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Video games are the most popular form of entertainment here in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project study released in December 2008, 53 percent of American adults and 97 percent of teenagers are gamers. These figures indicate staggering popularity, and they’ve undoubtedly grown in the last three years as advances technology have made gaming systems more interactive and accessible to people who would otherwise have little or no interest in them.
To join the virtual action, all you really need is a monitor and gaming console. But what fun is that? Better to immerse both your body and mind in the experience. To help, we’ve put together a simple yet complete surround-sound setup to meet the needs of gamers and double as a home theater. And to make it more attainable, we did it for less than $2,500.
TV: Samsung LN46D630 $999
The graphics of today’s video games are astounding, and the action is complex and fast-paced. You need a TV with great color accuracy, amazing detail and lightning-fast response time (the speed at which pixels can change color). Lower response times mean better motion image reproduction (i.e., they reproduce fast-paced action scenes better and with more detail).
This 46-inch LED LCD features a fast 120 Hz refresh rate, and its game mode is designed to optimize black levels for as crisp a picture as possible. It also has all the features of much higher-end models, but is available for a much more affordable price. It also includes the ability to play Web-connected Samsung apps (including Pandora, Hulu Plus, etc.), and connect to social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and more to post your scores and stay connected while playing.
GAMING CONSOLE: Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle $399.99
This slick-looking console offers a solid gaming and entertainment experience. It’s armed with integrated Wi-Fi and tons of Web-entertainment features. With a subscription to Xbox Live, you can challenge -- or play cooperatively -- with other gamers, access and update your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and stream or download the latest content from ESPN, Last.fm, and Netflix, turning the consol into the hub of your home theater system. Plus, it delivers visually. The system’s graphical output is light-years beyond the Nintendo Wii and on par with the Sony PlayStation 3. Our only dig is that it doesn’t have a Blu-ray drive.
The cool feature here is the Kinect motion controller. It uses three different sensors (a camera, a microphone and an infrared laser) to turn your body movements into actions within the game. This technology -- combined with Microsoft’s advanced gesture-, face- and voice-recognition -- gives the Kinect the upper hand in motion-controlled gaming. While many of you hardcore gamers are thinking, “That’s last year’s technology,” we beg to differ, as games designed for the technology are just coming to stores.
AUDIO: Zvox Z-Base 580 $599.99
Hardcore gamers tend to look at sound systems as a luxury, providing benefit only to those who also like to watch movies. Well, they’re wrong. Sound is important for gaming. But most people don’t want a full surround-sound home audio system; it’s just too bulky.
The Zvox Z-Base 580 is a very stylish product, more like a piece of furniture than home audio equipment. While overall sound quality won’t impress audiophiles, especially when playing music or watching dynamic action movies, it excels at dialogue clarity and has an extra woofer for a little more oomph. Plus, the system has a front-panel display that can be easily seen from a distance, digital audio inputs, and several audio-adjustment options to dial in the sound to your liking.
ACCESSORIES: Logitech F540 Headset $149.99
Some people have a nasty habit of wanting peace and quiet while they are engaged in a heavy gaming session. To avoid conflict in the physical world, a headset is the only way to go when you want a more private experience in the virtual realm. And Logitech’s F540 is one of the best because it is doesn’t tether you to the television or gaming console. It allows you to not only listen wirelessly, but also communicate with others sans wires. Plus, it can connect to three sources simultaneously, without the need to switch cables. No more clutter. However, it is only a stereo headset and doesn’t deliver a truly enveloping surround-sound gaming experience.
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