we found it required a good deal of space to work properly. One game asked us to stand 2.5 metres away from the TV. Now bearing in mind you'll be waving your arms around like a loon, four people will need a good-sized room to play in, so it's not perfect for kids' bedrooms or cramped little student flats.
For simple, fast-paced fun, the Wii is still best. It gets four players huddled together furiously windmilling their arms with a minimum of fuss. Plus, as it's been out for years, the Wii boasts a huge back-catalogue of excellent games, such as the marvellous Wario Ware: Smooth Moves or Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Being new, games for Kinect and Move are thin on the ground, and will be more expensive too.
Best for Multiplayer: Wii
If you're shelling out for a new console and several controllers or cameras, you want to know you're getting decent value for money. Here's how effectively the different systems will empty your wallet.
You can grab a Kinect sensor bar plus Kinect Adventures, a Wii Sports-style minigame collection, for £130 when it launches in November. If you're starting from scratch you can buy it bundled with a 4GB Xbox 360 Slim for £250. That comes with one controller, though of course you won't need it for playing with Kinect.
Move is pricier. The PlayStation Eye camera will set you back £25, or you can buy the Eye plus one Move controller and a starter disc for £45. Additional Move controllers will retail at around £30, and the Navigation controller -- an optional extra controller that adds an analogue stick and several extra buttons -- will set you back about £25 each. You can currently preorder a 320GB PlayStation 3 Slim console with Move for £270 if you fancy bundling up.
The Wii is the cheapest of the three -- the Wii console with Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort and a MotionPlus controller will cost you somewhere around £180. Don't forget, though, you'll also need to buy three more Wii remotes and three more nunchuck peripherals to use the Wii at its full four-player capacity. Costing around £30 for a new controller and £15 for a new nunchuck, to get completely kitted out be prepared to spend around £300 or a little more.
We reckon in the long run Kinect is going to work out cheapest if you're starting from scratch, as you can have pretty much everything you need for £250, and in one box. The Xbox 4GB doesn't have much space for downloads and game demos, but if your primary focus is motion gaming, that probably won't bother you so much.
Affordability Winner: Kinect
We love the accuracy of Move, and the Wii will always hold a place in our hearts as the console that first got us jumping around like loonies, but we reckon Kinect is going to deliver the greatest gaming thrills this Christmas. It's a shame that at launch only two-player games will be available, but with easy setup, HD graphics and some really neat tech to boot, Kinect wins our hearts and minds.
Overall Winner: Kinect