Image: Nintendo Wii
Nintendo
The Nintendo Wii can stream video from Netflix online, if you have a Netflix account.
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updated 2/25/2011 8:13:34 AM ET 2011-02-25T13:13:34

If you're not already familiar with the world of video game platforms, then talk of Xboxes and PlayStations and Nintendos can get pretty confusing. Video game consoles have become much more advanced than they were even five years ago. They do more than just play video games with handheld controllers; some play DVDs and Blu-ray discs and even connect to the Internet to stream videos and let you check the weather.

When you're getting started with video game systems, it helps to know your options. Check out our list of the 8 biggest video game platforms for an idea of where to start.

1. Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 is a full-featured video game system. It does about everything you might want an expensive add-on to your home theater system to do. Obviously, it plays disc-based video games using handheld controllers. Xbox 360 recently enjoyed the addition of the Kinect, which lets you play games without using any kind of controller or keyboard at all.

The Xbox 360 has 5 USB ports for accessory options and built-in wifi. It comes with one controller and a headset for online gaming. The Xbox 360 can stream video from online services like Netflix. If the top of the line model seems expensive, you can opt for the 4GB model with Kinect (around $300) or get the 250GB model (around $300) without the $150 Kinect (which you can always buy later if you decide you need it).

(The Xbox is made by Microsoft, and Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

2. Nintendo Wii
Nintendo Wii (around $200) is another full-featured video game system that plugs into your home theater system. However, unlike conventional video games, Wii games are controlled with a pair of wireless controllers. Most games on the Wii are played using the motion of the controllers; for example, you play tennis by swinging the controllers like a tennis racket. When the Wii was released in 2006, it revolutionized the way families play video games at home.

The Wii comes with a controller, built-in Wi-Fi, and a sensor bar that goes on top of your television. The Wii can stream video from Netflix online, if you have a Netflix account.

3. PlayStation 3
Sony's PlayStation 3 is a full-sized video game console. Sony made a huge splash in 2010 when it released the PlayStation Move (around $50). The Move allows you to control your on-screen character with your own movements, much like the Nintendo Wii. The PS3 includes built-in wifi and comes with one controller.

One of the things that makes the PlayStation 3 stand out from its competition is its built-in Blu-ray player. If you want to make your video game console the main media player in your home theater system, you're definitely best off choosing the PlayStation 3. If you're not willing to shell out nearly $400 on a game console (even if it does play Blu-ray discs), the 120GB model (without Move, around $300) may be a better match for your wallet.

Image: Sony PlayStation 3
Levi Buchanan  /  PlayStation 3
Sony's PlayStation 3 has a built-in Blu-ray player.


4. PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 is an older video game console, but it has managed to retain a surprisingly strong following. There are usually PlayStation 2 consoles available at most of your local video game stores for around $100. While it can't handle Blu-ray discs and isn't built for Internet access, the PlayStation 2 still has many, many games widely available.

As a relatively inexpensive console, the PlayStation 2 might be a good option for families with young children whose enthusiasm might be tough on expensive equipment.

5. PSPgo
The PSP in PSPgo stands for PlayStation Portable. It's a handheld, portable gaming system. The PSPgo has a 3.8-inch LCD screen and can access the Internet using Wi-Fi.

Not only can the PSPgo play video games, but you can also download movies from the PlayStation Network. The PSPgo (around $200) is a great option for on-the-go gaming (at only 6 oz), but it doesn't connect to your home theater system the same way a full-featured video game console might.

6. Nintendo 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS is another portable gaming system that fits in your hand and weighs less than a 12 oz. The Nintendo 3DS won't be released until March 27 and will cost about $250. If you're just now considering buying a video game system, you should consider the 3DS an option.

The 3DS will feature 3D graphics without a need for additional glasses, two touchscreens, and a telescoping stylus. Make sure to check out the game lineup for the handheld system's release. They look like a lot of fun!

7. Nintendo DS Lite
The Nintendo DS Lite is a great option for people looking for a budget-friendly and diverse handheld gaming system. It features two screens, a wireless mode to share games with friends, and it can even play older Game Boy Advanced games.

The Nintendo DS Lite sells for a little over $100, which isn't a huge chunk of cash to lay down for that much versatility. Game shops will have Game Boy Advance and DS games available for years, which means you get a lot of cheap games for this system.

8. Apple iPad
While most people may not think of the iPad immediately as a video game system, the Apple mobile devices have proven to be hugely popular as game platforms. The App Store allows you to quickly download very inexpensive games to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Admittedly, the Apple mobile devices aren't alone in this distinction; most smart phones and tablets enjoy a wide variety of mobile games as well.

The iPad starts at $499; and a new iPad is expected to be announced March 2.

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