Save your $$$: November gets gadget-filled release docket

Chicago (IL) - Big November consumer electronics releases are to be expected, with the looming holiday season and almost guaranteed attention to products even from those who know nothing about electronic gadgets. However, very few holiday shopping seasons have seen hotly anticipated gadgets released closely together.

This year, the three biggest new consumer electronic devices will be released nearly simultaneously, creating a week-long release period that's been unmatched in recent memory.

November will be home to a ton of new consumer electronic products, including new computers, new portable media players, and most of the anticipated video game and DVD releases. However, the three devices that people around the world are eyeing are the Wii, the PS3, and the Zune.

Back in 2001, the Gamecube and the Xbox were released within days of each other, in the middle of November. Now, a similar event is about to happen, with the PS3 and the Wii set to launch in the US on November 17 and November 19, respectively, marking the closest release between two major video game consoles.

The Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 arguably make up the most hotly anticipated generation of video game consoles ever. The video game demographic has continued to expand to not only reach a new audience of young gamers, but also to adult and middle-aged people who have grown up with video games, as well as those who have never considered themselves gamers, thanks in part to Nintendo's outreach with its acclaimed Touch Generation DS games.

Ebay auctions have been appearing for the Wii and PS3 consoles for months, even before pre-orders were first available. The pre-order slips themselves are selling for upwards of $2000. This is a sign of consumer excitement that was not reached when the Gamecube, Xbox, and PS2 were first released.

This new slate of consoles is already growing to be a hotly contested competition. With prices of the Xbox 360 ($300, $400), PS3 ($500, $600), and Wii ($250) being released at higher prices than their respective predecessor, gamers are going to be less likely to own multiple consoles, at least during their early years.

In addition to just needing to compete with software, the multimedia aspects of each console are very important, much more so than last time around. Online services, compatibility with high-definition TVs, and media playback capabilities, including Blu-ray and HD DVD, are all going to be big considerations to determine the winner of the next generation of games.

Even though Microsoft released the Xbox 360 last year, the software giant also has a place in the November gadget frenzy. It's tossing its hat into the video game ring by bringing out an external HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 on on 7 November, less than two weeks before the PS3 launch.

This will give consumers a choice not only between Microsoft and Sony, but also between HD DVD and Blu-ray, the two formats competing for the standard of the next generation of DVDs. It also brings back some life to the Xbox 360, giving Microsoft a second round of holiday shopping interest for the console and re-introducing itself as being in the same group as the PS3 and the Wii.

Additionally, and perhaps more anticiapted, just three days before the release of the PS3, Microsoft will debut on November 14 its Zune portable media player, officially starting an apples-to-apples feud between Microsoft and Apple in the world of digital media. As the one area where Apple has complete dominance over Microsoft, the Redmond, WA-based company is sure to pull out all the stops to try to take some market share away from Apple.

While not as anticipated as the Wii or the PS3, the Zune has become the first real Ipod competitor that's been closely watched even before its release. Of course, part of that is fueled from the significant rivalry Microsoft has with Apple, which has been unmatched by other PMP manufacturers. However, with a $250 price point, it is on par with the Ipod Video, and with wireless functionality and the ability to get an "all you can eat" service from the Zune Marketplace, it does offer a couple features not available with the Ipod/Itunes.

However, there does not have to be a clear winner between the Ipod and the Zune. Much like how three different video game console makers have been able to survive for over five years, the two media devices could just be complements of each other. According to ABI Research, 58% of Ipod owners plan to buy a Zune.

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