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Additional Uses for Game Consoles

Game consoles such as Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii aren't just for playing games anymore. These gaming consoles are multipurpose devices that can be the centerpiece of a home theater.

Here's a look at what game consoles currently on the market can do:

  • Play DVD movies: The Xbox, Xbox 360, and PS2 can all play movies, although neither the Xbox nor the PS2 has progressive-scan DVD functionality. The PS3, with its built-in Blu-ray disc drive, is capable of playing high-definition movies as well as standard DVDs.

  • Play audio CDs: The Xbox, PS2, and PS3 can play any audio CDs when connected to your home theater. The Xbox 360 goes further by letting you integrate a USB-equipped portable music player such as an iPod into the system. If you have a Media Center Edition PC or Windows XP PC, your Xbox 360 can access all the music you’ve stored on that device.

  • Surf the Web: The PS3 includes a cool Web browser (developed by Sony) that lets you surf the Web right out of the box. The Wii has an optional Web browser called the Internet Channel that you can download from the online Wii store for about $5. The Internet Channel is actually a special version of the Opera browser, and it works really well — a number of Web sites (such as Google’s Google Reader RSS reader program) have been optimized for the Wii Internet Channel and the Wii Remote (which acts just like a computer mouse when you’re surfing the Web). Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 doesn’t have a Web browser.

This last item isn’t exactly a typical use of gaming consoles, but it gives you a good idea of where consoles are heading — right into the PC mainstream.

Because video game consoles tend to display parts of their images in a static fashion — part of the picture never, or rarely, changes — you need to be careful when choosing a television for your video game-enhanced home theater. Some projection televisions (mainly those that use CRT picture tubes) and some flat-panel TVs (plasma screen TVs) can experience “burn in” when you use video games on them a lot. This means that the thin phosphor layers that light up to show your picture on these TVs become permanently etched with the images from your video game. Check the TV manufacturer’s instructions before you use a video game console with one of these TVs.

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