Microsoft Xbox 360 - £129 to £229
Having dealt with some of the criticism regarding reliability and noise, Microsoft's recent price cuts have put the Xbox 360 in a strong position for Christmas. Developers still seem to be squeezing more and more from the triple-core Xenon CPU and Xenos GPU, and the reliance on good old fashioned DVD doesn't seem to be holding the console back yet. Long term there are concerns over Microsoft's closure of internal studios and a slight drop in really major new exclusive titles on the horizon, not to mention the possibility that Microsoft might announce the Xbox 360's successor next year. Despite this, the Xbox 360 retains its position as the Ford Focus of the console world; the competition might do things with slightly more style and polish, but the Microsoft console delivers the goods at a very attractive price. The Hard Disk-less Arcade model is a reasonably buy for more cash-strapped casual gamers, but given the choice we'd always plump for the Xbox 360 system pack (or Premium Pack as many stores call it) with its 60GB HDD. And while the Elite offers extra HDD space (120GB) and accessories, it's doubtful whether this or the matt black finish is really worth the extra £50 over the Premium Pack.
Sony PlayStation 3 - £289
After a slow start the PlayStation 3 has spent the year proving itself as a premium gaming system. With Metal Gear Solid 4. Resistance 2 and LittleBigPlanet joining Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted and Motorstorm it now has exclusives worth paying up for, and there are further goodies on the way. Sony could still do some work with online features, and delays to the Home virtual world and the wait for the PSN Movie Store hasn't done it any favours, but generally the PS3 and its services are going from strength to strength. The PS3 still feels like the more solid and elegant of the three consoles, the new 80GB hard disk is a big improvement, while Blu-ray playback is a huge plus point for movie fans and A/V enthusiasts. Sadly, all this is reflected in the price point. The challenge for Sony is convincing consumers that the £120 price difference between a 360 Premium Pack and PS3 is worth it. At the moment, the evidence doesn't always weigh in Sony's favour.
Nintendo Wii - £169
The Wii phenomenon shows no signs of letting up despite a lack of really great games for much of this year. In terms of hardware and visual capabilities the console feels like it's falling further and further behind the Xbox 360 and PS3, but that's less important to the Wii's mainstream audience than the 'wow' factor of the motion sensitive controls and the fact that the best of its games are just so much fun. The Wii desperately needs some more major titles - and in particular some games with long-term appeal - but there's no reason why it won't carry on selling in huge numbers this Christmas.
Now let's look at our user profiles and see what console best suits each...