One thing is clear from the show, and that's the fact that next-generation consoles are going to start with a slight lead over the average PC. Whereas in 2000 and 2001, when the previous designs made their debut, they were already effectively outdated in processor and graphics performance, both the Xbox and PS3 will be equivalent to top-tier hardware available for PCs - and will remain so for at least a year, or two.
However, those of you ready to spell gloom and doom for the PC market should take a deep breath first. For starters, it's pretty much a given that the consoles will have more expensive games. This will undoubtedly go over poorly with the public, despite the fact that games haven't gotten more expensive over the past 15 years. In fact, when you figure in inflation, they've gotten cheaper over those years.
But the real killer for many gamers is that the Xbox 360 and PS3 will not be able to show anything near their full potential without HDTV. HDTV adoption has been, as we all know, slower than expected and this limits the potential market. But, you may ask, won't the new consoles create their own demand for HD? We'll get to that later.
The Xbox 360 was probably the start of the show this E3, but it didn't dominate it like one might expect a new console to do. Perhaps this is because Microsoft was showing their new console in South Hall, behind EA and Activision, or perhaps it was evident they didn't have a killer app for it.
There are good games on the nextbox, there's no denying that. Battlefield 2, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, the next-generation Top Spin game were all there - and a pair of those and some more were playable. But there was no Halo, no GTA killer, nothing like the new Zelda which had people lining up for two hours. Part of this is no doubt to the tremendous size of the Microsoft booth and the accessibility of the hardware to anyone who wanted to try it. But mostly, the feeling we got is that while the Xbox gathered a lot of interest at the show, it did not dominate the way it should have. This is clearly a failure for Microsoft.
Moreoever, Microsoft failed to pitch the 360 and its features clearly and succinctly. Is it backwards-compatible? Will there be a hard drive, and if not, what will we get? That's not to say that the answers weren't there, it's just that I'd have to go look for them. That's a marketing failure, because asking questions is already a barrier to entry.
The technical minutiae of the Xbox 360 are not actually all that interesting. Its processor, an IBM "Xenon" (ignore the name, it's just more marketing fluff - think of it as a 3-core PowerPC), anyway, its processor is fairly closely related to the highly hyped Cell processor that is to make its debut in PlayStation 3. Whereas Cell is a simplified PowerPC core connected to 8 Attached Processor Units (APUs), Xenon has 3 full-fledged and fleshed-out PowerPC cores onboard. Theoretically, Cell will kill Xenon, but theoretically, the PS2 is still faster than any single-processor PC in existence. While I'm hardly a computer engineer, Sony marketing has much to answer for (remember "Emotion Engine", or PS2 sales to Iraq being banned?) and the death of the PC has been heralded so many times in the past, you'll forgive me if I tell Sony to put up and shut up before I believe that traditional processor architectures will become extinct overnight.