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Video game consoles: Should you buy or wait?

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(Credit: Getty Images)

The Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 have done well for themselves, as over half of all U.S. households own a modern video game console. That also means, however, that a good chunk of the country still isn't playing along.

With whispers of next-generation systems swirling -- and one confirmed to launch later this year -- deciding whether to buy a current generation system isn't an easy one. Should you spend the money now, or should you wait and be a part of the cutting-edge in the months to come? Systems have typically hit the sweet spot in pricing, and there's a tremendous catalog of games to choose from (many at discount prices, thanks to "Platinum editions" of top-selling games).

With that in mind, here's a look at whether you should grab a system today or hold out for the next level.

Nintendo Wii

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Why you should buy:

The upside of older technology is it makes for a cheaper system. The Wii should absolutely be priced at under $100 now to keep demand alive, but its $150 asking price isn't outrageous. And while there aren't a lot of anticipated new games coming out for the Wii at this point, the system has a strong back catalog which you can easily find at reduced prices now. Games like Super Mario Galaxy may not be as cool as they were a couple years ago, but they're just as fun.

Why you should wait:

The Wii U, Nintendo's next-generation (and high-definition) Wii follow-up, will be on store shelves by the end of the year. And Nintendo has already announced it will be backwards compatible, meaning it will play all Wii games. Even if you have no interest in the Wii U, prices on the Wii itself are almost certain to drop to that $99 price point (or, worst case, $129) in the ramp up to the launch.

Verdict:

Wait a few months. Buying now is just throwing money away.

Xbox 360

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Why you should buy:

Microsoft's next-generation system (codenamed 'Durango') won't hit shelves until next year, at least. And the company is still actively supporting the Xbox 360, adding multimedia features --  including an ongoing alliance with cable and satellite companies -- and keeping a steady flow of AAA games coming, like this year's Halo 4.

The company has also launched a pilot program that cuts the price of a 360/Kinect bundle to $99 -- if you're willing to pay a $15 per month subscription for two years. This could lower the barrier to entry for lots of customers.

Why you should wait:

That $99 offer really isn't a good deal when you do the math (you'll end up paying at least $40 extra at the end of those two years), and the standalone price of an Xbox/Kinect bundle at $299 (and higher) is still pretty high, given the age of the system, although that hasn't stopped the 360 from being the best-selling console for 16 consecutive months.

Verdict:

Wait a while. That $99 offer is a sucker's bet, and the odds of a price cut to the full system by the end of the year -- or perhaps just before the launch of Halo 4 -- are pretty good.

PlayStation 3

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Why you should buy:

Like Microsoft, Sony is at least a year away from launching its next-generation system. And it wants to get the most from the PS3 in its final year in the spotlight, through games like God of War: Ascension. The company has made it clear that it's looking to the PlayStation division to lead it back to profitability, meaning Sony will keep attention focused on the PS3 for some time -- even after the next system is launched.

Why you should wait:

Also like Microsoft, Sony hasn't brought the PS3 to a price point that's comfortable for most people. At $250 ($350 if you opt for the PS Move bundle), it's far from an impulse purchase. That price could come down this year, but with Sony in such financial dire straits, that's hardly a guarantee.

Verdict:

Go for it. While the system is still a bit overpriced compared to its competition right now, it's anyone's guess when a price cut will take place. And we won't see a new PlayStation console anytime soon.

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