What's in store soon for those gamers?


Bored with your Xbox? GameCube gone square? PlayStation2 played out?

You need something new.

But with the next wave of home systems - the PlayStation3, Microsoft's "NextBox," and a still-unnamed new unit from Nintendo - still more than a year away, what's a gamer to do?

Microsoft plans to roll out its new system for developers next month. There's much speculation about when Sony might show its new machine - possibly as early as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this spring or as late as the holiday season. And Nintendo has promised a big announcement at E3, but no one knows if it's an early peek at the next-generation Cube (powered by a dedicated IBM personal PC processor) or something completely different.

For the immediate future, there's much hope on the handheld front, with Sony planning to drop its first portable system this year, and Nintendo promising an interesting twist on Game Boy technology that's due before Christmas.

The Sony Portable PlayStation (PSP) should be in your hands well before Christmas. It features a backlighted wide screen, stereo speakers and a rechargeable lithium battery, and it utilizes a memory stick for saves and other info. The PSP will cost $125 to $200, and it won't be compatible with any existing Sony technology.

Nintendo's new machine is code-named the Nintendo DS, which makes sense when you realize the system has dual screens - two screens for a single game, giving players two different points of view to use.

The benefits are obvious. Imagine a soccer game where you can see your character as you control the ball, and still see the rest of the players on the field at the same time. Or a combat game with a first-person perspective on one screen and a map on the other. The possibilities are interesting.

The DS, which will be officially unveiled at E3, features a pair of 3-inch screens, separate processors and a gigabit of memory. The DS will be in the same price range as the PSP. No word yet on compatibility issues.

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