You obviously bought your game console to play games, but these days, you can do more with an Xbox 360 or PS3 than rampage through Modern Warfare 3 maps. A lot more.
Thanks to a number of awesome updates, both the 360 and PS3 are now viable all-in-one entertainment hubs, offering a wealth of features and services that make conventional cable boxes and media players seem ridiculously one-dimensional. Here are a handful of non-gaming uses for your game console:
Watch TV shows and films
Want to watch the latest episodes of The Office or check out what all the fuss was about Lost? Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 let you stream TV shows and movies from services like Hulu and Netflix (the 360 just got HBO Go as well). It's not free -- you'll need to already have active monthly subscriptions, plus you'll need a subscription to Xbox Live if you have the 360 -- but it's a relatively affordable way to watch what you want, when you want. The PS3 also has an exclusive deal with Amazon to rent and download certain movies and television shows if you have a Prime account.
Be a sports nut
Sports fans no longer have to just play Madden or MLB to get their fix on their game system. Direct TV's Sunday Ticket is now available on your PS3, streaming nearly every football game during the regular season. Similar deals are in place for diehard hockey and baseball fans, though the 360 has gone one better for fans of mixed martial arts by offering a UFC channel that gives them access to tons of material. You can even order pay-per view bouts through the console if you don't have a cable box.
Run your home's media
Have a hard drive full of movies and music but no way to get it from your computer in the bedroom to the television in your living room? The Xbox 360 and PS3 both solve this problem by letting you stream media over your network from your computer to your console. Here's a basic guide for setting it up on the 360, and another for setting it up on the PS3. Relatively painless, and a great way to access content on the big screen.
If you've been wanting to give your friends daily updates on your latest Xbox adventures but don't have the time because, well, you're too busy playing games, 360 Voice is a must. Simply sign up using your Gamertag and it will create an "automatic blog for your console," posting in eerily accurate detail about your latest gaming exploits. Note: it gets mad if you don't play very often, so be wary.
Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 keep track of what your gaming friends are doing while they're on their consoles, but if you want to do some real social networking, you'll need to check Facebook and Twitter. Luckily, both consoles also include social networking apps that will let you send in-the-moment updates without having to budge from the couch to track down your phone.
The PS3 has been used for everything from hardcore gaming to powering super computers, but a nobler cause awaits those willing to invest a few moments away from the games. Through Folding@Home, one of four channels in the "Life with Playstation" application, you can literally help fight disease by donating a bit of your PS3 processing power. Spearheaded by Stanford University, the project, which "simulates protein folding and other molecular dynamics," utilizes a global community to study diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.
Use it as a stereo
Chances are you've got your console hooked up to a nice TV and, hopefully, decent speakers. If that's the case, get rid of that bulky CD player and plug your iPod into your 360 console to blast your tunes through the system. Or if you want to go for something in the cloud, download the Last.fm app and stream away. Note: You'll need an Xbox Live Gold account to do that.
Want to say hello to family and friends but don't have a laptop or iPad to make it happen? If both parties happen to have an Xbox 360 with the Kinect sensor, you can have a face to face chat in the comfort of your living room. All you need is Xbox LIVE and a Windows Messenger account.