After three decades of video gaming, my thumbs are lethal weapons. Butt planted on couch, I can toss a beefy wrestler across a ring, smack Johan Santana's fastball over the wall and blow the head off an alien invader from my cozy sniper's nest. But Microsoft and Sony have now sipped the Nintendo Kool-Aid and expect me to (gasp!) stand up and use my whole body to play their games. Madness!
The two companies took very different approaches. Sony basically looked at what Nintendo created with its popular Wii system and said "We can do that better." And they have, delivering far superior control accuracy with the PlayStation Move.
The system ($100) requires a camera perched near your TV and a handheld controller. The camera follows the ball's position, precisely tracking your movements, while accelerometers inside the motion controller read movement speed and angle. A joystick-like navigation controller used in some games is a $30 option.
Microsoft took a more innovative run at this challenge, creating a hands-free gaming experience (as demonstrated below) with the Kinect system ($150). A single device, a camera with built-in microphones, scans the room optically and by infrared light to detect 3-D motion. In addition to letting your entire body serve as an unencumbered game controller, the Kinect system enables neat tricks like voice and gesture control of movie and music playback, and video calling to other Kinect or computer users.
The key question in evaluating the two is, "Just how much of a workout do you want?" Kinect games emphasize dancing, jumping, ducking, kicking and head-butting. Many of these games are lots of fun. All of them are thoroughly exhausting, due in large part to the system design, which can monitor large body movements but can't capture the subtlety of a finger twitch on a trigger or the cock of a wrist when throwing.
Sony's Move, on the other hand, can handle both big-movement games and challenges that require targeting accuracy. I tried the hardcore military shoot-'em-up SOCOM 4 with the Move and found it responsive and easy to maneuver. Was it better than using the standard fingers-and-thumb controller scheme? I'm not entirely convinced. But at least I can explore the possibility for more than 10 minutes without gulping Gatorade and toweling off.
Visit xbox.com/en-US/kinect and us.playstation.com/ps3/.