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There are three major consoles: the Sony PlayStation 4, the Microsoft Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch. The PS4 and Xbox One are very similar in terms of technology (they’re basically mid-range PCs), providing high-end graphical performance, especially if you purchase the more expensive PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, which include full support for 4K television displays. Both machines also let you easily stream your gaming online so others can watch, if you have teens who care about that.
Sony's PlayStation 2 was released in Japan on March 4, 2000, in North America on October 26, 2000, in Europe on November 24, 2000, and in Australia on November 30, 2000. It was the follow-up to its highly successful PlayStation and was also the first home game console to be able to play DVDs. As was done with the original PlayStation in 2000, Sony redesigned the console in 2004 into a smaller version. As of November 21, 2011 over 140 million PlayStation 2 units have been sold. This makes it the best selling home console of all time to date.
In the mid-1990s, various manufacturers shifted to optical media, specifically CD-ROM, for games. Although they were slower at loading game data than the cartridges available at that time, they were significantly cheaper to manufacture and had a larger capacity than the existing cartridge technology. NEC released the first CD-based gaming system, the TurboGrafx-CD (an add-on for the TurboGrafx-16), in December 4, 1988 in Japan and August 1, 1990 in the United States. Sega followed suit with the Sega CD (an add-on for the Sega Genesis) in Japan on December 12, 1991; Commodore stepped into the ring shortly after with the Amiga-CD32, the first 32-bit game console, on September 17, 1993. During the later half of the 1990s, optical media began to supplant cartridges due to their greater storage capacity and cheaper manufacturing costs, with the CD-based PlayStation significantly outpacing the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 in terms of sales. By the early 21st century, all of the major home consoles used optical media, usually DVD-ROM or similar discs, which are widely replacing CD-ROM for data storage. The PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One systems use even higher-capacity Blu-ray optical discs for games and movies, while the Xbox 360 formerly used HD DVDs in the form of an external USB player add-on for video playback before it was discontinued. However, Microsoft still supports those who bought the accessory. Nintendo's GameCube, Wii, and Wii U, meanwhile, use proprietary disc formats based on then-current industry standard discs—the GameCube's discs are based on mini-DVDs, the Wii's on DVDs and the Wii U's are believed to be based on Blu-rays. These discs offer somewhat smaller storage capacities compared to the formats they are based on, though the difference is significantly smaller compared to the gap between the N64's cartridges and CDs.
Nintendo launched the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection alongside the Wii and Nintendo DS, which utilized GameSpy's servers to offer free online multiplayer. In addition, Nintendo's Wii Shop Channel allowed for the digital distribution of downloadable games, emulated titles, and Wii applications known as "Channels", which provided functionality such as access to Netflix, YouTube and an Internet browser, as well as online-enabled contests such as the Check Mii Out Channel and Everybody Votes Channel. Nintendo's WiiConnect24 service offered information and videos of upcoming software through the Wii's downloadable Nintendo Channel, which also allowed users to download demos from the Wii console to a nearby Nintendo DS through a local wireless connection. Other WiiConnect24 services included dedicated channels for weather and news. WiiConnect24 also enabled a message board that allowed a connected Wii to receive messages from games, installed Channels and other users' consoles. In the summer of 2014, these services were discontinued, reportedly to let developers work harder on Wii U functionality. In 2018, the Wii Shop Channel was discontinued, ending digital distribution of Virtual Console games, WiiWare, and Wii Channels to Wii consoles.
Sega's Dreamcast, the first console with a built-in modem, was released in Japan on November 27, 1998. The Dreamcast initially underperformed in Japan; while interest was initially strong, the company was forced to stop taking preorders due to manufacturing issues, and the system underperformed its sales expectations, with reports of disappointed customers returning Dreamcast consoles to buy PlayStation games and peripherals.