Just playing around

Games consoles are a great complement to your home entertainment system, writes Anthony Fordham.

Since the consumer electronics industry?s favourite new word is ?convergence? it should come as no surprise to learn that the latest games consoles do a lot more than just play games, and can work hand in hand with your home entertainment equipment.

Probably the most popular form of convergence is that consoles can act as DVD players. In fact, DVD playback is enabled out of the box on the PS2, and on the Xbox with the installation of a DVD pack. Sony has recently released SingStar Party, a karaoke add-on, and EyeToy Play 2, a USB digital camera that puts an image of the player into the game, and also features motion-sensing technology for baseball and golf swigs, and more.

  EyeToy Play 2 builds on the orginal game with support for multiplayer action and a host of new interactive games. EyeToy Play 2 costs $100 with an included USB camera.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft has countered with such new toys as Music Mixer, which takes advantage of the Xbox?s ability to record music to its internal hard drive and combines it with a karaoke mike. The system also works with digital photos, allowing users to create albums, share them with friends, and view slide shows with customised music on the TV.

Of course at some point a games console should probably be used for games. But there?s no need to sit in a darkened room by yourself because your friends couldn?t come around. Both PS2 and Xbox now connect to the Internet, offering online gaming against a horde of thousands of foreigners – and Australians – who never seem to sleep.

Online gaming through a games console requires a broadband connection and some knowledge of home networking, but both PS2 and Xbox are easy to set up.

The two services are slightly different, and both have their pros and cons, with Xbox opting to simplify the registration system and centralise control of games, while Sony prefers to let the game developers design their own online games, with the potential for greater variety that this offers.

And what of your widescreen TV? Will your new console support it? At this stage, that still depends on the game, but there are a few useful tricks to know when you want to take advantage of 5.1 channel sound and other advanced features your home cinema setup offers. We?ll cover all this and more in the pages to come.