FAQ: The next video game consoles?

Manufacturers won't spill details on upcoming game consoles, but News.com got some, anyway. Images: Consoles of tomorrow?

The swallows come back to San Juan Capistrano every year, the Olympics happen every four years, and old video game consoles get junked every five years.

Which means that the game industry is due for a shake-up any quarter now. The current crop of consoles--Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube--all have been on the market for about four years.

Each manufacturer wants to squeeze as much market life as possible out of the current machines, so they won't spill too many details about future consoles for fear of making the current ones look outdated. But information on next-generation plans has slowly accumulated, supplemented by a steady stream of rumors that range from outlandish to vaguely plausible.


What's new:
The current crop of consoles have been on the market for about four years, which means that the game industry is due for a shake-up.

Bottom line:
Manufacturers are being tight-lipped about future game consoles for fear of making the current ones look outdated, but that hasn't stopped CNET News.com from digging up details on price, capabilities and more.

More stories on game consoles

Here's what we know or think we know about the new game systems.

What's it going to be called?
Sony--For a while, Sony wouldn't even confirm that there would be another version of the PlayStation at all. But lately, even Sony executives are comfortable uttering the words "PlayStation 3."

Microsoft--The next Xbox is code-named "Xenon." What it will be called when it hits stores is the subject of rampant speculation, with Microsoft reportedly wanting to avoid the obvious Xbox 2 because that would be one less than PlayStation 3. Favorite names in the rumor mill include Xbox Next, Xbox 360 and Xbox HD. Microsoft has registered domains for xboxnext.com and xbox2.com; xbox360.com belongs to British squatters. For simplicity's sake, we'll stick with Xbox 2 until Microsoft offers something more definitive.

Nintendo--The company traditionally comes up with an entirely new name for each console. The GameCube's successor is going by the code name "Revolution." There's a chance Nintendo will keep the name for the final product, but the company hasn't bothered to register the Web domain.

When can I get one?
Sony--Sony has promised to have a prototype version of a PS3 to show off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in May. Consensus among analysts is that consoles won't arrive in stores until early 2006, at best.

Microsoft--It will also be showing off the goods at E3--several days after it provides a first public glimpse of the new Xbox in an MTV broadcast on May 12. Game makers already are hard at work with Xbox 2 development kits, so consoles could be in stores in time for this year's holiday shopping season.


Nintendo--Revolution will complete the three-ring console circus at E3. Nintendo executives have said they don't plan to repeat their experience from the current console cycle; the PlayStation 2 beat the GameCube to market by almost a year. But no game publishers have reported receiving Revolution development kits, meaning that Nintendo will have to move quickly just to keep pace with Microsoft.

What will it cost?
Sony--Consoles have entered the market at $300 for the last few hardware cycles, but some analysts think that game companies will push the bar with this generation. Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter predicted in a report last year that the PS3 could come with a price tag as high as $500 if Sony thinks it can cram in enough multimedia functions to justify the price.

Microsoft--Ditto for Xbox 2, but Piper Jaffray analyst Tony Gikas predicts that Microsoft will aim for a more modest bump, to $350 to $400.

Nintendo--Dramatic price cuts on the GameCube, appealing to the Wal-Mart crowd, have helped keep Nintendo in the game the last few years. Nintendo is unlikely to push the $300 barrier with Revolution.

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