With the buzz about the recent unveiling of the PlayStation 4 and upcoming reveal of the next Xbox, it might be easy to forget the next generation of gaming actually started last year.
The Wii U launched in November, and like the next PlayStation and Xbox, the most interesting thing about the console isn't the games it can play but the philosophical approach to interactive entertainment.
The Wii U is designed to complement the living room and Internet experiences. It is a console built to play nicely with competitors like websites, smartphones and television.
The Wii U's chunky second-screen GamePad has an interactive TV guide that can be used as a sort of super remote to not only find a show and start watching it, but to research the show's history and cast, and chat with friends as you watch.
The Wii U borrowed from sites like Facebook and Twitter, creating its own sort of always-online community. Nintendo is in the process of bringing that "Miiverse" to the computer and eventually the smartphone. President Satoru Iwata recently reminded analysts that the company was opening the console to allow developers more familiar with creating things for websites or smartphones to bring their content to the Wii U as well.
The PlayStation 4, announced earlier this year, seeks to use social and entertainment trends to create a new sort of gaming experience.
Having identified smartphones and tablets as one of the biggest challengers to the throne of games, Sony plans to defuse that competition by embracing smartphones and tablets, releasing an app that will allow PS4 owners to use those devices as a second screen for their gaming experiences.
The PS4 also looks to undercut one of the big advantages smartphones and tablets have on console gaming: Their ability to provide seamless, easy access to gaming and entertainment.
The PS4 will support a variety of business models, including free-to-play, but more important, it will remove the wait to play games you buy online by making them playable almost instantly.
Finally, the upcoming console embraces the sort of social experiences made so popular by Facebook and Twitter. The PS4's controller has a share button that will allow players to share screenshots, videos, even streams of their gaming experiences, with friends.
Where the Wii U looks to fit in with today's entertainment and the PS4 looks to benefit from it, the next Xbox seeks to envelope it.
While nothing official has been announced about Microsoft's next console, it reportedly will be the culmination of the company's more than decade-long push to take over the den and in-home entertainment.
The next Xbox, we've been told, will allow you to control your cable box, will turn the console's popular online Live community into something more akin to Facebook or Twitter, and will expand the use of the Kinect camera to support watching TV and ordering goods online.
The Xbox, already a hodge-podge of entertainment options, in its next iteration will streamline all of those choices in an effort to make itself the media hub, the Internet hub, the gaming hub, the entertainment hub of everything you do in your house.